Monday, June 17, 2013

A Harsh Reality

I've seen it all. I've seen all of the highs, and I've seen all of the lows. I've seen the fights, the parties, and the scandals. I know what David does every day at noon. I know that Jessie's apparent happiness is merely a byproduct of the facade she works so hard to maintain. And I know that Jacob is living a lie, one in which he's forced into endless suffering.

It all started when I was born on a farm in Ohio. I'm the youngest son of three. I've never met my father; I suppose he and my mother had a fling that didn't last very long. From what my siblings have told me, my mother was a phenomenal woman. My faintest memories of her include the typical childhood nurturing mothers are tasked with doing. When I was just two months old, I was put up for adoption. I suppose finding a new place to live was better than being put down.

I spent days in a cage. People of all ages came by and observed my every move. Do you know how much pressure I was under? I had to keep up my appearance and behave like a gentleman, just so I could find a loving family. For me, that was easier in theory than in practice.

After five days in the hot Ohio sun, I was beginning to lose hope. I figured it was farm life or death. But just as I was getting ready to throw in the towel, a middle aged couple pulled up in a shiny, new BMW. They spent hours considering their options, and finally arrived at me.

I was tired of the monotony of farm life. I was ready to find a home, get acclimated to my surroundings, and find my calling. I made sure to be on my best behavior. As they peered down at me, I tried as hard as I could to slick my ears back, raise my eyebrows, and give them the cutest puppy dog eyes they've ever seen.

I guess it worked.

"Aw, David, look at this one! He's adorable."

"He is really, really cute. I'm kind of tired of looking around, it's been two hours already. Do you want to just bring him home?"

And that was that.

They signed the paperwork and we were off, headed toward a new home, a new life.

We must have been driving for forty five minutes when the scenery began to drastically change. Rural Ohio turned into a suburban paradise. Mansions lined the streets. Every blade of grass was cut to perfection. Children rode bikes along the sidewalks, earnestly protected by neighborhood security patrols. I saw cute girls all around me. I remember thinking to myself, 'Hey, I can get used to this life.'

When we finally pulled into what would be my new home, I was in awe. My jaw dropped. I looked up at the big, white house and thought nothing could be better. The double doors were painted dark red, the shutters painted green. There were windows all around, giving me a sneak peak into the internal beauty I would soon call my abode. The bushes and flowers that lined the front porch were clearly the product of hard work and diligent up-keeping. We rolled down the driveway, parking next to the big beige fountain located in the center of the roundabout pathway. Jessie stepped out of the passenger seat and made her way to the trunk to pull me out. She pulled the latch, lifted it up, and looked down at me with an ear-to-ear smile.

"Jacob is going to be ecstatic when he sees him," she excitedly exclaimed.

Jessie lifted me up and rested my head on her shoulders. We made our way to the front door. We opened it up, and within two seconds Jacob came rushing down the front stairs.

"He's here, he's here, he's here, he's here, he's here!" Jacob said as he jumbled his words.

That night, I was shown to my new room. Before Jessie and David came and got me from the farm, I had always shared a bed with my two older brothers. That made it so much more special when I discovered I would be receiving a bed of my own. I could sprawl out, stretch at will, and enjoy all of the comfort of the world.

I ate my dinner, took a bath, closed my eyes, and fell asleep in my new home.


That was five years ago. 

In that time, I've learned everything there is to know about this family. 

I'll start with David. 

Though the term is generally "trophy wife," David appeared to be the model for "trophy husbands." He's good looking, fit, and seems to have an answer for everything. He often brings home flowers for Jessie for no apparent reason. He takes Jacob on camping trips, plays catch with him, and always makes himself available. 

David went to Harvard after high school. He graduated with a Bachelor's Degree in business, and went on to get his Master's degree immediately after. Upon graduation, David was lucky enough to land a job at one of the most highly touted Business Consulting firms in the country, Dexterity. David, being the charming man that he is, soon acquired a large pool of a variety of clients. After two years of hard work and promising returns, Dexterity went out on a limb and promoted him to CEO, the youngest in company history. I suppose that sort of sums up the kind of person David was, the kind of effect he had on people. He was smart enough to know what people wanted, and he seemed to always give them just that. 

But David wasn't as much of a saint as he seemed to be. 

I remember the first time he brought his secretary, Linda, home. He had asked her for her opinion on the new blinds Jessie had bought. That first visit wasn't all that exciting, but one moment does stick out in my mind. David was explaining how he felt the teal shade didn't match with the wallpaper when he noticed Linda staring at his mouth. I don't think she realized it, but she was gently biting her bottom lip while doing so. David took note. 

The next time he brought her home, things weren't as platonic. They both longed for each other, and wasted no time getting down to business. They busted through the doors, and the rest is not worth repeating. 

The affair had begun. 

David and Linda have been coming home for the same "lunch break" for the past two years. Jessie has no idea. Nor does Jacob. The funny thing is, nobody notices that I understand what's happening around me. I understand that David is mere centimeters away from falling out of love with Jessie. The marriage is slowly collapsing, and there seems to be nothing that can salvage it. 

One thing that David does makes me wish I was capable of producing tears. Every time they come home together, David walks around the house and turns every picture frame onto its face. Once that process is complete, he removes his wedding ring and puts it in a cup on the kitchen counter. 

Though I can imagine he would never admit it, I know there's a deeply rooted sense of guilt within him. Every time he and Linda walk out of the door, he turns to the mirror just beside the front steps and simply gazes into his own eyes. He sits there, seemingly paralyzed, and just stares. It looks as though it's some form of self reflection, one that almost always ends in disgust. With each passing day, he seems to notice the ever-growing sadness and guilt swelling up inside. 


To be honest, I thought that since this was my utopia, it was everyones'. I thought everything, everyone, here was perfectly happy. The glitz and the glamour enticed me. For the first few years, before everything went spiraling down, I thought it was impossible to be depressed in this paradise. 

But I was wrong. 

It was just a few months after my arrival that I discovered just how damaged Jessie is. I was sleeping soundly in her bed when I was rudely awoken by dramatic sobs and loud, heart wrenching cries. Jessie just sat there, staring into the mirror, and cried for three hours. 

After this incident, I began to notice a pattern. Whenever no one was home, she would crawl into a ball and lay in bed, almost as if she was catatonic. If she wasn't sleeping, she seemed to live in a way that was simply going through the motions. Biologically, she was very much alive. But nothing was there. She wasn't there. 

The funny thing was, when David and Jacob would come home, Jessie would muster up the strength to put on her ever-so-typical facade. She became the ultimate housewife; catering to David's every need, helping Jacob with homework, and doing it all with a blatantly fake smile on her face. She wanted so badly to avoid being the sole reason this family was imperfect. She didn't know about David's lies or Jacob's secret. She thought they were just as perfect as the rest of the neighborhood families, and she would stop at nothing to maintain that reputation. Even if it meant her life. 

In my five years of living, I've gathered that depression is a very tragic disorder. The sitting around, the constant sobbing, and the perpetual sadness have all plagued Jessie for as long as I can remember. But all of those things pale in comparison to the numerous times I've seen Jessie wrestle with the thought of ending her own life. 

I remember one day last Fall, I had just come inside from the bathroom when I walked upstairs and jumped onto Jessie's bed. She didn't notice that I had entered because she was far too focused on what she was doing. She was sitting in her makeup chair across the room, staring at a bottle of Vicoden. Jacob had just gotten his wisdom teeth pulled. After the procedure, the doctor gave him a bottle of Vicoden to ease the pain, but, as in most cases, Jacob was only expected to take a few of the pills. Once Jacob had recovered, David took the extra pills and stored them in his safe. 

Jessie stared. Her eyes didn't move. She didn't blink once. 

Suddenly, she swung her arm down, wrapped her hand around the top of the bottle, and ripped the top off. Due to the fact that she had opened the bottle with such haste, many of the pills spilled out just as the top popped off. 

Jessie didn't reach down to pick the pills up. She just sat in her chair, maintaing the same blank face she always sported when she was alone. She looked down at the pills, then up at a picture of her, David, and Jacob. 

Without a single tear, without a single word, Jessie reached down, picked up the pills, and set them gently on the bathroom counter. 

This was no rare occurrence. Jessie contemplated suicide on a consistent basis, but, every time, it seemed as though she was halted by the same thing that had held her back her entire life: a lack of courage. After Jessie would think long and hard about removing herself from the world, she would walk into the bathroom, and stare at herself. 

She stared into her own eyes, almost as some sort of self reflection. She didn't see herself. She saw a scared, trapped, middle-aged woman who didn't want to live the same dull life she had been living for the past 23 years. She saw someone pathetic, someone longing for a way out. 


And then there was Jacob. 

Jacob was the model son. He excelled in all walks of life. Be it academics, athletics, or socially, Jacob was the kid whom everyone wanted to be. To many outsiders, Jacob's life could not have gotten any better. He belonged to a wealthy, seemingly happy family. And he was blessed with so many natural gifts. But, like I've said before, most didn't know Jacob like I know Jacob. 

You see, Jacob has this friend, Darrel. The two of them have been close friends since the beginning of Kindergarten. They are the dynamic duo of the school basketball team. They're the hotshots whom all of the girls drooled over. 

Darrel would often come over to work on school projects. When Jacob and Darrel would enter the home, they'd run straight to Jacob's room. I'd often peek my head in and observe whatever interesting experiment they were trying on that given day. But one day, I was shocked by their experiment. Their experiment was with each other.  

In a moment of extreme passion, I witnessed the true Jacob come out. When Darrel left that day, I sat and observed Jacob. At first, he was flushed, as if someone had just come and changed his life. But then, his face turned blank. He stared at the mirror in front of him, and cried. He was ashamed to be who he was. His father wouldn't accept him. His mother would be torn apart by the truth. But there he was, unable to change who he truly was. 

After that day, Jacob was never the same. His eccentricity became blandness. His general love of life disappeared. He became a ghost, seldom seen at home. Before it happened, he would greet me with tight hugs and wet kisses. But now he just looks at me, seemingly wondering if I know who he really is. 

I do. 

I know who they all are. 


Knowing everyone - and I mean really knowing everyone - hurt me. But life was livable. I was still happy to be out of the farm. I was still happy to have the fortune of being able to fill my stomach at night, and sleep soundly under shelter. But one day, everything that could have gone wrong, did. It was as if Karma was catching up with everyone at the same exact time. 

It was lunch time. 

David and Linda had just walked into the home. 

They made their way upstairs, undressed, and began making love. 

Just as David's door shut, the front door opened. 

It was Jacob. He had left school early. The other kids somehow found out about he and Darrel. He busted through the red double doors, tears rolling down his face, and sprinted to his bedroom. 

Just as his bedroom door slammed shut, the garage door opened. 

It was Jessie. She was supposed to be a yoga, but her instructor was sick, so she had decided to go home to grab a bite to eat. She walked up the front steps, and noticed noises coming from the bedroom. She slowly opened her door. 

She looked down and saw clothes. Underwear, a bra, pants, and shirts. She looked up and saw no one. She still heard noise. She heard laughter and moans. She walked toward the bathroom. She swung the door open, and there they were. David and Linda stood there, water covering their naked bodies, and froze. 

Jessie didn't speak. She didn't scream. She couldn't feel anything anymore. She just turned to the mirror in the bathroom and stared. She saw the same empty woman she had always seen. She saw someone who had driven her husband to infidelity. 

Jessie turned back to David, preparing to open her mouth. 

But suddenly, they heard a crash. The noise came from Jacob's room. 

David and Jessie rushed out of the bathroom, leaving Linda awkwardly behind. 

They arrived at Jacob's door. David twisted the handle, but the door wouldn't budge. 

Time slowed down. I remember seeing Jessie slam on the door, frantically screaming Jacob's name. David pushed on the door over and over. Then finally, he stepped back and kicked the hinges clean off. 

They began to run into his room, but were stopped by an inescapable truth. 

They looked down and saw a chair laying on the floor. 

They looked up and saw Jacob. 

They found a note below him. 

"Can we even call this world our reality if nobody acts as who they truly are?" 


This was all too much to take in for a German Shepherd from a farm in Ohio.                                                 

Sunday, June 9, 2013


His family was left with nothing but debt. He had spent the latter portion of his life blowing all of his income on the craps table in Vegas. For a 72 year old man, he was shockingly skilled when it came to evading debt collectors.

It seemed as though nothing would ever catch up to him. Not karma, not law enforcement, nothing.

But one day, the universe appeared to have found a fitting way to pay him back; in the form of an eighteen wheeler that just so happened to send his car spiraling down a mountain, ending in a magnificent explosion, and tragic death.

His family was truly puzzled. He had gone from a loving father, caring husband, and upstanding citizen to a man of perpetual deception and manipulation. They didn't know if they were to mourn or celebrate his departure from the world. They didn't know if they were to grieve his death before formulating ways to finance his debts.

They felt cheated. They felt like he was haunting them, even in his afterlife. They felt his deception would never end, no matter how long he was dead for. The blast disintegrated the man's body, leaving nothing for consolation, nothing to see to begin the process of moving on.

When the funeral came around, confusion had turned into inconsolable depression. His wife was rudely awoken by the fact that she would be alone until the end of her days. His children came to grips with the harsh reality that was living without a father. Everyone seemed to forget all of the wrong he had done. Everyone seemed to bypass the flaws, leaving opportunity to only remember the good.

"Martin was a wonderful man. He and I met on a beach in Mexico when we were seventeen years old. When we saw each other, we just knew. The connection was electric. I'll always remember Martin as the loving husband, gentle father, and free spirit that he was."

Everyone at the funeral cried that day.


Everyone but Martin.

Martin leaned back in a yellow, wooden rocking chair, sipping on an ice cold Corona, staring off at the sun as it casted a shadow over the Pacific Ocean.

He thought about his funeral, and smiled.

'Deception until death,' he thought, as he closed his eyes for a nap on the beach in his personal heaven on earth.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Love In The Abyss

"Are you ready?" she asked.

"I'm ready," he replied, as he fit her fingers in between his. 

They looked up at the cloudless sky, took a deep breath, and prepared for the plunge. Their marriage had taken a strain in recent months as pregnancy began to appear more and more unattainable. This night was a way to leave everything in reality behind for a few hours. 

They slowly inched toward the edge of the cliff. They held their hands tightly together. 




And they were off. 

They floated through the air as if God had reached down and picked them from the sky. Gravity was no more. The paperwork, bills, and worries were very much out of sight, and therefore, far out of mind. 

Their eyes were closed, hands were grasped, and hearts were racing. They prepared to hit the water, but the water didn't seem ready to take them in. It seemed as though time was suspended, like some metaphysical force was gracing them with what they had been lacking: a moment of pure peace and pleasure. 

The wind rushed through their hair as they neared the water. They felt connected for the first time in quite some time. Their grasped hands served as more than just security as they ventured out of their comfort zone, they served as somewhat of an emotional link. 

In unison, they hit the water. They hit hard. The peace was no more. The sound of the waves had disrupted the quiet. The wind was replaced by inescapable moisture. They thought their brief moment of peak connection had concluded. 

Their hands were separated by the impact. 

They floated down toward the river floor. 

They felt uneasy again, as if some metaphysical force was now working to finalize their seemingly inevitable eternal separation. 

Then they opened their eyes. 

The world below was something to marvel at. The water was no longer bleak and dark, it was vibrant and colorful. The abyss turned into green, glowing lights. The fish swam in a synchronized fashion. Even the coral seemed to be a gift from some higher power. 

They felt a pull they had never felt before. Their bodies slowly drifted toward each other. They found their hands involuntarily inching together. The beauty of the sea returned the brief peace they thought they had lost. 

They could breathe under water. They could observe the fish without the fear that they may attack. They could explore the unknown. The world, their new world, was at their fingertips. 

As the night moved along, the two were twirling about through the thick waters. The fish put on a show, performing tricks and boasting talents. The water gave off a light that, from the perspective of an onlooker above the water, stretched as far as the eye could see. They floated. They basked in the beauty of it all. They held each other and stared deep into their eyes as they felt themselves changing. They felt like there was hope for a brighter tomorrow, one with harmony and peace. In their newfound world, they felt as if nothing could bring them back to reality.

And nothing did.

The two were never seen again. 


"Are you ready?" asked Amphitrite.

"I'm ready," replied Poseidon, as he fit her fingers in between his.

Soon after, they were committed to a world previously unknown for the rest of eternity.  


His reality wasn't one fit for a ten year old. He had no friends, no hobbies, no hope. The only reason he awoke every morning was because he had to. He spent his entire day waiting until he could return to sleep.

Sleep had become an escape for him. He'd wait at the steps until his father came home. He'd stumble in, wreaking of old liquor and peanuts. As his father made his way to bed, the boy felt it was safe to explore his escape.

The boy had the distinct ability to entirely remove himself from reality once his head hit his pillow. Suddenly, his harsh world of alcoholism and depression turned into one of vast exploration and infinite hope.

He fell asleep.

He had arrived. He was riding down the street on a red bicycle. The bicycle had a rearview mirror on each handle bar. The boy stared into the mirrors, watching his parents wave and smile with excitement as he took his first independent ride.

The boy stared for too long.

His parents' waves turned from peaceful to frantic as they realized he hadn't yet learned how to stop the bike. He rolled out into the middle of a busy intersection, and, just as a car was about to hit him, he disappeared.

You see - in his escape, nothing could go wrong. There was no death. There was no pain. There was only peace and happiness.

The boy found himself onstage at his school's annual performance. He was singing "Hey Jude" by The Beatles, serenading Sally Young, the girl of his dreams. He looked into her eyes and saw a sparkle. He couldn't help but smile from ear to ear. He looked into the crowd and saw his parents sitting there, front row, holding hands. They were so proud. His mother was even tearing up as she smiled and swayed to the music.

He looked at his father. He was smiling. But suddenly a bottle appeared in his hand. He began to drink it in front of the crowd.

The boy stopped singing and closed his eyes.

He found himself in a beautiful pasture. He looked down at his arm and found that he was much too hairy for a ten year old. He got up and walked to his nearby home. When he entered, he saw a wife and kids. Everyone was happy. He looked into the kitchen mirror and saw his adult self.

"Is everything okay?" His wife asked.

"Everything is fine," he replied with a relieved smile.

He walked toward the kitchen cabinet and noticed an unpleasant smell. He tried to ignore it, but couldn't help but think the smell was all too familiar. He opened the cabinet and suddenly something fell on his head.

He looked down. It was a bottle of vodka.

Another bottle came down and rocked his skull.

Then another.

Then another.

As the bottles kept coming, the boy felt his paradise slipping away, just as he did every morning.

With every thud, reality came crashing down.

The boy opened his eyes, only this time there was no salvation.

He laid there, his father hitting him with his cane, and started counting the minutes until he could return to his escape.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Coming Out, Causing Change

He stopped the music.

He stood up on the fireplace of the room in which nearly every member of the school was occupying. He began to speak. He thanked all of us for welcoming him into our community, for making him feel like he had been here his entire life. What he had to say was very sweet, but that's not what he came to tell us. That's not why he paused the end of the year festivities.

He and I hadn't been close until this year. For whatever reason, I never made an effort to connect with him. I figured he was just another typical out-of-towner. But when I began to write for him, when I began to give him a look inside of my head, into my beliefs, that's when it all changed.

In the middle of the year, I wrote an article calling for the discontinued usage of gay slurs. In my article, I proposed a hypothetical situation in which a Jewish, homosexual student was forced to hide who he was for the sake of avoiding chastisement. I concluded the article by proclaiming my hope that one day, just maybe, a student at my school would have the courage to challenge the Orthodox day school status quo by coming out to the student body. At the time, this was merely a hope of mine. To be honest, I never saw it happening. Though it's entirely realistic, and even factual, that Orthodox day schools across the country include a large number of closeted homosexuals, I never imagined somebody I knew would have the courage to actually come out. After all, they would be jeopardizing their reputation and opening themselves up to the possibility of seclusion and rejection.

I'll always remember the night he came out to me. I was giving him a ride home when he stopped our conversation to have one of far greater importance. He beat around the bush for a few moments, but eventually cut to the chase. When he finally squeezed the two most revealing words out, I wasn't sure how to react. I could have delved into a deep, philosophical conversation about the causes of homosexuality. I could have done the typical song and dance, congratulating him and telling him how courageous he is. Or I could have rejected who he truly was.

But I didn't do any of these things.

Instead, I drove around the city for two hours, asking silly question after silly question. I felt like a teenage girl. But he fielded them all. He showed me what it truly means to be comfortable with who you are. Not once did he blink, not once did he swallow his words, not once did he feel uncomfortable. He was ready to be himself around me, and that's something I will never forget.

Our friendship went from one of exchanging the occasional pleasantries, to one of immense depth and closeness. He has become someone I regard as a best friend. He has become my backbone in many instances, offering emotional support whenever I need it. He has become an inspiration.

It was nice of him to thank us for welcoming him into the community, but that's not what he came to tell us. He paused for a moment, all eyes on him, and somehow mustered up the courage to become who he is:

"One more thing, and I really am feeling quite happy tonight so this is why I'm telling you. I am gay. I am coming out tonight. Thank you so much."

Being that this sort of public coming out is unprecedented in our community, I didn't really expect the reaction that his coming out brought.

It seemed like time suspended for a moment, like everything was hanging in the balance as I awaited the reaction of the many who had not yet known his sexual orientation. I knew some would be taken aback by it, because, after all, homosexuality is still somewhat of an uncomfortable topic for many people. I even expected some to cause an uproar, to publicly rebuke his coming out as a sign of disgust.

But I didn't expect what actually happened.

Almost everybody in the room went ballistic. We yelled, clapped, and celebrated this momentous announcement. The room went from one of scattered occupation to one of a line. Students young and old lined up to hug him, to tell him congratulations, to accept him. The moment was so overwhelming that it moved me, along with many others, to tears.

I've always been a confident person, but I wouldn't necessarily say that I've always been courageous. Even now, my courage is a topic for debate, at least within my own head. But when I met him, when he came out to me, when he imparted on me that it's okay to be yourself, suddenly I felt like I could do anything. I began to write about the things many people didn't want to discuss. I began to let my passion drive controversial conversations within my sometimes rigid community. I began to accept myself for who I am, and do my best to correct my flaws.

His coming out was something he and I have discussed for quite some time now. He was apprehensive about it at first, but after countless conversations in which we discussed the importance of being who you are, he was ready to do it. His coming out in such a public form was one gigantic step toward the rest of his life. He no longer had to hide. He no longer had to keep up a facade. He no longer had to try to stay content being someone he is inherently not.

He could finally be free.

The thing is, though, his coming out stretches far beyond just him. His coming out is going to impact this community, this school, so much. His coming out has pushed many to recognize the reality that is homosexuality within Judaism.

In a Jewish community that is so stagnant, this sort of monumental occurrence is going to have a vast impact on the ideological scheme of things. The topic of homosexual acceptance has always been discussed solely in hypotheticals. We've all had our own opinions on how to resolve religion with sexual orientation, but we've never actually had to translate those opinions into practice. Now that our hypothetical world has become reality, we must take a definitive stance on what is so sadly deemed an "issue." This coming out was the first of its kind, and I hope it won't be the last. Many community members may be up in arms, but many more will not be. And those who aren't will be supportive, they will be accepting, and they will do their best to spread their attitude of tolerance to the other, more close minded members of the community.

This is a progressive world, folks.

He did something so notable by getting the literal ball rolling on this issue of homosexual acceptance within the Memphis Orthodox community. The hypothetical ball is no more.

When I entered high school, it was the norm to call someone a faggot or a queer. It was okay to throw around gay slurs, despite the fact that those few words could tear someone apart inside. As my years have flown by and the school's attitude toward homosexuals has drastically shifted, the norm has become acceptance. By the start of this year, many had cut down on their gay slur usage and enhanced their tolerance, especially in a public sphere, paving a pearly path out of the closet for him. With the already growing acceptance within our school, it's inevitable that more is to come. His announcement slapped many of my schoolmates in the face with reality. They now know someone who is homosexual. They now have a friend who is out. They now recognize that your sexual orientation doesn't define who you are as a person.

I'm not entirely sure how his announcement will impact his relationship with various students at the school, but I genuinely hope that those students don't change their behavior as a result of discomfort. His announcement has given us, the student body, a chance to create an atmosphere in which everyone feels safe being who they are. The overwhelming support he met after his announcement only reaffirmed my belief that this school, and perhaps this community, is headed in a new direction than in years past. To see all of my fellow classmates hug him, congratulate him, and even praise him was something I will never forget.

When it was finally my turn to congratulate him, I held him tight and told him that he was my inspiration. I told him that he was my hero. And he is. He's taught me that, despite all of the struggles that it may bring, being yourself is the only way to live. He's taught me how to love myself for who I am. He's taught me that I have a voice. He's given me a reason to become an even stronger proponent of gay rights in particular, and civil rights as a whole.

When I say that he has changed my life, I'm not simply throwing around cliche phrases that sound nice. I mean it. This year has been one of immense personal growth. I truly believe that how far I've come would not have been possible without his help.

An eighteen year old did something no one has ever done in this community. An eighteen year old exemplified courage to the fullest extent. He is so young, yet he's wise enough to know that he is capable of impacting those around him for the better. I never thought I would be writing a post like this. I never thought I would see someone come out in front of my classmates. But I couldn't be happier that this is all happening. I couldn't be more inspired, more moved by the courage he has shown.

When I look back at the beginning of Summer 2013, I'm going to remember the graduation. I'm going to remember the overwhelming sadness that rushed over me as I listened to my best friends utter their parting words. But, above all, I'll remember when one person changed an entire city.

There's nothing more to say to him than thank you. We all have a reason to appreciate the person he is and the courage he possesses. We all must note that what he has done is just that - notable.

He's set me on a path to find myself, and, with his inspiration, I feel as if I have the courage to become who I've always wanted to be.

"No freedom until we're equal. Damn right I support it."

Monday, June 3, 2013

To Be A Homeless Man For One Day

Last summer was a blur. If you think really hard, I'm sure you can imagine why. I remember the very basic outline of what happened, but details seem to be nonexistent. However, there is one moment that sticks out.

I was driving down Poplar with my ridiculous looking Kroger brand sunglasses on, my iPod blaring Dave Matthews Band, and my skin searing from a long day on the lifeguard stand when I saw a homeless man standing on the sidewalk with a sign. I can't quite remember what the sign said, but it was, I believe, some sort of plea for assistance.

I looked at the man, then I looked at myself. And I mean I really looked at myself.

It was upwards of one hundred degrees outside. I had access to an entire wardrobe, one from which I chose a pair of airy shorts and a sleeveless tank top. My homeless counterpart, on the other hand, had but one outfit to his name: a pair of long, seemingly suffocating green pants, and a heavy t-shirt.

Summer days can grow monotonous. Life seems to be packed with routinely uneventful afternoons come halfway through vacation. That being said, I was being sufficiently entertained by my high-end, two hundred dollar iPod. My homeless counterpart, on the other hand, was forced to stand around for hours on end, hoping, praying, that someone would stop to help him fill his stomach. I enjoyed the entertainment of my iPod, something I took, and still take, for granted, while this man was in a position of extreme, inexplicable monotony just so that he could maybe, just maybe, survive.

I then looked down at my cell phone, which was lying on the glove compartment to my right. I saw the screen light up, for I had just received a text message. I don't remember what it said. But I now note that it could quite possibly have been a request to go eat out, a Facebook notification, or perhaps my father letting me know what we would be having for dinner that night. I was likely receiving news of my next meal, while this man was literally starving to death under the unmerciful sun.

I wore shorts that I picked from a drawer. I shielded my eyes with sunglasses I bought from the neighborhood department store. I enjoyed the music from an overpriced hunk of metal. And, somehow, despite all of my blessings, I took all of these things for granted. It was the typical middle-class American car ride. But it's not one I wanted to be a part of.

I began to think about how sick and materialistic I had become. I began to compare my life, my access to various luxuries that I, unfortunately, take for granted, to this man's life.

An idea came to me.

I thought about how interesting it would be to rid myself of these unnecessary luxuries for merely a month. Suddenly, I had this overwhelming urge to toss aside my electronics so that I could taste but a drop of what this homeless man was forced to experience every day. I figured it would be a learning experience, one that would make me value everything that I'm blessed to have. I also noted that it would make for a fantastic article, one about society's dependence on electronics and my valiant victory over my personal addiction.

I wanted to do it, I really did.

But I couldn't.

I still can't.

I can't let go of my cell phone.

I can't let go of my Facebook.

I can't let go of the things that I so take for granted.

I can't let myself let go because, quite frankly, I'm addicted. I'm addicted to social media. I find myself opening up Facebook every single time I open my computer, without fail. I find myself checking my phone every thirty seconds, if not more frequently than that. I find myself scrambling to the nearest set of speakers so that I can enjoy my music.

I do all of this while that homeless man stands alone, suffering. I do all of this without keeping in mind that I've been absolutely blessed to have the shirt on my back, and the roof over my head. It's not who I want to be.

I've strongly considered letting go of these material pleasures on several occasions, but each time, without fail, I've been awoken by the pathetic reality that is the current state of the world. Even if I wanted to give up my cell phone for an extended period of time, I simply couldn't. Let's step away from my addiction and self control issues and focus on the world around us.

Without a phone, how would I know when to work? Without a phone, how could my dad check up on me? Without a phone in today's day and age, how could I survive?

Everything has become so technologically centered that we seem to have forgotten the natural, mind blowing pleasures of life. I'm not removing myself from these aforementioned offenders; I am one. And I can't stand the fact that I often waste my entire day rotting away in front of a television when there's an entire world to be explored just beyond my front door.

If I said I know where I'm going with this right now, I'd be lying through my teeth. I suppose what I'm getting at is the fact that it's just so depressing that we've become so dependent on material things. I find it so despicable that I can't let myself delete a simple social media profile. How sad is it that letting go of Facebook would make me feel like a part of me is missing? It's pathetic.

I still want to experience what it's like to take on a few of the hardships of this aforementioned homeless man. For as much as I'd love to consistently appreciate the little things in life, I simply forget to do it most of the time.

I just walked into my kitchen to make a bowl of cereal. I got the Cocoa Crispies out, poured them into my Froot Loop bowl (clearly I'm not a loyal cereal eater), and headed to the fridge to grab the milk. Suddenly, the ever-so-terrifying thought of finding an empty bottle of milk rushed over me. I opened up the fridge door, held my breath, and was delighted to find a brand new carton sitting on the bottom shelf. I thought about it for a second and realized that I usually open up new carton after new carton without stopping to note that somebody went out and got me that milk. My father always makes sure that we have what we need, be it milk or money. I know that. But I can't say that I appreciate it enough. I can't say that I consciously note how grateful I am for being so blessed.

It's funny how one moment can change your train of thought if you stop and take the time to actually think about what you're observing.

I don't know what happened to that homeless man. I don't know if he's still alive, or if he's still struggling to get by. I don't know him and I'll likely never see him again. I can assure you, he doesn't know me either. But he has changed me. Though only a slight change at this point, a change nonetheless.

This year, I've been big on journeys. So I suppose it's nothing to embark on another one. I'm going to try to appreciate the little things in life. I'm going to try to bring myself to a point where I can give up some of the unnecessary material luxuries in my life. Now, in no way am I saying that using my phone less often puts me in the same shoes as someone who is unfortunate enough to be homeless, but I'm still going to try to find a way to lower myself to a point in which I can better appreciate all of the things I've been blessed with in my life.

I'm lucky. And, chances are, considering you're reading this on a computer, likely your computer, you're pretty damn lucky as well.

We all have trials in life; some more than others. We all have obstacles we must try to conquer. And sometimes it may seem like everything in the world is plotting against you at once. But we're damn lucky. We're lucky to have a couch to nap on and a TV to watch. We're lucky that we don't have to go to bed hungry. We may not have everything in the world that we want, but we have everything we need.

I can't imagine I'll ever be homeless. I'd like to think I'm heading places in life. But that doesn't mean I can't try to draw life lessons from all different kinds of people. That doesn't mean I can't pull over and give that homeless man five dollars to fill his stomach. We can learn something from everything in this world.

This homeless man taught me a lot of things with a cardboard sign, baggy pants, and less than impressive diction. This homeless man taught me that everything in life is worth appreciating.

I hope that one day I'll get to the point where I can give a lot of this crap up. When I get there, if I get there, I hope some of you will join me.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

A Key Decision

My dad, siblings, and I have this little tradition of sitting in the back of Shul on high holidays. From that vantage point, one can see all of the happenings of the Synagogue. When I was younger, I would examine every person who walked by me as they entered the sanctuary. Most people were familiar to me, but some people were ones that I only saw on the high holidays. During childhood, I commonly referred to these rare-appearance Jews as The Reforms.

Oh, The Reforms. As a child, they were the Jewish equivalent of the anti-Christ. I saw them as so morally misguided, so pitiful. They would walk by, most wearing the same outfit, and just stare at the rest of us. Or so I thought. I never associated with any of them, because that was simply not the Orthodox way. I gazed at a distance, and they did the same.

But then it all changed.

Seth and Avi, my two older brothers, have previously worked as lifeguards at the JCC. As the end of my Sophomore year approached, I decided I would pursue a job as a lifeguard as well. I signed up for the April lifeguard training course with my friend, Sarah. I didn't expect to make any friends at these classes, I simply sought my lifeguard certification.

But I did make a few friends.

In particular, I made one friend. The friend. The friend who changed it all.

I walked in and noticed Tyler, a boy I had often seen around the JCC, and sometimes in Synagogue, but had never taken the time to talk to. We had an instant connection. We soon became close friends.

At this point, I was beginning to realize that not all Reform Jews were as bad as I had previously thought. I began to realize that we're all Jewish teenagers who share common interests, despite the logistics that separate us by sects.

After weeks of hanging out, I decided to request that Tyler introduce me to several of his closest friends.

And the Reformadox Union was born.

I ended up meeting a number of people over the course of last summer. The culmination of my branching out came during the Maccabi games in Memphis. I had a chance to get closer with those I had already met, and I had the opportunity to meet others I was previously unfamiliar with.

Upon conclusion of the games, I didn't know how I was going to maintain the connections I had made. Sure, I had made a few close friends who I knew I would remain close with throughout the year, but there were others who I wasn't so close with that I wanted to get to know better.

So I decided to join BBYO.

And that's when even more changed.

Since joining BBYO, I've attended three regional conventions, been to countless folds, and have risen to become the Vice President of my chapter, Israel H. Peres AZA. BBYO has given me a chance to remain connected to those friends that I met last summer.

But it's done so much more than just that.

BBYO has changed my life.

Before this year, the ever-so-terrifying reality that my closest friends would move away consumed my thoughts. Ever since I was younger, the thought of senior year had terrified me because of how many close friends would be leaving me. But now, now that I've had the chance to formulate new friendships, to acquire new close friends, I'm no longer fearful. In fact, I would go as far as to say that I'm excited. Of course, my closest friends leaving me will absolutely tear me apart. But suddenly I'm optimistic about getting closer with my BBYO friends. BBYO has allowed me to integrate myself in an entirely new group of Jewish teenagers. It has given me a chance to connect with those I previously merely gazed at from a distance. It's given me a chance to clear up the misconceptions I had, and has motivated me to inspire others to do the same.

The most significant impact BBYO has had on my life is that it's inspired me to pursue the more emotionally centered aspects of Judaism. During my first convention, I enjoyed that the focus on Judaism played more to my senses, not necessarily to my intellect. Coming from a Jewish day school, I have grow accustom to textual learning that very rarely plays to emotions. Since joining BBYO, though, I have learned that I connect to emotions much easier and much more passionately than I do to text. I have become someone who has a deeper appreciation for singing circles, group havdallahs, or other emotional, perhaps theatrical, aspects of Judaism that are often overlooked.

Though I've constantly spoken about the fact that us Jews are all the same, I must admit that I've enjoyed meeting extremely unique Jews through BBYO. A friend of mine is not a religious Jew, but his Zionistic passion is so strong, so much so that he has decided to take a gap year in Israel. Another friend of mine, one I happen to be very close with, once told me that she wants to become a Rabbi. She. A woman. Two years ago, I would have laughed at this dream. It's not acceptable in the Orthodox community for a woman to be a Rabbi, and, at that point in my life, I lived by what was and was not acceptable. But BBYO has opened my eyes and opened my mind. New things have suddenly not only become acceptable in my eyes, but they've become so fascinating that they often serve as inspirations. I genuinely hope this friend does become a Rabbi. I'll stop by at a few of her services.

Another integral reason why I love BBYO and all that it has done for me is that it's inspired me to build bridges. I note that there are, and always will be, tensions between the Orthodox and the others. But I've now taken it upon myself to find ways to connect the sects. Whether it's the Reformadox Union, an inter-sect event I'm planning, or just inviting a Reform friend over to an Orthodox hangout, I've made a conscious effort to find ways to build bridges, clear up misconceptions, and ease tensions within the Memphis Jewish community.

In my reflection of the past year, I have come to realize that I've so much enjoyed this year in large part because I joined BBYO. BBYO has changed how I view religion, my passions, and myself as a whole. If I hadn't joined, I honestly don't know what my life would be like - but I do know that senior year would have sucked as badly as I had always imagined it would.

Isn't it strange to have gone through that entire post without reading anything negative or controversial? It was new to me.