Sunday, April 13, 2014

Striking a Balance

I was in kindergarten when I discovered what it means to act impulsively. I was in the midst of an at-bat during a game of recess baseball when I received news that my brother was being tormented by a classmate. Though moments before I was entirely focused on striking the next pitch thrown my way, I quickly abandoned what had, upon hearing news of my brother’s predicament, become a relatively insignificant task. It took but a split second for me to spring into action. I scurried across the field, moving as quickly as a three year old is capable of, and spotted my brother’s pursuer. Void of all logical thinking or problem solving capabilities, I chased down my target, screaming furiously with each step, and lunged in their direction. I don’t recall what happened between my leap of faith and my being sent home for misconduct, but the significance of that seemingly trivial event is something that I’ll never forget. 

That day marked the first of what would be many cases in which I let my short temper defeat my rationale. From that telling moment as a youngster, I garnered quite the reputation of being cynical, impulsive, and angry. I gave no reason for others to think different of me, and a certain stigma with which my presence was associated began to rapidly form. It wasn’t until high school that I found the strength to undergo a period of introspection in which I detected my flaws, dedicated myself to correcting them, and set goals for who I wanted to become. And yet, as my time in the CYHSB rapidly slips away, I still can’t seem to shake the preconceived notions that blind many of my peers from seeing who I’ve become, rather than who I once was. 

It’s my belief that this is the same for many of my fellow classmates. Each of us have undergone periods of significant transformation in the last four years, yet we struggle to cleanse our reputations of past mistakes, thus denying us the opportunity to present ourselves absolutely reborn. But now, as our pasts are fading away and our future is shining bright, we have the opportunity to, in a sense, start anew. 

A change of scenery, a re-selection of compadres, and the opportunity to establish ourselves without the aforementioned preconceived notions lie just beyond this nearing summer vacation. While the prospect of having a tabula rasa is exciting, it also yields a very crucial question: How much do we separate from our former selves, and how much of our pasts do we hold onto? 

I occasionally lie in bed and recall that leap of faith and the day that, in my mind, will forever live in infamy. And though that episode served as the beginning of a frightening habit, I nevertheless find myself sleeping peacefully on those nights of recollection. When I envision my impulsive, misguided, and foolish former self, I find satisfaction in how far I’ve come since then. I feel gratified by the fact that, throughout the past several years, I, along with my classmates, have grown by leaps and bounds. This seemingly simple story is, in actuality, incredibly complex, and it holds the answer to the aforementioned crucial question.  

We must journey forward in our lives, but not at the expense of the memories that have molded the people we’ve become. Our futures lie ahead, and we should approach with our heads held high and our chests jutting outward, but we must also drag our pasts behind us; not to weigh us down, but to serve as a reminder of who we once were. Without consistently reflecting on our pasts - the good, bad, and the disgraceful - we will find ourselves incapable of moving forward. By making mistakes, we learn how to act appropriately. By hurting others, we learn how to respect. By acting impulsively, we learn how to act rationally. I’m no wise man, but I’ve come to think of life as one big opportunity for trial and error. We must err, transgress, hurt, and disrespect in order to arrive at self actualization. There’s no shame in remembering who you once were, even if that person faintly resembles who you are now.

And so, I sleep peacefully because I’ve begun striking my balance. I long for the opportunity to establish myself before others, to come forth with a blank slate and the chance to make solely good memories. But I equally value the mistakes I’ve made and the disgraceful things I’ve done, for those are the very reasons why I’ve arrived where I am today. I imagine that I’ll keep a great deal of my past mistakes to myself, but their implications and effects will remain lodged in the forefront of my mind throughout the next stages of my life, reminding me of what I don’t want to be, and inspiring me to progress toward my ideal self. 

We seniors have a beautiful opportunity. Though the imminence of our departure brings an array of uncertainties, there’s one absolute: We have the opportunity to re-establish ourselves. I feel it’s imperative that we take full advantage of this opportunity, but we do so in a way that allows us to hold onto pieces of our former selves. Our time here, in Memphis, has primed us for the future. We mustn’t forget that we owe who we presently are to who we once were. 


Monday, March 24, 2014

The Resurgence of Downtown Memphis

As a child, I heard about the high crime rate and stark divide between the socioeconomic classes. I was told to never venture there alone, for doing so would put my life in grave danger. I was told that, if I should end up there, I was to leave quickly and never look back. After hearing nothing but negativity about Downtown Memphis, I grew to believe that it was in the midst of a downward spiral, falling so fast that it would one day find itself incapable of a resurgence. However, I write to you as a man corrected. 

When I’m older and far, far from here, I’ll reflect on my childhood in Memphis and find that one particularly fond memory sticks out. Looking to explore Downtown Memphis with my own eyes, I recently ventured there with a friend, parking my car just off of Union Avenue. We had no agenda; we were there to simply feel the city, to experience it for ourselves. As we walked through its streets, we were shocked to find the diverse group of Memphians that walked beside us. We inspected the various businesses, apartment buildings, and quaint parks around us. We walked past the historic Peabody, up entertaining Main Street, and emerged onto Front Street where the rays of the sunset sent chills through my body. As the sunlight struck my face, I found myself unleashing the misconceptions that had once made me fear traveling out of 38120. I’d chosen to see the city through my own eyes and open mind, and it led me to a grand realization: Resurgence is here. 

According to the Downtown Memphis Metrics 2013 Report, released by The Downtown Memphis Commission, an organization that “strives to attract and retain residents, businesses, visitors, and students by fostering the development of a vibrant Downtown that is densely populated, authentic, mixed-use, walkable, clean, safe, and fun,” Downtown Memphis is on the rise. In 2013, the average household income for Downtown residents was $58,745, an over $7,000 increase from 2010. Furthermore, the median household income rose nearly $4,000, growing from $32,839 in 2010 to $36,228 in 2013. Not only has the economy experienced a boom, but residents are growing increasingly well-educated. In 2013, 39.1% of Downtown residents had completed a bachelor’s degree, an increase from 35.3% in 2010, and 18.8% of residents possessed a graduate degree, an over 2% increase from 2010. As Downtown’s real-estate industry continues to grow, so too does the residential population. In 2013, the residential population of Downtown Memphis was estimated at 24,000, an over 18% population increase from 2000. A great deal of this growth can be attributed to a growing financial industry, with career opportunities in various law firms, hospitals, service industries, research labs, government offices, and educational institutions, among many more. 

Beyond the statistics, one can feel the hopeful spirit that pervades throughout Downtown Memphis by simply walking through its streets. Blues, jazz, and rock and roll can be heard from every corner, the scent of barbecue emanates throughout the blocks surrounding Beale Street, and a sense of optimism radiates through neighborhoods that have gone from beaten down projects to beacons of hope. At the edge of Downtown, near the border of Midtown, arts are explored through exhibits, theater performances, and concerts featuring local artists. Though irrelevant to the Jewish community, another notable aspect of revitalized Downtown Memphis is its restaurant scene, boasting innumerable local spots that are succeeding financially and bringing Downtown Memphians together. The opportunities seem endless for a Downtown that’s caught a new breath of life. 


I’m well aware that Downtown Memphis still has a ways to go in shedding its reputation of being home to an exceedingly high violent crime rate. I’m well aware that a socioeconomic divide still exists and inhibits collective growth. I’m well aware that things are far from perfect. But I’m nevertheless hopeful, as I should be, that Downtown Memphis is heading toward a bright future. It’s is in the midst of an economic, real-estate, and social revolution, inching closer to healing its fractured reputation, and heading toward prominence not for its high crime rate, but for its vibrant city-life and vast economic opportunities. The time is now to give Downtown Memphis a chance, for the future is here, and it’s incredibly bright. 

Monday, March 17, 2014

Pursue Peace, Not Divisiveness

They point fingers and spew catchy phrases. They shout louder than their opposition, giving off the false impression that their voice is one of righteousness and hope. They claim that their actions are inspired by their pursuit of peace. But their outright attempt to tarnish the reputation of Israel, and to subtly spread a sense of modern anti-Semitism, isn't what's most frightening.

Rather, the most frightening aspect of Israel Apartheid Week is the fact that those who were previously indifferent toward the conflict often fall prey to false claims, utter distortions of fact, and blatant attempts to delegitimize the State of Israel. They're fed information from a growing number of people who hide behind a facade of peace; people who are indefatigably pursuing the absolute annihilation of the sovereign Jewish state.

I write not from the perspective of someone desperately seeking a scapegoat on which I can place full responsibility for this ever-perplexing conflict, I write from the perspective of someone who firmly supports a viable two-state solution; someone who prioritizes peace over petty blame games. I maintain the belief that the perpetuation of anti-Israel sentiments will not yield a unified effort to reach a two-state solution. I hold that divesting from Israel's economy and academia is not a step toward a resolution; it's a divisive act that does nothing but provoke Israel to alienate itself from Western influences. I feel that Israel Apartheid Week is rooted in the desire for a sole Palestine at the expense of Israel's existence, not merely an independent, self-sufficient state.

I was raised to hold an uncritical love for Israel. I was conditioned to think that She did no wrong. As I've gotten older, though, I've analyzed the conflict on a deeper level, and I have come to find immense value in being critical.

Many undeserving Palestinians are suffering. The situation is, to put it lightly, rather unfortunate. Countless civilians are caught in the middle of a political gridlock that has manifested itself in the form of failed peace talks and petty disputes. While this reality is very painful to grasp, I find it unfair to paint only this side of the conflict, as the malicious anti-Israel protestors often do.

It's unjust to portray the Palestinian people as the oppressed; as the sole sufferers in this circumstance. The militant tendencies of radical Islamic groups, many of which are in either official or indirect control of the Palestinian population, make it very difficult for the Israeli government to simply leave Judea and Samaria be. There are necessary precautions that must be taken by the Israeli military to ensure the unequivocal protection of its people.

Unfortunately, and though it's not the same for every Palestinian, there is a sense of reverence and admiration for terrorists who commit themselves to the eradication of the Jewish population. When dealing with a society that perpetrates such acts, it's unimaginably difficult to feel confident in making certain concessions for peace, especially if those concessions would further endanger the well-being of your population.

I am biased, there is no doubt about that. However, I am sufficiently open minded, to the point that I can see that Israel's treatment of the Palestinian people is far from immaculate. Israel is rigid in her policies, and, in my opinion, does not pursue peace as though it's a necessity, which I firmly believe that it is. And the roadblocks, the checkpoints, the intense security measures: it's all inexplicably unfortunate. But it's not characteristic of an apartheid state. This modus operandi of protection is not in place to perpetuate Israel's social dominance over the Palestinian people based solely on their race.These precautions have come as reactions to intifadas, to unprompted wars, and to thousands of terrorist attacks.  This system has been implemented to maintain safety within the land of Israel until Palestinian society is ready, willing, and conclusively able to adopt and uphold peaceful values and ideals.

To conclude, I'd like to note that this conflict is certainly not black and white, and I am not one to claim proficiency in my understanding of the ever-expanding gray area. There are people suffering on both sides, and continuing this blame game does nothing but perpetuate divisiveness. In order to arrive at peace, we must pursue peace. Israel can no longer be regarded as the sole proprietor of blame in this conflict; nor can the Palestinians. It's more complicated than what can be placed on a picket fence. So, to those of you who are reading this, and are relatively impartial when it comes to the conflict, please choose not the path of pettiness and blame-shifting. Please choose the path toward peace, toward a viable, long-term, and satisfactory two-state solution.

A step toward peace is not divesting from Israeli companies. A step toward peace is not claiming that Israel is an apartheid state. A step toward peace is inspiring an atmosphere that rejects violence as a mean of gaining independence. A step toward peace is motivating the indifferent to join a pursuit of peace; not a pursuit of alienation and condemnation.


Thursday, February 20, 2014

Shadow

No matter where I go, the shadow follows suit. 
It hovers over me like a menacing dark cloud. 
I try endlessly to start anew,
But to my past I am forever bound. 

The shrill cries of my former self echo throughout my brain,
Begging desperately for guidance.
But I cannot revisit my inconsolable pain,
So, I remain broken, in silence. 

I thrust my body into the wall of regret, 
Furiously pursuing its demolition. 
But the stone etchings have long been set - 
I am a man on a hopeless mission.

The cries are growing deafening - 
Tabula rasa, I beg of you! 
I don't want to be nothing - 
Let me start anew! 

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

To Live


An almost white drop of sweat made its way down her scarred right cheek. Her cold, pale hands trembled as the beating sun shone through the window onto her frail body. Her faintly colored veins pounded in anticipation. She calmly shut her eyes, as had become procedure. Her body remained in place, swaying from side to side as she’d lost her sense of balance; her mind, however, drifted far from her putrid, cheap motel room. 

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“Come on Nicole, just try it.” 

“My sister did it once and she was fine. Don’t be such a little bitch.”

Nicole stared at the needle. The moonlight reflected off of its point, creating an alluring glow. 

Nicole was a rather reserved young woman. Her nightly routine most often consisted of homework and a dash of television. Though once content with a life so bland, the grips of monotony had transformed from comforting to insufferable. She felt trapped in an all-too-typical fantasy. As any normal adolescent does, she began to develop a craving for excitement; something to free her from the prison of perpetual predictability. 

Nicole examined every inch of the needle. Her heart was throbbing, nearly protruding from her chest. Caroline continued to pester her, but Nicole couldn’t hear. 

Time began to slow down. 

She gazed at Caroline and noticed an expression of carefree relaxation. It was not an expression that comes as a result of perpetual predictability; it was an expression of independence, of sheer contentment. Caroline’s words were coarse and tone assertive, but her mouth nevertheless curved upward at its corners. When she concealed the smile, the easiness of her voice and drooping of her eyes served still as indication of her altered, seemingly more thrilling state. 

Nicole’s subconscious had already determined her course of action. She was tired of analyzing every aspect of her life. She was tired of relying on television characters through which she could vicariously live. She was tired of turning to her novels, which she so often got lost in, for a taste of adventure. 

Rejecting all logical reasoning, Nicole reached for the rubber rope that was resting on the glove box. In a heap, she tied it around her arm, choking her vein until she could nearly see the blood pumping through her body. With the edge of the rope in her mouth and caution to the wind, she shifted her focus to the needle that was made all the more enticing by its illumination. She began to reach for the glistening light, but the uncontrollable shaking in her hands inhibited the endeavor. Determined, she took a deep breath, bit the rope with might, and wrapped her hand around her escape.

When the needle slipped into her arm, she felt liberated. She felt alive. 

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Nicole, with her eyes still shut, remained standing in her run down motel room. Suddenly, a plethora of memories began to flood in. She recalled what followed that night: The partying. The stealing from her parents. Integrating herself into a dangerous crowd. The first arrest. The second. Third. The first of what would be many interventions. The moment her parents kicked her out and cut her off. The first blow job she gave for money. The miscarriage. The times she woke up in the hospital, entirely unsure of how she got there. The overdoses. The attempts to get clean. The withdrawals. The apologies. The failed twelve steps. Relapses. Heartbreak. Failed suicide attempts. Hopelessness. Hatred.  

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Nicole’s eyes opened. She looked at the glistening needle as the sun reflected off of its tip. Her mouth salivated. As she reached for the alluring, shimmering silver, she found herself inhibited by that ever-familiar trembling. For the first time in four years, she experienced the reluctance that she’d once foolishly ignored.  

Overcome by emotion, Nicole dropped to her knees. She buried her face in her hands and began to sob. Peace of mind, stability, simplicity - all of the things she’d once so vehemently wished to escape - had now become her most desired, yet elusive, objects. 

Suddenly, Nicole heard a voice in her head. It was her mother. 

“Our most determining moments come while on our knees. How we got there isn’t what defines us, though. Where we go upon getting up is.”

Nicole lifted her head up enough to gaze again at the needle lying so seductively on the coffee table. She summoned her deepest sources of strength and began to push her frail body upward. Her sobs turned into determined grunts. Her face grew blank. She experienced a feeling that she’d almost forgotten: empowerment. 

Nicole turned and made her way to the door. She opened it with haste, stumbling into the parking lot of the motel she’d come to know as home. For the first time in years, she saw the light of the world from its source. She no longer required an instrument off which the sun reflected to give her hope. She no longer felt the need to remain living vicariously through the needles that had come to define her. 

When she walked away from that coffee table, she left her past in the dark. She was finally, truly, and eternally free. She was, for the first time in her life, independently alive. 

Friday, January 31, 2014

A Symbolic Gesture



Several years ago, as I neared the entrance of the FedExForum, I felt a number of eyes staring at me. Perplexed, I surveyed my body in an effort to ensure that nothing was out of the ordinary. When I arrived at my head, I wrapped my hand around my kippah. I noted that it was the cause of those confused, unwarranted gazes. And, for the first time in my life, I felt embarrassed to be a Jew. I scrambled to take it off before any other passersby could find reason to perceive me as different. Without my kippah on, I could escape into the crowd; I could go unnoticed. 

As time passed and I delved deeper into the more secularized Jewish community of Memphis, I continued to neglect my kippah at non-school functions. I had grown tired of the questions, the gazes, and the probing. I found wearing it to be both a physical and social hassle. I felt disconnected from observance, and I wanted my physical appearance to reflect that disconnect.

But, as I grew older and began to develop a more mature understanding of Jewish pride, everything began to change. Though I am admittedly not yet fully observant, and still grapple with fundamental issues of faith, I feel very strongly that wearing a kippah serves as both a personal reminder of how to act and as a symbolic gesture to signify the Jewish peoples’ distinction. 

With the kippah on my head, I become so much more than Gabriel Goldstein. I step into the role of the representative of the Jewish nation. For those who do not regularly come into contact with Jews, my actions may serve as their only indication of what our people are like and how we interact with others. With that in mind, I behave in such a way that will create a respectable, admirable perception of our people. I no longer shy away from the questions or the probing; I embrace them because they give me a chance to establish the reputation of a strong, intellectually driven people who recognize that there is something greater than themselves. 

When I look back at the night on which I removed my kippah to avoid embarrassment, I question whether the person who did such a cowardly thing was truly me. At that point in my life, I was engulfed by religious resentment. I knew not about the history of our people, and I saw us as mildly unique. However, after years of study, I have come to understand that our mere existence is the most unlikely, incredible, and miraculous thing to happen throughout the course of history. I no longer fear being pegged as distinct; I unequivocally embrace it. You better believe that I’m unique. You better believe that you’re unique. Despite pogroms, persecution, and the Holocaust, our people have thrived and contributed to the development of mankind in ways that no nation of even remotely similar circumstances have. We should be forever proud of our past and eternally eager to boast the fact that we belong to a people whose existence is so beautifully breathtaking and incredibly mind boggling. 

I may never resolve my struggles to understand our faith, but I will continue to boast my kippah with immense pride. I want everyone to know who I am and what I stand for. I want the chance, with a kippah on my head, to treat others with utmost respect, for it will create a positive reputation for the entire Jewish nation. 

The Star of David rests in the center of my white, knitted yarmulke, and it will continue to serve as a reminder that I come from a nation of tremendous resilience, might, and, above all, pride. 

Religious or not, I encourage you to consider wearing your kippah as a means of expressing said pride. I encourage you to respond to those questions and confused gazes with dignity and respect. I encourage you to keep in mind how lucky you are to be part of a people with the most illustrious history of all the nations of the world. Do not escape into the crowd; be a shining light, a true role model, for all to marvel at. 


Monday, January 13, 2014

An Open Letter to the MJCC


Dear Memphis Jewish Community Center administrators, 

I am a proud Jew. I am not a strictly observant Orthodox Jew, nor am I an indifferent, assimilated cultural Jew. I have devoted years to strict textual adherence, and I have devoted years to firm religious rejection and inaction. Throughout my life, I have found myself on all points of the religious spectrum, thus granting me a unique perspective from which I view the current debate regarding the opening of the MJCC on Shabbat. 

Though my ideals have changed and my level of observance has fluctuated, I have forever held the belief that to be born a Jew is not something that should be taken for granted. To be born a Jew is to inherit the illustrious history of a people that has time and again refused to submit to assimilation. To be born a Jew is to inherit a sense of pride that is distinct to Judaism. We are members of the most incredible, improbable people that the world has ever seen. As Mark Twain put it, “All things are mortal but the Jew; all other forces pass, but he remains.” Despite the plethora of reasons to feel unique, we are nevertheless losing the sense of pride that once fueled our unlikely existence.

With the release of the Pew Study on American Jewry, we were rudely awoken by the realization that American Jewry is in peril. Many are proclaiming their detachment from Judaism and accepting their fate of absolute immersion into secular culture. We are losing our sense of individuality. 

As a Jewish institution, it is expected to lead by example in reaffirming Jewish pride. Though the Jew is an advocate of equality and a champion of acceptance, we must forever be mindful that we are different than those around us. We live among them, but we do not live with them. I speak not as a close-minded isolationist. Rather, I speak as a Jewish youth who would prefer to die than to see his people assimilate because of sheer indifference. I am not a rejectionist, I am cautious. 

Despite its underwhelming size, the Memphis Jewish community is one of the most vibrant communities in America, boasting an exceptionally high affiliation rate. You may disagree, but I firmly believe that much of that success is owed to the fact that we act as a unit to consistently reaffirm the aforementioned pride that we are at risk of losing. 

The MJCC is one of the last Jewish Community Centers in America to remain closed on Shabbat. Though a large portion of the Center’s membership is either non-observant or non-Jewish, closing on Shabbat has served as a symbolic gesture since its founding in 1949. We are different. We are not superior, per se, but we are special. We have a culture and a history that is awe-inspiring, and certain fundamental Jewish principles ensure that we never forget that. Shabbat sets us apart from the rest of society. It gives us a day in which we come together to focus on Judaism, on growing as a community, on ourselves. It reaffirms that sense of pride on a weekly basis.

Alarmed by growing assimilation, fully believing that the opening of the MJCC on Shabbat will signify an unprecedented, dangerous level of assimilation, guided by immense Jewish pride, and believing that the success of this community depends on a collective effort to affirm Jewish pride and distinctiveness, I wholeheartedly oppose the opening of the MJCC on Shabbat, and pray that you see the merit in my argument. 

With the utmost respect,

Gabriel Goldstein ’14

MHA/FYOS