Friday, April 22, 2016

#BlogExodus: Praise

Today I flew from Boston to Chicago, and while I was on the plane, I was thinking about how grateful I am for the people who have supported me. I feel like we tend to feel like we can criticize people all we want, but in a way, praising people is substantially less socially acceptable. It is less socially acceptable for me to tell people how great of a job they are doing than it is for me to correct their grammar. This is a problem, but not one that I know how to fix, but I try to fix it in my own little way. If you have known me for a long period of time, you know that I tend to write notes to people at the end of things or on days that I think with be very hard for them( i.e. unit heads on the first day of camp, etc). I absolutely love doing this, and I'm a little mad at myself that I haven't done it more this year--although I have plans for the end of the year-- because those little praising notes seem to mean a lot to people.

I think that this prompt was intended to be about praising God for bringing us out of Egypt, which i will do when I lead my seder tonight, but I don't think, at the moment, the it's nearly as important as recognizing that the people around us are also worthy of praise. I want to keep this appreciation in my mind as I approach Passover as well.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

#BlogExodus: Accept

"May God grant me the serenity to ACCEPT the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference."

Acceptance is one of the hardest things that we must do. Part of being a part of a community is accepting the other people around us, not as who we want them to be, but how they actually are. No human is perfect. Not even the ones who we place on a pedestal.

Accepting ourselves is hard: it requires holding ourselves to a high standard while still keeping in mind that we are human. It requires accepting the fact that there we have feelings and sometimes those feelings may be complicated and not what we think that we should be feeling, but that's okay. There's a concept in Dialectical Behavioral Therapy that really relates to this: it's called radical acceptance. Radical Acceptance is the idea of accepting everything that happens as a thing that happened and everything that you are feeling as a thing that you are feeling and letting it be part of your life without feeling the need to judge yourself for it. This is a skill, that like everything else, requires practice. It requires practice to stop blaming the world for the final that got moved up two weeks or the fact that you broke your headphones two days before traveling and accept that those things happened. The only way we can actually deal with problems is if we accept that they are present beforehand. Accepting the reality of a situation turns a reactor into an agent. We now choose what to do.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

#BlogExodus: Discover

The Jews have spent a long time wandering in their history. Sometimes it was running away and sometimes it was just well, wandering. We have spent a whole lot of time looking, but what I can't seem to wrap my head around is what we found. Have we become a stronger people? I think that we have. At this point, the Jewish people can survive almost everything (although I wouldn't want to test that). I talked a lot about this is regards to Purim, but I think it applies a fair bit around Passover as well: We had a past. We spent time wandering and being persecuted. And to an extent, we can never fully escape persecution. But living in the mindset that we held when we left Egypt is not a good way to discover life. Avadim Hayinu. We WERE slaves. We are no longer slaves. What we choose to seek out now is our choice. And we need to be conscious of what we are discovering even as we try not to forget how we got here in the first place.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

#Blog Exodus: Rejoice

It's applicable to this week, the fact that the first thing that I think about when I hear the word rejoice is Miriam's Song after crossing the Sea, the rejoicing of the Israelites after being freed from Egypt. And we always rejoice after we are freed, however, the question that I'd like to ask is where do we go from there? Where do we go after the initial happiness at the freedom from Egypt has left our bodies? Sure, we can try our bests to hold on to a peace of that joy, but by definition, one cannot be in a place of rejoicing all the time.

We celebrate, but then what? Do we go back to our normal lives? Do our attitudes change? I think our attitudes really do need to change, and that's something that we can certainly learn from the Israelites' mistakes on. The Israelites ended up wandering in the desert for 40 years because they couldn't get themselves out of their slave mentality. I don't know about you, but I'd like to get to my Promised Land in less than 40 years. So how do we take off the shackles of the things that have been enslaving us but no longer feel the metal against our wrists? Looking to the future helps. The future holds promise and a new land away from the slavery. But we must, at the same time, not forget our past. And in turn, living in the present seems to me to be the best option(keep in mind, I am absolutely terrible at this). We really, really need to learn to be here now.

Monday, April 18, 2016

#BlogExodus: Unite

I apologize for the lack of blog post yesterday, life got in the way of writing and school took priority. That being said, on to the post for today:

Unity. Unity is an absolutely beautiful concept in general. It's the idea of coming together whether because of a common trait or a desire for a common goal. Its the feeling that we get when we join our hands together and dance in a circle. I felt the unity within my community last night as we made complete fools of ourselves dancing at Hillel formal. I realized how many incredible friendships I have made. I realized how much I have changed and how much we really can come together when we put aside the disagreements of the day and just agree to have a good time. And it feels wonderful.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

#BlogExodus: Deepen

There's a beautiful poem by Adrienne Rich called Diving into the Wreck which reads: 
I have to learn alone
to turn my body without force
in the deep element.

We have to learn to deepen our lives in a way that makes them more meaningful. This could mean both staying up all night talking to a friend or going on a trip across the world to deepen one's understanding of a place. We need to delve into our identities in order to deepen them. Going deep in the ocean is scary. After all, the further you get away from the surface, the darker it gets and the harder it gets to know where you are or where you're going. But in the deep is the treasure. The true meaning of one's life. The true identity that you were not allowing in because of fear. And traveling to the deep is terrifying alone or with others. Being alone in the deep cn lead to a spiral of self blame and despair, but "diving into the wreck" with others is terrifying because the deeper you get, the more vulnerable you become. And vulnerability is important, but that doesn't make it easy. I challenge you, as we go into his new week leading into Passover, to go just a little bit deeper with someone in your life. Perhaps you'll even find some treasure. 

Friday, April 15, 2016

#BlogExodus: Examine

Examine sounds so clinical to me. What are we examining? Our health? The cleanliness of my room(sorry, I just spent 2 hours cleaning for Passover/Shabbat)? Or should we be examining our lives? Our relationships? Biblically, Nisan, the month that we are in right now, is a new start. For me, its also an end. Last programs, last Shabbatot spent with my community here at Brandeis, last days of classes. It's the end of my first year of college.

When I started this blog, I had no idea how much I would have changed by the time I ended my year. I had no idea that I would end up with this incredible support system and incredible mentors. I had no idea I would become the kind of person who was able to tell my friend what time Shabbat ends without looking it up. Don't get me wrong, I'm thrilled at who I've become. I just hadn't gotten perspective until I started comparing my journey through #BlogExodus to the journey I took through #BlogElul.

But I don't want to examine my life too much. Because then I'll miss the beauty of the moment. Anyone who knows me can tell you that I am a compulsive planner. But I realized that especially this Shabbat, I need to temporarily forget about the two papers and piles of homework that I need to do and focus on the love that surrounds our community. May you have a restful and rejuvenating Shabbat if you celebrate.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

#BlogExodus: Recount

Most Jewish holidays, ultimately are about recounting. On Hanukkah, we recount the story of the Maccabees, on Purim, the story of of Haman tried to kill the Jews, and on Passover, which is approaching much too quickly for my liking, we recount the story of the Exodus. Interestingly, the word "recount" not only means the telling of a story, but also the idea of "adding up again." Most often, this is used in a political context, but i would argue that it could also be used in a spiritual one. If we "retell" and add our experiences up again, we can sometimes get a new outcome. In perspective, we can learn from the hardship instead of cursing those who placed the hardship upon us. This is by no means easy. All of the grappling that we are doing as the lead in to Passover is not easy. But it is truly important to recount or enumerate the wonderful things that have come upon us especially as we begin to discuss the fact that we were strangers in the land of Egypt.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016


I spent a long time hiding
Cooped up in the confines of my ever-moving brain
Beginning to go insane
Until one fateful day
The mask that I had chosen to hide behind
Was ripped off

I was forced to confront
The fact that I was hurting myself
But not letting people in
To the prison of my anxious mind
And soon I would find

That living in a carefully armored
Shell of a human being
Is not only exhausting, but unpleasant as well
So I began to take the armor down
Sliver by sliver, piece by piece
And some days, it stays up

But my Exodus was not 
The parting of the sea 
But the ability to stop spending so much time wondering
"What is she/he/they find out?"
What if they find out I am human?

I am no longer a slave to my own mind
And perhaps I still have binds
But I have let people in among the wreckage
And because of their kindness
I am ready to stop hiding 

Monday, April 11, 2016

#BlogExodus: Purify

For all of first semester and most of this semester, during our Saturday Lunch and Learn, we talked about the concepts of tumah and taharah, impurity and purity, over and over and over again. At the beginning of the year, I was disturbed by the fact that we, in the modern world, are all "spiritually impure," but at some point between the mishnah (short teaching from the rabbis)  about apples and rivers and the mishnah about leaning out of the window over a funeral procession (keep in mind, this was advertised as "strange stories in the mishnah"), I realized that accepting our brokenness is a real blessing. We can either try to purify ourselves so much that we are walking on eggshells all the time or we can live in the holy in between space that is created in a world with no temple (the original purpose of the laws of purity were to dictate who could and couldn't go into the temple).

 And this thought reminded me of a song that I taught at Saturday Morning services this week. The English part of the song which also happens to be the relevant part goes like this: I thank you for my life, body and soul. Help me realize, I'm beautiful and whole. I'm perfect the way I am, and a little broken too. I will live each day as a gift I give to you. I thought, when I first heard this song, how can one be whole and broken at the same time? But we can be. The fact that we are still here and trying to purify our lives as much as possible while accepting our brokenness is truly one of the biggest blessings I can think of, so maybe its a blessing to be impure by the laws of the mishnah. It takes the pressure off.

#BlogExodus: Grow

Growing up. As a kid, I always wanted to be older than I was. I always had friends who were older than I was. But once I got to college I didn't think about how much I had grown really until yesterday. I realized that things that I once thought were incredibly difficult, like taking care of myself and having social interactions are now somewhat effortless. By no means am I saying that I don't struggle with things still, I definitely do. But what has changed is the fact that I can now ask for help when i need it instead of spending day after day holding pain inside of me. When things happen, I tell people about them whether the events are good or bad.

As I watched the NFTY CAR Election results come in on Sunday, I realized that I don't miss NFTY. I'm not saying that I don't miss my friends in NFTY. I do, so much, every day. I'm saying that I don't miss the feeling that I got in that community because I have that here. I have it in Hillel and I have it among my friend group at large (although, to be fair, most of my friend group has come from Hillel). And as I talked about them today, I realized that I am starting to trust people here, something that used to be so hard for me. I'm not saying that it isn't hard and that I don't still worry. Of course, I worry, have you met me? But I'm saying that it is worth it. So if you are reading it and thinking that getting older and moving through your life is not going to help and not going to give you any more hope, I urge you to keep holding on because letting people in, while it may be the hardest thing to do, is also one of the most rewarding experiences I've had.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

#BlogExodus: Honor

I'll be honest, I am struggling with how I want to talk about this word. You'd think that I could come up with something about the Julio Claudian dynasty or about honoring Shabbat and keeping it holy, but I struggle with the idea of honor. The word honor implies an obligation to the person or thing to which the honor is directed and I don't know how I feel about that. I understand the idea of respect both in the sense that you respect those with authority and respect that we have for one another, but I think that honor has a slightly different connotation than that.

Saturday, April 9, 2016

You Are Not Alone: Parshat Tazria

This portion is quite off-putting to the modern reader. It first lays out the rules for purifying one’s body after childbirth and after a woman’s period which are a little odd, and to honest with you, quite sexist. And then this parsha addresses the idea of sickness, often translated as leprosy in the text. The Israelites are instructed to isolate those with the ailment from the rest of the camp. This whole parsha uses the words tumah and taharah, impure and pure over and over again. It puts people into boxes. In the parsha, the idea of “sickness” can be used to describe any “not normal” physical condition, any box that is out of the ordinary. Any box that we put people in.
Two thoughts on this: Firstly, this reminds me of the isolation that people who suffer from mental illness often end up in. Because people see us as sick, or more likely a burden, they leave us alone. But that’s not the way out. That’s not the way of healing in any scenario. One cannot save themselves from their own mind by themselves. Believe me, I speak from experience. We would hope that our views on the inflicted have changed since the time of the Torah. Unfortunately, we are not much better than the Israelites. There may not be a certain period of time prescribed in which we don’t text our friend with anxiety back like there is for the isolation of a person with leprosy, but at the end of the day, those who suffer end up alone all too often. I’ll admit, I’m guilty of this too even though I’m often on the other side of it.
We also have a really hard time understanding disease when it has no cure. To start with, we as humans, are terrible at talking about pain. We don’t have the language needed to express it.  The only way to understand one’s pain is to be inside of their consciousness which is simply not possible. Think of it this way, when your friend gets sick, you go to the “get well soon” section at Walgreens to buy them a card. There is no get well soon for so many chronic illnesses, so there is no card. There is no prescribed way to treat them, so instead, they are isolated. There is nothing you can except help them mitigate the symptoms and support us during the good days and the bad days. And this is not easy.

So what can we learn from this parsha? There needs to be a change in the way that we look at those with chronic illness, both mental and physical. We need to accept that it isn’t easy to help in a world with no cure, but that doesn’t make it any less necessary. As we sang the Mi Shebeirach and as we sing it tomorrow, we need to seriously think of what actions of healing we will take along with our prayer. How will you reach out? A card, a call, even a facebook message. Isolation is one of the most painful things that humans can experience. Noone should have to go it alone. And if you are suffering, you are not alone. I am not alone. We are a community committed to one another and to learning from the text that guides our tradition and holding one another up because of it. Shabbat Shalom.


This week was the start of something. Not of a semester or of any new activity, and maybe this started ages ago and I just wasn't paying attention, but I have started being exactly who I want to be. Let me explain: This week, I spent a large part of Saturday, Sunday and Monday worrying about how I was going to logistically make tomorrow's Torah service happen. Happens that that issue was resolved by a quick conversation with our Jewish Chaplain, who I am thankful for. On Wednesday, I helped to roll one Torah. On Thursday, I helped to roll two.  Rolling Sifrei Torah is a skill that I have pretended to have for months now, however, I only actually learned how to do it this week. Thursday night, I sat with a few friends and our Hillel Associate Director and talked about life with like-minded people. And at some point this morning when I was cleaning my room for Shabbat,  I realized that everything that I am currently doing is somehow helping me to be the person I want to be. I'm never going to be completely free of my anxiety, but I am no longer a slave to it. I'm planning to write more about that as we get closer to passover. And I realized that college is the start of the rest of my life. And there's a certain freedom to that.

If you're confused by the title of this blogpost or want to join in on Blog Exodus, you should go read about the project here.

Saturday, April 2, 2016

Dear Heather: Three Years Later

Dear Heather,
Three years ago, I was sitting in my Finance class, or whatever it's called, I can't remember at the moment, and I opened my iPad (I was obviously paying a whole lot of attention that day), and I found out that you had died. It was told to me by a two sentence post in a Facebook group for the Relay for Life team that you had created. It took everything in me not to cry at that moment.

As I sit here, at my desk, in college, wasting away by Shabbos afternoon, and trying not to cry so i won't have to redo my makeup, I look for words to express both what you gave to me and what I wish you could be here to see. I could write a hundred of these letters, and it would never be enough to make it okay that you won't walk around the track at Relay with your team or get to see me as a counselor. It isn't okay that cancer took you away from us when you were only 26. Nobody deserves to die, but you especially didn't.

The last time that I said the Mourner's Kaddish, I was taken back to the first night of JYG Kallah all those years ago, after you had essentially found me friends and started my life in NFTY with such an amazing, powerful few hours.  Then, I thought about my first year at camp. This summer I was a counselor in the very same cabin that you were my counselor in. I thought of you every day.

I am forever reminded of that line from the meditation before the Mourner's Kaddish, "And if you cannot give me away, at least let me live in your eyes and not on your mind." And I try my best to do this. I work hard and take care of people just as I think you'd want me to, but as we approach the day, your Yarzheit, I can't help but keep you in my mind. The Mourner's Kaddish isn't about death, it's about the beauty of life. And there is no person I know who encapsulated that life than you. To the last weeks, you were caring and selfless and forever an inspiration to me.

Selfishly, I wish you had gotten to see me get to be a counselor, and I have to say, I do tell my campers about you when they ask me where I learned to make friendship bracelets. I wish that you could have seen me thrive in college; I was still so unhappy the last time that we talked, and I hope you know, I'd like to think you know, that now, I am happier than I have ever been. And that you will live on forever in me and in every single person who you loved and who loved you. Your inspiration and desire to make the world better is something that I will carry with me whereever I go.

Great, now, I'm crying. At the end of the day, it comes down to this: I try to hold your optimism against my cynicism in my heart as go about my day, and I will miss you no matter how many years go by.

I miss you. Zichronam Livracha.

Love always,