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. 

Friday, July 18, 2014

The Lonely Jew

My heart broke upon hearing the story of a survivor from the Warsaw Ghetto. Starving and on the brink of death, he snuck into a courtyard and sifted through the garbage. In it, he found a piece of moldy bread. To us, such a discovery would mean little. To this man, it meant he had a chance to prolong, even briefly, the life of his emaciated, dying father. Mustering up all of the energy left in his skeletal body, he rushed home with bread in hand, and hope in mind. When he opened the door, he called out "Father, I have food!" But no one answered. Eventually, to his dismay, he found his father dead and swollen, lying naked on the living room floor.

As the still bereaved man recollected the moment in which he found his father dead, tears began to well in his eyes. Naturally, the profundity of his story touched me in a way that I'll never be able to fully express. This man and his family were no longer perceived as humans. His father died in a way akin to the death of a stray dog.

I continued my journey through Yad Vashem.

At the next screen, I heard a man describe the way the ghetto desensitized its inhabitants toward death. The starving and homeless walked by carcasses at every street corner. Soon, they no longer felt inclined to mourn. Wherever they walked, death was with them, and there came a point when living with such a harsh reality was all that was possible.

Just before the end of the impressive and powerful exhibit, I read about the conclusion of WW2 and the subsequent establishment of the State of Israel. An audio tape of David Ben-Gurion reading the Israeli Declaration of Independence, his voice noticeably bursting with emotion, played as photos of May 15th celebrations in the new state flashed across the screen.

Never again would we be subjected to such torture. Now, there was a place of refuge where we would no longer be considered subhuman.

At that moment, more than any other, I understood the necessity to defend the Jewish people from those who wish our demise at any and all costs.

Hours later, I heard news of Israel's recently launched ground operation in Gaza. Of course, such news came with the quick realization that my brother had been dispatched into hostile territory, thrust into the center of a frightening and dangerous conflict. An array of worries began to cloud my mind, but then something surprising happened. I realized that this operation served as an opportunity for my brother, as well as the rest of the conscripts of the Israeli army, to defend the Jewish State from those who wish again to wipe us off the face of the earth. Such a realization served as consolation.

The Jew, by his very birth, inherits a a paradox. He is predisposed to being hated, and such hatred would seemingly be reason to feel a sense of embarrassment. Yet, the Jew simultaneously inherits a sense of pride that transcends all external opinions and baseless hatred. The latter inheritance leads many to refer to us as the "Chosen Ones" with a tone of bitterness rather than praise.

Where the Jew will fail, has failed, is when they mold themselves to meet the expectations of others, and to avoid the condemnation of those who feel condescended upon.

The German Jews became Jewish Germans. Six million perished. When push came to shove, the Jew was helpless.

The American Jews are becoming the Jewish Americans. In a different, but arguably equally effective way, millions of Jews are vanishing. When push comes to shove, the Jew is running from their identity.

It's imperative that such a trend does not continue. We are no longer the helpless, wandering Jews. We are no longer the subject of discussion regarding the "Jewish Question." We should be proud, and we must stop at nothing to ensure the perpetuation of our people.

With anti-Semitism filling the streets of Europe and even America, now, more than ever, is the time to wake up and realize that the Jew will always be alone. The Jew will always be responsible for ensuring its own future. The media is waging a fierce propaganda battle against not only Israel, but global Jewry. The people are listening. Jews, yet again, are being isolated and singled out.

So, I write to express my belief in Israel's right to defend itself. I write to express my belief that, regardless of external pressure and opinion, Israel must place its best interest before anything else. The media will propagate lies and incite violence and bitter hatred. But what has the Jew not faced before? What challenges has he not overcome?

We have the power to determine our fate. We mustn't use it foolishly.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Express And Be Cured

There's something beautiful about vulnerability. At the same time, though, there's something utterly terrifying about it. I spent years fearing commitment to any and everything. Such a fear seems to have been the natural product of spending the key developmental years of my upbringing in continuous disappointment due to my entrusting others with my emotions. I learned, painfully and slowly, a universal truth: Some people will deeply hurt you.

For me, it was my mother. She and I have a past that I don't feel needs to be thoroughly picked apart. Suffice it to say that we no longer have a relationship. Part of the reason why things have come to such a dramatically sour state is because, as a young boy, I wore my heart on my sleeve, only to have it time and again broken by her consistent absence and self-absorption.

I have vivid memories of standing alongside my classmates during school productions. Though we were uniform in dress and our choreography dictated synchronized movement, it was quite clear to me that I wasn't the slightest bit similar to my peers. They were performing to the pleasure of their parents. I watched as they scanned the audience, and then envied the bright look that came across their faces the moment they found their loved ones.

Meanwhile, I stood atop the stage, gazing out into a sea of relatively strange faces. My mother was seldom in attendance, thus giving me nobody to perform for. It was ironic - our performances garnered high attendance, yet I couldn't help but feel alone.

For years, I felt the aftereffects of being mistreated and deserted. I developed this idea of emotional expression as one in which any display of vulnerability was the equivalent of displaying weakness. Therefore, I snatched my heart from my sleeve and hid it from those around me. What ensued was a cycle of anger and misery.

My emotional expression became one dimensional; that emotion being catharsis. The pain I felt welling up inside of me manifested itself in the form of fits of rage, launched objects across my bedroom, and physical outbursts that stemmed from constant, inexplicable frustration. The scars that were left were waiting to be healed, but my ill-conceived understanding of emotional expression inhibited my dealing with my past in a healthy manner.

Eventually, though, I grew tired of being angry. I grew tired of being miserable. Such emotions don't allow much flexibility when it comes to enjoying life. When I made the conscious decision to eliminate the demons of my past once and for all, I found that I simply didn't know how. To express my pain would go against everything I'd come to believe. To show that I felt would, I thought, denote weakness.

How foolish I was. With the help of several very special people, I was able to understand that emotional expression cannot be healthy unless one is willing to be vulnerable and open. It wasn't until I released my painful past that I could begin to move on. Such a practice of open expression was, initially, a source of discomfort. But as time wore on, I began to see the fruits of what to me was my labor. The tension and frustration began to erode. I found a new, more emotionally in-touch side of myself.

People often ridicule me for being so open. I'm generally patient with those who have the audacity to make such jabs. They don't understand that this, what I do here on my blog, is instrumental in my recovery process. We all have scars and dark pasts and tragic stories to share, and I firmly believe that each of us would benefit from actually sharing. There is no shame in being emotionally expressive and true to your convictions. If you aren't comfortable enough with your past to share it with others, then you may find yourself anchored there, unable to move on and make the world your own.

I have much left to do in my journey of emotional recovery. I've merely begun the process of picking up the pieces of my once broken spirit, and I feel completion is distant. What I've learned throughout this perpetual trial is that you should never stop reflecting and introspecting. The more you evaluate yourself, the likelier you are to appropriately detect and assess your flaws, and subsequently resolve those issues. I take each day as it comes - whether that entails calming myself down when I begin to feel frustrated, or reassuring myself when my confidence wanes. I feel that such an approach is not only nice in theory - it's effective.

So, I urge you not to fear when it comes to being emotionally expressive. Vulnerability is often dangerous. My mother has confirmed that people are, inevitably, going to hurt you. But it's important to take that pain, express it, heal it, and find the strength to re-open yourself to others.

I've taken my heart out and again placed it confidently on my sleeve. I cannot predict what pain is awaiting me, but I can say that I'll never let it bring me to, as it once did, lose my faith in humanity. I'll never let someone else make me miserable. I refuse to repress my emotions, and I urge you all to pop your bottles and let it all out.


Sunday, June 15, 2014

Why We Should Care

Elazar, Gush Etzion

It was my first morning in Israel this past summer. Being jet-lagged, I awoke just before the sun rose over the Hills of Judea. Though I'm not particularly religious, I decided to step outside into my brother's backyard to say Shacharit, the morning prayer. As I began to wrap my tefillin, chills permeated throughout my body. The wind brushed my skin as if it embodied a message. Before I donned the shel rosh, I gazed at the clouds that were moving quickly overhead. In that moment, I felt more connected to the Land of Israel, the ancestral homeland of my forefathers, and the eternal homeland of my descendants, in an unprecedented way.

God was there. He was just above me. His presence had manifested itself in the form of a guardian cloud. He was making His rounds, ensuring the safety of his coveted people, just before they were expected to awake. For the first time in my life, the abstract took form. I had spent much of my adolescent years searching for God, and in a moment of simplicity, yet overwhelming emotion, I found Him.

The Old City, Jerusalem

As the sun fell and Shabbat was about to begin, my friend and I hastily made our way toward the gates of The Old City. When we neared the entrance, it became increasingly difficult to maneuver through the large flood of people who were similarly eager to make it to services on time. Finally, we emerged at the steps overlooking the Wailing Wall, the Kotel. Awestruck, I surveyed the surrounding area, and estimated that at least a few thousand people would be joining us for afternoon prayers. After my friend and I parted ways, I made my way into the crowd on the men's side of the holy site. 

In that relatively minuscule area, I found myself surrounded by each conceivable faction of global Jewry. It appeared to me that they, too, felt God's presence in the air, and were willing to disregard the religious differences that distinguished them for the sake of collective prayer. And so began my understanding of the unifying nature of the Land of Israel.

Gush Etzion, The West Bank

Three Yeshiva students, one with dual US-Israeli citizenship, are kidnapped near my brother's home, the place where I first felt God's presence in my life. Suddenly, the unity that I so strongly felt in the summer of 2013 is broken. Suddenly, a piece of Am Yisrael is missing. 

Why We Should Care

Why should we, detached American Jews, care so strongly for the three adolescents who were tragically abducted in the West Bank this past week? Why should we pray for their safe return home? 

Because those three Jewish teenagers are us. 

Our bond to them is as inseparable as our bond to our parents. We were born into this covenant, into this religion in which a piece of ourselves is embedded in our fellow Jews. There is no shaking such an eternal bond. There is no elasticity. It is absolute, beautiful, and what distinguishes this religion from all others. Our family members are missing, and it's in our best interest to have them returned home safely. 

Just as I leisurely strolled through the Hills of Judea, relishing my time spent in the presence of God, they sought to enjoy a similar experience. Unfortunately, we are dealing with a portion of the Palestinian population that seeks the utter and absolute annihilation of the State of Israel and the Jews that inhabit it. With each terror attack perpetrated by Hamas, they are slowly severing the tie that bonds global Jewry together. They are taking and destroying pieces of the whole of Am Yisrael

Such acts should not, cannot, and will not be tolerated by the Israeli population, and it's my hope that such sentiments are shared by the rest of global Jewry. It is our duty to be concerned for our brothers. It is our duty to call out to the God who has been with us throughout the tumultuous 3000 years of our miraculous existence. We must pray and plead for the safe return of these three boys because they're far more than "just" three boys. 

They're us. 

Israel is in a state of mourning. Thousands gather at the Kotel each night to give the name "The Wailing Wall" a whole new meaning. Secular or religious, they cry out for God's help because they understand that the Nation of Israel is nothing without each member. They are unified by God's explicit presence, and such a feeling of unity drives them to despair until their fellow Israelis are returned home to their families. 

We don't have the luxury of feeling God's presence in the same manner, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't cry louder or work harder to gain His attention. I haven't been praying enough. I could cry louder. I could plead in a more crafty, persistent way. And I will begin to do just that. It's the least I can do to keep my people fully intact. I hope you do the same. 



Friday, June 13, 2014

A New Approach

I think it's time to address an issue that has taken contemporary Western culture by storm. Perhaps it's an uncomfortable topic, or perhaps you simply don't care to accept the fact that it's an issue, but I nevertheless feel it deserves in-depth analysis and proposed solutions. This issue has slowly become one of the most prominent in the world, and it has embedded itself so deeply into the collective psyche of the male gender that shaking its influence seems to be a daunting, if not impossible, task.

It's time we talk about the objectification of women.

It's the norm to identify a woman by her physical attributes as opposed to the content of her character. When a name is dropped in a conversation, impulse motivates man to give his opinion on the way she looks, not on her sense of humor, intelligence, or uniqueness. When a woman walks by in a tight skirt, impulse motivates man to track her as though she is a lion's prey, and ultimately he disregards the fact that she is a human being. When confronted and challenged for acting in such an animalistic manner, impulse motivates man to shift the blame, which most often results in the absurd claim that the victim of those unwanted gazes provoked such actions.

I use the word "impulse" for a reason. It's not that we, the male gender, want to objectify women in such an insensitive way. It's that we have been raised in a culture that allows, if not encourages, such twisted objectification. Sex is idealized and endlessly present in the mainstream of American culture, and it's therefore no wonder as to why we can't help but think about it. We've been conditioned to look first and listen second. Understand this, though: I am in no way justifying these immoral impulses; I am merely speculating as to why they're so prevalent.

Furthermore, many of us have never been taught differently. We've never been questioned for objectifying, and we've never been instructed to do otherwise. That's where the current generation comes in. It's our duty to change the tide in this losing battle. Though, again, impulses are incredibly difficult to control, they are not entirely impossible to change.

We have the power to give forethought before we objectify. We have the power to make a concerted effort to analyze, converse with, and explore the depths of the women we come across. Our only option is not objectification.

I can proudly say that I am a sane, reflective man. Therefore, I have it in me to approach my perception of the opposite gender in a different, far more humane way. I put these thoughts in writing as I prepare to embark on my personal journey toward gender equality in both the physical and conceptual worlds. I urge those reading to join me in this difficult battle, as I'm sure that our changed perceptions will further inspire the generation that follows us.

It's time that we saw other humans for who they are inside, as opposed to what they have to offer on the outside. Join me in this journey toward sensitivity and understanding. Let's change the way we think, and hope that such actions will lead others to do the same.