Wednesday, September 23, 2015

My Metaphysical Crossroads

It seems I’ve reached a religious crossroads. Though I was never one to abide by tedious law or hold dear the intricacies of our sages’ teachings, I was once eager to investigate Judaism. I did so in a “secular” manner, analyzing Jewish philosophy and seeking knowledge through historical accounts as opposed to Bible verses and Talmud tractates. I had a unique love affair with Judaism - its historical trajectory, underlying principles, and its unlikely survival throughout the ages.

I can’t say exactly when, but it seems our affair has collapsed, continuously disintegrating as I take each successive step away from my religious roots. 

There was once a time when prayer afforded me the opportunity to tango with God. Just the two of us, our own dimly lit room, and a passion reserved for the metaphysical. Now, though, the thought of prayer elicits scoffs of condescension, as though I feel I’m above something so expired. 

There was once a time when God’s existence was as true as my own two hands. Though there was no substance to which I could attribute His being, I knew - I just knew - that tangibility was irrelevant in determining His existence. He was an absolute. Now, though, I lose battles with logic, incapable of understanding how the fable of earth’s flatness has been written off as preposterous, yet a concept so primitive as an almighty being to whom we are obliged to expose our full selves is so readily accepted.  

There was a time when God was my best friend, a confidant of sorts. In moments of vulnerability or incapacitation, I felt an ineffable draw to Him. He provided assurance, unconditional support, authentic love. Now, though, I look elsewhere for consolation, a mark of my crumbling relationship and fleeting trust. 

The dust builds atop my Tefillin bag. The bookmark of my Chumash has rested between the same two pages for months, perhaps even a year. My Siddur feels the pain of neglect. My yarmulkas have escaped me - only they know where they lay. Will I ever go back? 

I am not unique in my arrival at this crossroads. I’ve been told stories of drifters who, triumphantly, found their way back. I, too, have been told stories of drifters who find themselves too far and too mindless to retrace their path. Which will I become?

God must be observing my regression, shaking His head in disappointment at the food I ate on what was to be my day of simple atonement. He must be hoping that I've traced my steps on the drifter’s path. He must be angry. He must be sad. He must be heartbroken and feel betrayed. But is He there? 

But does it matter? 

Perhaps He is a construct, a primitive and outdated idea. Perhaps He has survived because of His power to save. Perhaps we devote our lives to gaining His approval, but He is nothing but a figment of our imaginations - a twisted form of wishful thinking. 

But does it matter? 

You may search every forest, every valley, every crevice in hopes of finding Him, but you never will. Despite that, He has given my people a culture - a livelihood - that makes the validation of his existence irrelevant. He has guided us, He has taught us, and He has saved us. He has graced us the privilege of feeling attached to a peoplehood. The form He takes, if any, means little when considering His achievements. His legend may be all that He is. 

He may be a construct, a figment of our vivid fantasies, but to debate this is futile. By changing the world in the way He has, even if proven to be nothing more than an idea, “He” has become God. 

So why doesn't He matter? 

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

A Goodbye to My Best Friend

Dear Honey, 

I’ll never forget the first time I laid my eyes on you. You were crammed into a tiny cage with a few other puppies. Though all of you were cute, something about you was distinct. Maybe it was the way your eyebrows were a different color than the rest of your hair. Maybe it was the cute, little moles on your face from which oversized hairs were growing. Or maybe it was fate. 

When we brought you home, we were all so happy. We had pressed for years to get a dog, but it wasn’t until Seth’s Bar Mitzvah that Neenz finally let us. From the moment you stepped inside, you were cherished, cared for, and always attended to. You were quite the aggressive puppy, and it scared the hell out of me when there was talk of possibly giving you away. Fortunately, that didn’t happen.

Honey, you came into our lives at a tumultuous time. Things at home were less than ideal, and we needed a distraction. You filled that role with ease and wonder. Countless nights were spent playing with you, teaching you tricks, and watching you grow into the phenomenal dog that you became. We owe a great deal of our happiness to you, as without you we wouldn’t have had reason to momentarily escape from the chaos of our world. 

I’m a night owl. I always have been. And one of the absolute best parts about bringing you into the family was that you always, almost every night, came to sit by me as I ate my late-night meals and watched Sportcenter. You would hop up onto the couch, twirl around five or six times, then find your comfiest spot and collapse into a peaceful, undisturbed sleep. I can’t count the number of times I would poke, push, and shake you, just to make sure you were still breathing. 

I could poke, push, and shake you now, but you would still be gone. 

You made our world so much brighter, Honey. I never knew it possible to kiss something a million times but still want to a million more. I never knew an animal could bring man such joy and loyalty. I remember junior year when I was bed-ridden with a neck infection. For a week, you hardly once left my side. You were my guardian, detecting my pain with instinct and protecting me with warmth and love. For that, I’m grateful.

For everything, I’m eternally grateful. 

You turned stones into mush, melted hearts with the adorable way you would flip onto your back for a belly rub, and brightened lives by simply being. I can’t express how fortunate I feel to have been able to spend an entire month with you during winter break. It felt so nice to grab my steak, sit down, and hear you emerge from Neenz’s room to sit with me - subtly begging, and always getting what you wanted. 

I’ll miss the way you’d snore while awake, the way you’d randomly be struck by sneezing attacks, the way you whimpered at the door after being stuck outside for merely a minute, the way you scratched the carpet before sitting, the way you licked up your own throw-up in a somehow elegant fashion, and the way you changed my life. 

No dog will ever come close to replacing you. You were a true gem for us all to share, love, and cherish. From the moment we brought you home, we knew that, in you, we had something special. I don’t think any of us quite expected how strongly you would affect us and how profoundly you would impact our lives. 

I can’t say goodbye. I won’t say goodbye. Because you are not gone. Your heart may pound no more, and your odd neck may never jiggle awkwardly again, but your life will live on through photos, videos, and stories of how you changed an entire family. 

You were the absolute best dog I ever could have asked for. You left us too soon, but I find solace in the fact that you spent your life happier than most other dogs. The degree to which we pampered you was truly something to marvel at, and I know you passed peacefully with the knowledge that we have no regrets. We sincerely hope that you didn’t either. 

You were sent to us by God to see us through our adolescence. You were there to provide warmth and comfort when mom wasn't. You gave us a reason to smile in even the darkest times. You came into our lives for a reason, and I firmly believe that you're gone for one too. Your mission has been completed, and now it's time to go. 

I love you with everything that I have, and my life will never be quite the same. Only time will heal this ineffable pain, and I hope it does sooner than later. Just know that, though the pain may subside, your memory will never leave me. You were truly my best friend, my confidant, and my sweet, sweet angel. 

Rest easy in doggy heaven. I’m not sure it could be better than the life you lived down here, but I hope it somehow is. Endless steaks and bacon strips - only for the best dog a young man could ask for. 

With love and gratitude, 


Tuesday, January 20, 2015

A Heartfelt "Thank You"

To whom it may concern,

My first birthday away from home was far better than I had expected. In all honesty, I was incredibly nervous coming into it. I felt that those I had connected with here at school couldn't provide the same love and comfort as those I had always celebrated this special day with back home. Boy, was I wrong. It turns out, this birthday has shown me far more than any before.

Today, I learned the importance of being entirely, wholeheartedly, unquestionably comfortable in my own skin I rediscovered the me that has been missing since I ventured into the great unknown that is Waltham, Massachusetts. Without the kind words of those with whom I grew into the man that I am today, I would not have had the same memorable experience that I did on this, my 19th birthday. Words can't convey the gratitude I feel for those who have taken the time and effort to reach out to me with meaningful sentiments of love and gratitude. To feel appreciated for who I've always been has reminded me of the importance of staying true to the man that I was when I left Memphis on August 23rd.

For whatever reason, I haven't at any point felt quite right since arriving at college. Of course, it's a massive transitionary period, one that poses several taxing challenges. That said, I wasn't close to prepared for the trials that lay ahead upon graduating high school. It's taken a great deal of time to settle into a rhythm in which I'm relatively at ease - 'relatively' being the key term. It's difficult to leave home - leave everything you've always known - for an unknown city filled with unfamiliar faces. And, as I've faced these difficulties, I seem to have gotten away from who I've always been. I'm proud to say that who I once was - who I was happy with - has returned to me.

This birthday has been meaningful in so many different ways. For one, the love with which my home friends reached out to me has touched me in an ineffable way. My best friends, my friends, my acquaintances - their efforts to ensure that I felt special today affected me in ways I never knew possible. My family and my informal family, compiled of lifelong friends and caretakers, have reminded me of my roots and inspired me to return to who I once was. My new friends, the people who have made my Brandeis experience what it's been, have given me hope for a bright future - one in which I can act perfectly natural.

It's with utmost sincerity and heartfelt gratitude that I say thank you to each individual who played an integral role in making my birthday experience as memorable as it was. Ironically, I went into my 19th thinking that this year's birthday was insignificant. I couldn't have been more wrong. This birthday has changed the course of the rest of my year, and I fully intend to carry this rediscovered confidence and refreshing momentum into my 20th year of life.

With love, appreciation, and gratitude,

Thank you.


Tuesday, November 18, 2014

My Test of Faith

Dear God,

Children are crying. Fathers lie massacred in pools of blood. The Jewish people are suffering. Our pain prompts me to question whether I should value or reject being labeled “Chosen.” We are a people that has endured persecution and animosity dating back to our enslavement in Egypt. And yet, despite the unlikely circumstances, our people - Your people - have persevered and, by nothing short of a miracle, remain intact today. This illustrious history engenders a pride I could never, no matter the immensity of my efforts, convey in words. However, with such joy, such reverence for my ancestors and their valiant effort to fight existential threat after existential threat comes heartache and indescribable pain. God, we don’t want to hurt any longer.

It seems we’ve been chosen for double standards, hostility, and unwarranted negative attention. Even now, as we flourish in the land You once promised my forefathers, we cannot capture the ever-elusive peace that we, more than anything, have always desired. We’ve been chosen for what? To be a “light unto the nations?” I suppose, in a twisted sense, we’ve become just that. Our every move is placed under a microscope, with critical observers tracking each motion in the hopes that they’ll find something - anything - to use against us in their endless pursuit of our people's delegitimization.  God, why should I want to be “Chosen?” Why should I want to be a part of this seemingly never-ending series of unfortunate events?

Sometimes I question if You’re even up there. I struggle to understand how You could allow such atrocities as innocent, devout men being murdered in the midst of Shacharit. As their praises rang out to You - the God they so unconditionally loved and trusted - they unknowingly awaited their death. Few tests of faith have pushed me to strongly reconsider my relationship with You, God, and this is one of them. I surely can’t be the only one.

Perhaps You’re testing us. I hope that You are. Perhaps I’m supposed to question Your very existence. Perhaps everything really does happen for a reason. These attacks are prompting so many uncertainties. But one thing remains now and forever absolute: my devotion to the Jewish people and the State of Israel. I remain committed to Your land. You are our “King, Helper, Savior, Shield,” and yet Jews are being massacred each day. And while I may develop reservations with You, I swear that my devotion to Israel and her people will never waver. The world continues to turn against us. Where is your shield? Where is our savior?

“Listen to our voice, Lord our God. Spare us and have compassion on us.” Have we not called out enough? Have we not sufficiently pleaded for our security? 

“To Jerusalem, Your city, may You return in compassion, and may You dwell in it as promised.” Where are You? Surely the dwelling place from which you are to govern the world should see no pain. Have You not returned? 

Those murdered yesterday were the “righteous, the pious,” and yet they saw no mercy. They met their end in the most miserable fashion. God, I can’t explain what’s happening to my people, and that’s perhaps the most frustrating aspect of my internal struggle. I turn to you in desperation and depression, pleading for salvation, pleading for answers.

Save me. Save my people. Save my family. Let us remain strong. Let us continue to dictate our future as we wish. But please, above all, “grant peace, goodness and blessing, grace, loving-kindness and compassion to us and all Israel Your people.” I want to know that You are there, God. “O Lord, open my lips so that my mouth may deliver your praise.” Grant us the peace we’ve always wanted.


Wednesday, August 20, 2014

A Goodbye to All

The sun was setting in Harbor Town. I gazed at the Mississippi and was struck by an unprecedented sense of nostalgia. In a mental film, I recounted all of the times I’d been down to the river. I took note of who I first went with, who was there during the middle visits, and who remained by my side until the final sunsets. Soon after the film reached its conclusion, my mind began to drift aimlessly. I recalled dressing up like Johnny Bravo in the living room of my first home. I replayed the night I spent sleeping on Avi’s floor because I was too afraid to sleep in solitude. I felt the pain of leaving 415 S. Yates again, though once was more than enough. In a flood of memories ranging from happy to sad, touching to shallow, worthy of lifelong remembrance and those I want desperately to forget, I was rudely awoken by the painful but inevitable realization that the first stage of my life - the only stage I’ve known - is reaching its imminent conclusion. All that I’ve known will cease to be as it is, and all that will be is still a faint expectation in my mind. It’s not until now, on the precipice of departure, that I find the time to reflect on the past 18 years spent here in Memphis. 

It would take a novel to adequately elaborate upon the lessons I’ve learned throughout my 18 years of existence, but I’ll settle for a relatively short blogpost. 

For the longest time, I felt out of place in Memphis. I wasn’t particularly religious, and I felt like an outcast for that lack of concern. It made it no easier to have a drug addicted mother whose actions gave birth to endless swirls of rumors and judgements. Suffice it to say, it was difficult growing up feeling as though I didn’t belong. 

As time wore on and I began to realize more about my life, I found that my reality was not the most pleasant one. In retrospect, I can now hypothesize that I was perhaps mildly depressed, and certainly severely miserable, for a significant stretch of my pre-adolescent years. Come 7th grade, I was torn between two broken homes, struggling still to find my place. In 8th grade, things seemed to change for the better, but only on the surface. I was no healthier internally. I had yet to realize the extent of the emotional baggage that was impeding my growth, but I found an almost fake sense of happiness and let myself see the world through eyes that, for once, weren’t scowling. 

But such a pseudo-happiness has an expiration date. Its conclusion came with the onset of high school, the most transformative period of my life thus far. During my freshman year, I grew to resent Judaism, as I felt trapped within a bubble that allowed little to no exploration. I remained deeply hurt, but unaware of the severity of my pain. Sophomore year brought a newfound emphasis on academic success, but the same internal struggles. Though I had learned how to better cope with the after-effects of my mother’s addiction, I was subconsciously waiting for something, someone, to push me in front of my personal mirror so that I could see myself and my demons for what they truly were. 

Due in large part to a very special person who gave me that necessary shove, Junior year has proved to be the most crucial and life changing thus far. In it, I took three steps back, reflected on my life, and committed myself to ridding my psyche of the aforementioned demons. I devoted myself to introspection and change. I came out of 11th grade far stronger, far more prepared to embark on the rest of my independent life. 

And now, here I am, after spending Senior year feeling happy and emotionally healthy. Here I am, preparing to take the plunge into the next stage of my life. Here I am, reflecting on all that made me the person that I am today. 

I chronicle my development not to elicit sympathy. Rather, I do it to find relief. Beyond that, I do it so that I can expound on that development and attribute portions of it to those who have utterly and eternally transformed my life. There are so many people that I owe the world to, but unfortunately I have only one world to give. Thus, we’ll again have to settle for a relatively short blogpost. 

In the growth of my friendship with Asher and Eli, I found security and trust. In my inconsistent world, I felt I had two constants that served often as my backbone. I’ll never forget the time spent with those two - my best friends - and I find myself nearly in tears at the thought of leaving the city in which so many lifelong memories were made. Though I’ll be physically removed, I know that those memories will live, and I know that those friends will be with me well into the next stages of my life. 

In Rachel I found someone in whom I could confide. She was the first person I felt entirely comfortable opening up to about my past. And though we drifted apart with time, I’ll always feel close to her in some capacity. I wish I could find the words to thank her for her friendship and kindness, but it seems impossible. Though she wasn’t with me in body, she certainly was in spirit and mind. That made my Memphis experience immeasurably easier. 

In Shira I found a motherly friend, a kind soul, and a genuinely considerate person. Of the many people who have come and gone in my life, I know that she will forever be one who stays. No matter the time spent apart, no matter the distance, I know for certain that she and I will be close until the end of our days. 

In the Perls I found so much. I found an unprecedented love for religion. I found the motivation to explore, to question, to embark on intellectual pursuits. I found redemption, renewal, sanity. I found two people who care far more than people note, and I found two people who will forever mean more to me than I could adequately express. Their departure pains me, even now, because it leaves me fearful for the future of the school in which I spent almost my entire life. And though that fear will likely subside with time, I know that their collective influence never will. They’ve left an indelible mark on me, and have significantly contributed to my development. 

In Rabbi Lubetski I found a friend. A principal, sure. But a friend above all. I’ll never forget the disappointment in his eyes when I was suspended freshman year, and I’ll never forget the sadness that disappointment brought me. He and I developed a unique rapport in my time at the CYHSB, and the impact he’s had on me will never fade. 

In Bryan, Isaac, and Jason I found friends who gave me faith that people at the CYSHB care. I found friends with whom I could discuss politics, faith, and life at large. I found a sense of indescribable appreciation. They are three peers, debaters, but, most importantly, three friends. 

In Tyler, Elliot, Adam, and Adam I found that no matter the denominational difference, no matter the ideological conflict, and no matter the opposing religious beliefs, a group of teenagers with common interests are capable of looking past those distinguishing details for the sake of appreciating each others’ cores. In them I found an entirely new life perspective. I found a group of friends who welcomed me with open arms and changed my life’s course. Though we’ve been close for merely two years, I know that they will be in my life for many to come. 

In Emily I found unconditional appreciation in its truest form. I found friendship in the deepest sense of the word. She served as the recipient of my venting on more than one occasion, and for that I’m forever in debt. To say goodbye to a friend like Emily is indescribably difficult, but I’m comforted by a feeling of confidence that she’ll be a part of my life for quite some time. 

In Shelby I found a mother. A mother who picked me up on time. A mother who treated me as her own, fed me until I was full, and ensured that I had all that I needed. I found a woman who cared for me without expecting anything in return. She was, in many ways, an angel to me, for I’m unsure of how I could have survived my elementary school days without her watchful and considerate eye. 

In Pam, Sandra, and Amy I found surrogate mothers. I found strong women who showed me what it means to care for your family and sacrifice personal interests for the sake of the household. Those women changed me for the far better, and I owe them more than I could ever repay. 

In Hallie I found hope. I found a newfound belief in love. She gave me the best year of my life, and the memories we shared in various parts of Memphis will never leave me. She and her family welcomed me with open arms and showed me what it’s like to live in a healthy home. Their collective influence has altered my life’s course, and will be with me when it’s time to raise a family of my own. 

Though I only mentioned a few, so many people have touched my life during the last 18 years. In that time, I’ve learned a great deal about life. However, considering my age, I understand that what I know now will likely change in the years to come. That being said, I still feel it necessary to publish what I’ve learned so that perhaps you, readers, can share in my realizations. 

First and foremost, I’ve learned that life isn’t at all what many expect. Those delusional enough to expect rainbows and butterflies each morning will have an inexplicably difficult time trudging through the sometimes difficult, sometimes mundane day-to-day. Life places obstacles before you, and to hurdle such obstacles is an ongoing process. One does not jump then stop jumping. One must learn to face challenges, rise above petty conflict, and do what’s best for their sanity. Life is a beautiful thing, but it is not kind to all. And so is the reason why it’s so beautiful. With each hardship comes the possibility of triumph. With each failure comes the possibility of redemption. Though there will always be external influences trying desperately to infiltrate your internal being, you must fight tooth and nail to maintain your truest form. Only then will you be able to place your sanity before that of others. Sick people exist, and they will attempt to rope you into their miserable way of life. It’s within our power, though, to ensure that does not happen. 

I’ve learned that religion is difficult, confusing, but mind bogglingly beautiful. When my mother was sick, I wondered where God was. He seemed to ignore my calls for help, and gave me several reasons to doubt His existence. And yet, I couldn’t grasp the idea of a God-less world. As time wore on, I grew resentful of not only God, but organized Judaism. I felt that being forced to connect to a religion that I had several contentions with was irresponsible at best, and condemnable at worst. In all honesty, there were times when I was content with being entirely non-observant. There were times when I wanted to walk away from Judaism. But, by the grace of the God that I’ve grown to love, I stayed on a path, though an unconventional one, toward a Jewish future. Though I haven’t resolved all of the ideological conflicts I have with God and Judaism, I have reached a place in my religiosity where I feel compelled, independently, to learn more about the religion I so proudly affiliate with. 

I used to care about what people had to say about me. I was intensely sensitive to popular opinion. That sensitivity gave rise to a serious predicament considering the stigma with which my last name is associated. Being a Goldstein, I was pegged as an excessively aggressive trouble maker. For quite some time, I let others’ judgements damage my self-confidence. But the older I grew, the more I began to understand myself and the community in which I was raised. Sure, many people were kind and caring, eager to help me and my family in difficult times. But I also found that many people living in the Orthodox community of Memphis are vicious and childish. Many have no better use for their time than verbally assaulting others less fortunate or, in their eyes, less worthy of admiration. It took a considerable amount of time to see that I wasn’t the problem - they were. When I came to that realization, it became immeasurably easier to step into my own. I learned to be my unapologetic, unadulterated self. With that revived confidence came the ability to challenge popular opinion. The realization that I was not the problem gave me the voice to stand up and call out those who are. So to those remaining in this complex community, I urge you to realize that you are not being judged because you are inherently flawed; rather, you are being judged because those who judge you do so to make themselves feel superior. 

This community perplexes me. It’s purportedly devoted to a strong Orthodox school that’s intended to serve as the center of Memphis Orthodoxy. However, the actions of many reveal the paradox that is the debate surrounding the future of the Margolin Hebrew Academy. I’ve never felt so fearful for my alma mater’s fate as I do now. That fear can largely be attributed to the departure of the Perls and the Steins, but I owe it more to those who have chosen to challenge the very values upon which the school was founded. To ignore the school’s existential crisis for the sake of arguments on nuances is reprehensible. Now is the time to band together to ensure that there is a tomorrow for Orthodoxy in Memphis. Now is certainly not the time to push for a divide-and-conquer operation. Orthodox Jewry will soon die in Memphis if unity is not achieved. That is not an absurd prediction - it’s an absolute fact. 

Perhaps the most important thing I’ve learned is that it’s okay to be different. I’m far different than the rest of my family members. I have different interests, different political beliefs, and I approach emotional expression differently. Though one may think those significant differences could lead to conflict, they only do when you allow them to. I’ve come to accept the approaches and opinions of others - so long as they don’t reflect utter ignorance - over the past several years, and that’s allowed me to better handle confrontations when they arise. We live in a society that places an absurd emphasis on superficiality and conformity, but that doesn’t mean we must neglect who we inherently are for the sake of fitting in. Though the status quo may seemingly leave us no choice but to conform, we are capable of reaching a place of self-confidence that allows us to feel comfortable and proud in our own skin. 

It feels like my world is ending, but I know this transition marks the beginning of the rest of my life. To leave home is terrifying, yet exciting all at once. I’m eager to spread my wings and delve into interests that I couldn’t fully engage in here. And while I’m on the verge of making Waltham my home, I know that I will never feel as fortunate and comfortable somewhere else as I do here, in Memphis. 

It’s with a heavy heart but high expectations that I say goodbye to you all, the people who have contributed to the man I’ve become. I know that bigger and better things are ahead of me, but I’ll never forget where I came from or who was there to guide me through my growth. 

So, the sun was setting in Harbor Town. The sun is setting on the first stage of my life. It’s time for me to move on, but not at the expense of forgetting why I am the way that I am. 

From the bottom of my heart,

Thank you.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

The Mirror

“It’s time to wake up,” whispered a soothing, almost undetectable voice. “It’s time to wake up for school.” 

Debbie’s eyes slowly opened. She looked around the room, but saw no one. And yet, the voice persisted. 

“It’s time to get dressed.”

With blurred vision, Debbie rolled onto her side and mustered up the strength to emerge from her bed. She had enjoyed an interruption-free sleep for the third straight night, a small victory to Debbie. As she inched toward the bathroom, she brushed her hands along her stomach. She felt her ribs protruding from her torso. 

“It’s time to look at yourself,” the voice said menacingly. “It’s time to stand before the mirror.” 

Debbie let out a yawn. She bathed and clothed herself in a way that seemed intentionally slow, perhaps to spite the voice that filled her head. Each time she would pass the mirror, she would avert her eyes, making sure to avoid a confrontation with the physical manifestation of the unrelenting voice. 

“I know what you’re doing. What’s the matter? You don’t want to see yourself today? Is that it?” The voice’s tone had shifted from soothing to virulent. 

Though Debbie had fought its influence for years, and had grown sadly accustomed to its perpetual badgering, she often found herself conceding victory to the maniacal voice embedded in her damaged psyche. No matter how determined her efforts, the voice almost always found a way to persuade her to bring it to life. It fed off of her misery, and its figure reflected Debbie’s perception of herself. 

She glanced at the mirror, but remained at an angle from which she could only see a reflection of the door. She felt helpless. Her body impulsively made its way before the mirror. Now, standing perfectly in front of her reflection, Debbie furiously closed her eyes. She searched for the inner strength to conquer the voice, her personal nemesis since the age of twelve.

“Open your eyes, Debbie. What’s the matter, you can’t stand to see me?” 

Feeling her strength subsiding, Debbie began to speak: “You are not me. Leave me alone! Please, stop!”

But to no avail. 

Her eyes shot open. Her jaw dropped instantaneously. The figure staring back at her was not her - she was sure of it. It was a monster. It was her mind urgently attempting to strip her of her sanity. But its gaze was so powerful. She couldn't look away. 

The voice only grew louder. “You don’t like what you see, do you?” 

Almost catatonic, tears began to well in Debbie’s eyes. Even through the liquid she could see the monster staring back at her. Its hair was greasy. Its stomach lined with rolls of fat. Its face was covered in unavoidable acne. But the figure in the mirror wasn’t crying. No, it was far past crying. You could see the pain in its eyes. A blatant physical indication of its misery seemed unnecessary. In its face, death was near. 

“Why don’t you just kill yourself? What is your life even worth?” 

Debbie looked away from the mirror and down at her wrist. It looked small, frail, even childlike. She reached for her cheek, but found that there was nothing to grab - only bone. She searched for her breasts, but they had been gone for years. She tried to internalize the rapid deterioration of her body, but her efforts were thwarted each time she gazed again at the figure.

Feeling she’d reached her tipping point, Debbie reached for the soap dispenser sitting beside her sink’s faucet. Drawing on her experience from her days as an athlete, a distant memory for Debbie at this point, she erratically cocked her arm back and, with all of the might her tiny frame could offer, threw the metal dispenser at the mirror. To her dismay, the object failed to so much as crack her foe. 

“You can’t win. Even if you break this mirror, you’ll always be you. You’ll always be too fat and too unstable."

Debbie picked the dispenser up and launched it at the mirror again. It anticlimactically bounced off and landed on the floor. She tried again. Again. Again. Tears began streaming down her face. Her neck’s veins bulged from her skin. With spit dripping from the sides of her lips, she finally yelled, “Why won’t you leave me alone?! What do you want from me?!” 

She sunk to the floor, crying profusely, unable to gather her thoughts. The voice grew louder, but its words became increasingly unclear. A swirl of deafening noises filled her head. A sharp pain began to materialize in her stomach. Her breathing grew faster, her heart rate skyrocketed, her courage was rapidly disappearing. 

Finally, she threw her body on top of the toilet and vomited. Nothing but stomach acid slid through her cracked and yellow teeth. 

The voice was quiet, but even in silence it relished its victory. 

Friday, July 25, 2014

A Fallen Hero from the Diaspora

It started with a dream. A young Austrian with a full black beard was daring enough to set the wheels in motion for what would eventually become the Jewish State. His vision: Jewish sovereignty for the first time since the destruction of the Second Temple. He famously stated, “If you will it, it is no dream.” But his will wasn’t comparable to the will of others. In fact, I often question whether I’m worthy of applying such a statement to my own life. His will transcended all logical explanation. He refused to be deterred by rejection. He devoted his life to ensuring that there would one day be a place where no Jew felt ostracized or alien. 

Perhaps it would have been more fitting for Theodor Herzl, the father of Modern Zionism and my personal hero, to have stated, “If you’re as crazy and relentless as I am, it is no dream.” Such passion, the driving force in his unyielding efforts to achieve his life’s dream, comes along only once every several years. To draw from a religious phrase, he was a true Godolei Hador, only secular. 

Herzl sacrificed his personal sanity, his life’s savings, and his promising career as a journalist to set out on a far nobler, far more respectable mission. He left everything, all that he knew, in hopes that he’d find something better, something of greater meaning. 

A hero in his own way, Max Steinberg embodied many of the traits that allowed Herzl to change the world. All it took was a Taglit-Birthright trip to connect Max to his ancestral homeland. Previously uninvolved and relatively uninformed, Max discovered an ineffable connection to Israel upon his first visit there. Feeling he owed his life to the force that was tasked with protecting and perpetuating the Jewish State, Max enlisted in the IDF, accepting upon himself great responsibility, and similarly great risks. Much like Herzl, he left all that he’d known, all that he was comfortable with, for a far nobler life.

It seemed only fitting that Max, someone I’d never met nor heard of before his death, was buried just a short distance away from Herzl. Max was a pioneer in his own sense, and was well deserving of the distinct honor of being laid to rest in the same vicinity as the man who made his life so meaningful. 

As a Chayal Boded (Lone Soldier), it wasn’t expected that 15, let alone 30,000, people would attend Max’s funeral. His family spoke about how he had come to Israel with almost no family and friends in the country. But, with all due respect to the grieving, I can’t help but firmly disagree. Any soldier, any Jew, is a member of the extended family of Am Yisrael. 

As a Lone Soldier, however, Max assumed a role of, in my opinion, greater importance than that of a traditional soldier. Max, though perhaps unaware, inspired those around him, even the 30,000 who had never spoken a word to him, by leading by example in the process of the ingathering of the exiles. He left the diaspora to come home, where his family and friends were waiting. His sacrifice will forever be appreciated, and his death will certainly not be in vain. 

Though it’s difficult to imagine that there is any type of consolation that will ease the pain of Max’s friends and family, I find comfort in the fact that he died for the country he loved enough to leave his past life for. No peoples knows the importance of sacrifice like the Jewish people. As has been made clear by the outpouring of anti-Israel and anti-Semitic sentiments following the onset of Operation Protective Edge, the Jew will forever, even in the progressive world in which we currently live, need to sacrifice himself for the whole of the nation. Max made the ultimate sacrifice. 

One of the persistent and tragic themes in Jewish history is unity brought by pain. Jews of all religious factions, and surely all political beliefs, gathered to honor the dead at Har Herzl on Wednesday. It’s a shame, however, that such unity is elusive in times of relative calm. Such a relationship among the opposing sectors of Judaism is certainly not the most efficient and effective form of cohesiveness. 

We should not only mourn Max Steinberg’s death, but we should celebrate his life. We should celebrate the life of each and every chayal (soldier). We shouldn’t depend on tragedy to bring us together; we should be preemptively united, putting us in a better position to face those who wish to see our demise. 

To see my brother and sister Jews cry for a brave young man from California whom they’d never met was truly awe-inspiring. To track the steady stream of funeral goers entering the gates of Har Herzl was mind boggling, as they seemed to never stop pouring in. 

When people ask what it means to be a Jew, I’m unsure of if there’s a better response than to point them to an event like the funeral of Max Steinberg. To be a Jew is to be a member of a family in which each brother is accountable for each sister, and visa versa. 

My heart is heavy with sorrow as my family members continue to die on the front lines of war. But to know that they passed while giving the ultimate sacrifice is somewhat consoling. To know that their deaths have contributed to the eternalization of the Jewish nation elicits both comfort and respect. 

Max Steinberg deserves to rest for eternity beside the man who made his sacrifice possible. He deserves to be regarded as as much of a hero. He, along with anyone who defends the State of Israel from its enemies, holds a special place in olam haba (heaven). 

Like Herzl, Max was crazy enough to pursue his dreams. For that, we should forever admire him. 

Baruch Dayan Ha’emet.