Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Counting: The Omer, Minyans, and our obsession with numbers

Jews are obsessed with counting. We count days, people, everything has a specific day and every thing has a number associated with it. There are so many examples of this that I could write a whole post with just the list, but I wanted to address two because they seem contradictory.

For the first time in my life, I have successfully counted the Omer(thus far). The Omer is the period of time between Passover and Shavuot or the time between when the Jews were freed from Egypt and when we received the Torah. It never seemed significant to me, but this year, I decided to try it anyways, and what I realized is this: while the actual counting is not incredibly significant; I'm writing this on the 27th day of the Omer, having that ritual to do every night has become important. At school, my friend and I would say the blessing together if we were together at whatever time the remind popped up on my phone or when the rabbi told us to count(whichever one seemed more convenient), and on Friday night, we counted the Omer as one Hillel community. The ritual has coincidentally also marked the days between when I came home for Passover to when I leave for camp: the day I leave being the second day of Shavuot. It is a time of transition for me, and the counting of the Omer has helped to provide a ritual consistency at the end of each day and that has been comforting.

Many Saturday mornings first semester I got woken up by banging on my door asking if I could get up and come to services to make a minyan (the ten people needed to say certain prayers). I admit it, once and a while I rolled over, ignored them and went back to school. People frantically running around trying to find a ninth or tenth person for a minyan is not an uncommon occurrence and service leaders are constantly counting, but I recently learned that jews are not supposed to count people. This is apparently because when we are counted as individuals we lose the unity that is created when we are counted together. Instead we are instructed to all give a half shekel or find some other way of counting. This is kind of a beautiful idea even though it seems quite contradictory to many of our traditions. We are stronger together as I've talked about before, and we'd do well to remember that as we argue within the community.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Make New Friends But Keep the Old: The Combination of Past, Present, and Future

Saturday morning, I sat down to create a list of people to see in this next few weeks when I am home, and I realized something: I had spent so much time worrying about leaving all of my amazing friends and mentors at school that I managed to forget how many amazing people I had at home. As I have spent the last few days exchanging texts, Facebook messages, and emails with old teachers, friends, and mentors--the lines blurring between those titles as I get older--I felt the past, the present and the future beginning to combine. In high school, you build relationships with the people around you, and while you do have some choice in who that is, the relationships are more limited by circumstance. But now that I am out of high school and 25% of the way through college, I realize that choosing who from your past you want to bring with you in a real way into your future is a very important task.

Looking back, a year after graduation, to quote John Green, "I see a life that I am now very grateful to have beginning to happen."But I didn't know who I would end up needing to thank.  And I didn't realize how much I would need to thank them for. And I don't think I could've known without the amazing people who I met this year who will become part of my future as well. I am so grateful to have so many coffee dates and meals scheduled with such amazing people over the next few weeks. My heart is filled to the brim with gratitude for the people who have helped me and loved me.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Hold Me in Your Heart: Hillel at Brandeis, Year 1

Yesterday, our rabbi talked about the concept of "bilvavi mishkan evneh" or building a mishkan (vaguely translated as a place of spirituality or prayer) in one's heart. The point of this was to describe how each of us, as we go on our way, whether it be just for the summer or for good, will hold the community that we have built here at Brandeis in our hearts. I want to take this as my kavanah, my intention, as I get ready to leave Brandeis after my first year, but I also want to talk about the Mishkan that I have built, just as the Bible does for portion after portion. Let's see if I can make it through writing this without crying. So here's the story of my first year at Brandeis (the Jewish part, anyway). 

I grew up in a Reform Synagogue, going to Reform camp, and doing Reform youth group, so my expectations of Jewish life at Brandeis were blown out of the water when I stepped into my first shabbat dinner, but we are getting ahead of ourselves. During orientation, I visited the Hillel Open House. I don't remember much about this except for the fact that everyone was super nice. But my journey at Brandeis really began when I walked into Shabbat services for the first time this year and saw people who I recognized. We sang songs that I recognized and I don’t remember this well, but at some point in the night, I was adopted by Alyssa into BaRuCH, the Brandeis Reform Chavurah. I would say that the rest is history, but I want to talk more about it, so I won’t. My first Hillel Dinner is a blur. I don’t remember much, but I assume that Julia and Rafi stood up in front of all of us and told us what we were going to do because that's the routine.

 I then reluctantly signed up for the Hillel First Year Retreat. Abi and I got on the bus and sat and talked only to each other. I really don't remember much except for meeting the Hillel Associate Director right before she had to drive me home because I got sick. We laugh about this now. 

High Holidays are filled with the memories of Julia and I setting up the Lurias and then a bit later, the Sukkah next to Sherman. I remember the Yom Kippur breakfast with people who I didn't know all that well. Most of all during that time, I remember being so happy that I went to a school that was so culturally Jewish. I loved the fact that life got to revolve around the holidays. 

A few weeks into the school year, I went to my first Lunch and Learn—I was terrified. I had always been surrounded by Reform Jews and I didn’t know what to expect. Luckily, as many others can attest to, jokes and random questions about zombies in minyans cross denominational boundaries pretty quickly, and soon, I would look forward to Lunch and Learn and be so challenged, but at the same time, so grateful that I chose to come to a place where these kinds of conversations happen on a regular basis. The community and the friends that grew out of this group occupy an indescribable part of my life. They are the ones who I turn to when I'm down and the ones who's doors I knock on when I'm bored and just want someone to keep me company.

I'm going to skip over some things because they are important, but it's too hard for me to write about them right now and go to the creation of Havdallah Nashira, the joint havdallah event between the Conservative and Reform groups on campus(at some point I'll write about the other things, but this post is already way too long). It started out as some people from the Conservative minyan coming regularly to Reform havdallah and it grew into a solid group of people eating, talking and singing every other week. Last night, when we had our last Havdallah Nashira of the year, which concluded our last Shabbat of the year, I had to fight back tears. That's a lie, I was definitely crying, but I was trying hard not to. We sang the Shecheyanu, the prayer for beginnings and endings and I was taken back to the very first days of the semester. I have no idea how people who I didn't know nine months ago could end up as such a huge part of my life. And ultimately, I was grateful. Grateful to have this community that has taught me so much about myself. Grateful that I still have three years here, and most of all, grateful to be a Jew because the beginning of my college experience would certainly not have been nearly as incredible without Hillel at Brandeis. 

I haven't even mentioned being on BaRuCH Board which has been an adventure all on its own. I applied for Freshman Rep mostly because I was one of like two people who came to BaRuCH who weren't on board and I wanted to be a part of their crazy family. After countless services planned and frantic Facebook messages, I don't have a good way of expressing any of this in words. It's funny because this is usually a medium in which I have control, but I don't seem to right now. All I seem to be able to do is get sad and sappy and not end up writing anything that makes sense outside of my brain.

Recently, I've started spending more and more time in the Hillel Lounge. In fact, I'm sitting there as I write this. Partly because it's one of the three places on campus that I can actually do homework and partly because it feels like home. No matter who is there, they are always happy to just sit or talk about absolutely anything. There is people to get meals with, something that I didn't have before I came to Brandeis. As any of you who knew me in high school know, I spent a lot of my free time sitting in hallways, back up against the wall, watching youtube videos by myself. Not being alone is the greatest blessing that Hillel has given me. And I love every single one of the people involved in this organization for that. Thank you for being my home away from home and thank you for being my family. And thank you for making it to the end of this ridiculously long post.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

It's Real For Us: Harry Potter Impact Tag

This post is inspired by this video by Lauren Fairweather, a youtuber who I love dearly. I spent a large part of my afternoon today, after finishing some homework, thinking about what Harry Potter means to me, partly because I happened upon some old videos from some you tubers I like: Jackson Bird and Lauren Fair-weather. They are wonderful, you should definitely check them out. 

SPOILERS: Harry Potter Books and Movies (Have you really not read them yet/)

1.Has Harry Potter changed you as a person in any way? If so, how? 

I don't really know how to put into words how HP changed me as a person. I think I am a more confident and caring person. I say that my spirit animal is Molly Weasley because of her desire to make sure everyone else is comfortable...oh wait, maybe I should save this for question #4. I think I also learned a lot about friendship and about the fact that friendship can come from the most unlikely sources, like Harry and Dobby or Harry and Luna. I learned that love, rather than hate, tends to triumph in the end and that relationships are really important. I could go on and on, but it you aren't as obsessed with Harry Potter as I am, I assume you've already gotten bored.

2. Have you ever made a friend because of Harry Potter? 

Harry Potter was really the first fandom I was at all active in, so I made some friends in various places because of that, but mostly, Harry Potter has built my friendships in real life and made them stronger. When you meet another over obsessed HP fan, the excitement that builds as you recount your favorite spells (I'm a huge fan of those cause I'm a Classics Major) and your favorite moments in the book and debate over whether the epilogue was terrible or wonderful.

3. What is the most important thing you've learned from the Harry Potter books? 

I think that the most important thing that I've learned is that it's okay to be different. I learned this from Luna as she continued to be unapologetically enthusiastic about things that most of the people around her though were fake. Another important lesson that I learned from the books was the fact that your family can be composed of many different people. I learned this from Harry when he was stuck in the his cupboard being incredibly mistreated by the Dursleys and when he basically became a part of the Weasley family. And I learned it from Luna when she was so surprised to have friends by the time she got to her last year at Hogwarts. 

4. Which character inspires you the most? Why?

Molly Weasley. She is a caretaker, someone who usually puts other people before herself. One of my favorite moments is during the final battle of Hogwarts when they are fighting Bellatrix Lestrange, and Bellatrix goes after Ginny and Molly calls, "not my daughter, you b****!" The amount of motherly love and loyalty in that statement is inspiring to me.
5. Have you ever created something inspired by the books? 

Quite a few friendship bracelets and my roommate and I are making a Weasley clock. I think everything I do, now is in a way inspired by the books because they are so intertwined with my life.

6. Name one cool thing you've done that never would've happened without Harry Potter. 
I can't come up with one relationship or one thing that would not have happened without HP, but I wouldn't be a part of any fandoms or have joined HPA if I hadn't loved Harry Potter so much.