Are We The Village?

As the chicken soup is served, the conversation around the table has gone from polite pleasantries to passionate discussions about what is wrong in our community. Top of the list? The Chinuch system. At Shabbos tables throughout the community, people are sharing their horror stories, their deep-rooted anger, or about how much they wish their children were finished with it.

I know, because I’ve been there.

Time, and time again. I’ve participated. I’ve been the one sharing, I’ve been the one listening, I’ve been the one saying yes! Enough is enough!

Every time I look at a child at the start of their educational experience, I feel my heart sink, knowing that most of them will face challenges that will destroy their love for education, rather than enhance it. I have yelled, I have gotten red-faced, I have stamped my feet.

I have sought out conversation, I have had meetings, I have talked, and talked, and talked.

And then I got tired.

Because I noticed something. People loved to talk. As someone who has put her name out there, loud and proud, as someone who believes that our education system falls far, far too short of it’s potential, I’ve been an address for so many people’s complaints and stories. I’ve been greeted with “let’s talk about how bad the education system is!”

In the beginning, I was excited about that. People knew that I was serious about correcting the system, and they wanted to be a part of it!

But slowly, I began to realize that wasn’t the case. People wanted me to correct the system. They didn’t want to be a part of the process, the work, and the struggles that would include.

This is the honest truth: the system is already being corrected.

Yes, there are lots of things wrong with our already existing system. I know really well how deep those issues are. I’ve been personally hurt by the system, by the lack of respect given to students. I’ve seen others hurt far more than I have. I’ve watched students fly through school, not even noticing how bad it is because of the band-aid of a wonderful social life and extra-curricular. But I’m not here to talk about all of these things, because we all know these things all too well.

I’m here to talk about something else.

Yes. There are lots of no good things going on in our Chinuch system. But…

There are also incredible things happening for Chinuch.

Namely, the Menachem Education Foundation, that tirelessly works to train teachers and principals is one. Their objective is to is take the word education and transform it into something truly magical. I’ve been involved in some of their incredible projects, and I know that there are other amazing things happening that I haven’t yet had the opportunity to explore, and I’m sure there are yet more that I don’t even know about.

But in my opinion, I believe they have one major struggle:

The lack of support from the community.

I’m not writing this to create an angry stampede of people feeling defensive and hurt.

I’m writing this because this is not a one-man job. It’s not a ten woman, fifteen man job. It’s our job. As a community, we must support those who are doing the work that we are not doing.

Enough complaining. Enough endless conversations that all end the same way. Let’s start the real conversation. Don’t stop talking, let’s keep talking – but while we talk, let’s keep our hands busy, let’s follow through with what we’re saying.

Today, the Menachem Education Foundation is running a Charidy campaign. Donate if you can. Spread the good word. Find out if they need something that perhaps you can provide. Find out if there’s any way that you can make a difference towards their tireless efforts.  When you say you can’t wait until your daughter graduates – think for a moment about what that means.

It takes a village to raise a child, but the village is slacking off, closing their eyes and wishing for it to go away. It’s not going to happen, my friends. It takes blood, sweat and tears to create change.

Shabbos table conversations are good, they’re great, and they’re the crucial first step.

But that’s all they are – a first step. And when the dishes are dried and put away, and the last of the leftovers are eaten, the issues are put to rest. And that – that is the precise moment the issue deepens.

We can’t afford to not support our change-makers. We can’t afford to keep allowing things to remain the same.

We can’t even afford to act on our own – we need to work together.

Let’s not just start another conversation about Chinuch.

Let’s start a different kind of conversation:

Somebody is already making the change. Now, how are we going to help?

Here’s how you can. Today. Trust me when I say this is a worthy cause:

This Is A Blog Post

Six years ago, I left a city that had been home for two years.

I packed up my memories, and waved goodbye to its shores, pretty sure I would never step foot again on its pavement.

Last week, in honor of a friends wedding, I came back.
The anticipation for the trip was mixed. I was excited to see friends, to dance with joy, and to see the old sights again. I was also terrified to meet the memories head-on, to remember the pain and be forced to readdress it.
I attended high school in the city for two years, and before I go further, I feel like I need to clarify that this is not a hate letter to the city, to the school, or to the people I knew. It is only a reflection of my feelings about a place in which I did not feel like I belonged, which is more of a reflection on me than anything else that was around me.
Last week, I walked through the streets I had known so well for two years, and I was both overwhelmed and underwhelmed at the same time. I was almost overwhelmed with how underwhelmed I was.
The pieces of my history that once represented so much dread and saw so many tears meant nothing to me.
It was almost unfamiliar, in such a distant and strange way.
I could barely identify what was new and what had been there, everything seemed different. My friend, accompanying me, laughed as I kept asking what had changed, so sure that there had been monumental changes. “Nothing changed!” she kept repeating.
But it didn’t feel like it.
Everything had changed.
Time had created a comfortable distance, a warm comfort. I felt unreachable by the pain that seemed to encompass me back then.
It’s been six years.
The last six years of my life have been the most transformative and formative years of my life.
Six years ago, I switched schools. I was given the rare opportunity to start afresh. And amidst the bustling crowds and rushing subways of New York City, I began to find myself.
At 16 years old, I began to discover what really made me tick. What I wanted from life, how I was going to get there. I made some bad decisions and some good decisions, all par for the course. Most of all, I grew.
With each passing day, I became less and less like the girl in Chicago and more and more like myself. But rather than a restructuring, it felt more like a dusting off. A clearing up, so that I could see who I was more clearly.
It’s been a six-year process that will never really end, I’m quite aware of that. But six years in, and I am so grateful to feel secure in who I am, and to be happy with who that person is, and is still becoming.
As I walked those streets, I tried to find the 14-year-old me. I searched the streets, the steps outside my dorm, the grocery store. I tried to listen out for the memories I could bring so clearly to my mind. The more difficult memories…and the good ones. But while I could see it all in my mind, I couldn’t reconcile the fact that it had all taken place in that city that seemed so unfamiliar. I couldn’t find myself there.
And I began to realize that nothing had changed around me, the stores and buildings were all the same.
But I had changed.
I had changed so much, that the me that had spent the start of my high school in that city was so far from who I am today.
That girl felt so deeply misunderstood, so frustrated, so angry.
That was me.
But it isn’t me anymore.
A part of me wants to dispose of the entire experience. If I don’t feel connected any longer, why keep it around? Why not forget it ever happened to me?
But I know that is foolish thinking, even though it was a thought process I ran with for a while.
Tomorrow is the anniversary of my grandfather’s death. Another thing that happened over the last six years was the loss of two grandparents, moments in time that forever have changed me as well.
As one does when something like this nears, my thoughts have turned to my grandfather a lot in the recent weeks.
While memories are wonderful, and I am so lucky to have the ones I do, something about memories wasn’t resonating with me this time. It seemed pointless to focus on who he was, when I am no longer the person I was when I knew him.
I found myself focusing more on what he means to me today, in my daily life. How do I incorporate him into my mindset? Do I consistently strive to bring him happiness? Do I feel his presence, despite his absence? Even more so – would he be proud to know the me I am today? Have I become a better version of myself from when we last spoke?
And I realized something.
Because it all ties together.
My trip last week, the yartzeit (anniversary of death) tomorrow, and my never-ending spinning thoughts.
The memories and my past are incredibly important. For without them, I would have nothing to build upon, nothing to work with.
If I hadn’t been so lost back then, I wouldn’t have found all these treasures on my way back home.
If I hadn’t had experiences with my grandfather and created memories, I would have nothing to sift through today.
But, and this is a big deal for someone who usually says she doesn’t know how to live in the moment –

Today is what counts.

I am grateful to G-d for all the experiences He gave me, even though I was incredibly angry with Him at the time.
Without my couple of years in that city, I would never have become the person I’ve been working towards becoming. It has given me so much, possibly even a career path. So yes, the city didn’t look familiar to me. I didn’t recognize the little details, the background noise to who I was back then. But that’s not really what matters anymore.
What matters is what I have done with those years, how I have developed them to be more than they were, to take the pain and turn it into something so much greater.
And while I will forever hold the sweet memories of my Zeidy close, they are also not the most important thing to our current relationship. More than the memories, it is crucial that I find ways to keep the connection alive, and because I am forever growing, that connection will forever be changing, and it is up to me to ensure that it never gets lost.
These things will always be a part of me. There is no way to consciously dispose of memories, and I no longer have any desire to. But I’m aware now that the past only has to work as a building block, as a foundation – and my job?
It’s to keep building up.

Blog Post: 37/52

Photo by Brittany Gaiser on Unsplash

When Life Happens

I have never written a blog post on the verge of the week ending like this. I’ve gotten close, but never this close.

But no worries – I’m a commitment freak, and I won’t let this go by, because then I’d probably have to start from Week 1 again, and none of us want that.
I’ve almost completed my first year of teaching creative writing. That’s really crazy to me, because it was about this time last year that I got the crazy idea in the first place. And now I have a group of students who I have gotten to know, students I look forward to seeing and reading their writing. Because all of them are tremendously talented writers and thinkers and it was a pleasure and honor to be able to be a part of their year.
I know the year is not yet over, we still have a few weeks to wind down. But I’m in an introspective, reflective mood, and I’m just so proud to be here.
Doing things that scare me are not my thing. I don’t like roller coasters, horror movies or skydiving. I don’t enjoy the thrill of the fear that so many people seem to be obsessed with. Existential questions are scary enough.
So doing something that scared me on so many levels was a big deal.
My life this school year has seen change. It’s seen growth. It’s seen me with shorter hair and a stronger heart conquering more challenges. Experiencing new things. Facing myself in ways I never really wanted to have to.
Life is ever evolving, which is something pretty terrifying for someone like me, someone who likes to be in control and to be sure of what comes next.
Life throws things at you that you could never have planned for. But these are the things that really test you, the things that make you pull out all of yourself, to figure it out, to face it. To understand who you are, what your limitations are, and where life goes from here, now taking the fork in the road into account.
As summer nears, and the promise of warm sun and healthy days approach, I find myself wondering what is around the corner. What is next for me? What happens when I allow life to happen, rather than overplanning each moment?
It’s scary. To me, this is the scariest thing I’ve ever done. To admit that I don’t know what comes next, to know that life takes time to unfold, and to have patience. To have the patience to see what G-d has in store.
And perhaps I’ll discover that my mind has been limited all this time, and what G-d has planned is even greater than what my small mind can conjure.
Blog Post: 31/52.

Featured Photo by Cristina Gottardi on Unsplash

The Background

On September 11th, 2017 I decided to write a blog post every week.

It’s been 26 weeks since, and I haven’t yet missed a week. Halfway – and going strong.
I’ve really liked some of them. Whether it felt like I was finally expressing a deep truth I’ve wanted to express for a long time, or whether those who read it reached out in a variety of ways to let me know what it meant to them, some of my blog posts had a real impact on me.
Some of them kind of floated by. There were a couple of weeks I toyed with the idea of skipping it, because why write when you don’t feel it? Why write when there is nothing to write about? Is putting my random words out there more important than putting something of quality out there?
But at the end of each week, my commitment won out. I’m a bit of a perfectionist when it comes to commitments – once I make em, I can’t break em. I get a thrill out of keeping to them. That part of my personality has it’s pro’s and con’s but that’s not what this is about.
That’s really just to explain why even if all my posts haven’t been of the greatest quality, I’ve still been sharing them.
This week, I closed up a short story unit with my students.
We’ve been working on it for a long time because, in comparison to poetry, flaws in short stories shout a lot louder. It’s much harder to know when you are done, it’s much harder to fall in love with a story you crafted because you’re never sure if you did enough.
And my students were feeling that pressure. I could tell.
But this week, I looked at them and told them this week it was going to happen. They were going to finish their short stories.
As I write this, I’m waiting for the last few to submit them.
But so far, I couldn’t be more proud.
Writing a blog post every week has pushed me. It made me realize how similar my posts were. It pushed me to try my best to spice it up a little. That led me to write 3 short stories in the span of 6 months.
I had written about 3 short stories in my entire life before this October.
Recently I’ve been doing a lot of thinking, and bare with me because this post is a little bit of everything, a little bit of everywhere.
I’ve been thinking about growth – which you know from my last post.
I’ve been thinking about risks. Pushing limits. Trying new things. Allowing yourself to be who you are, truly, deeply and authentically. The kind of be yourself that shakes you and wakes you up and reminds you that you are meant for more, that you can be doing things that you never thought possible – as long as you reach inside of yourself and use the tools you’ve been given. I’ve been thinking about owning up to yourself, looking yourself in the eye.
I’ve been thinking about what I want out of this life, and how quickly the days are going by, and how until G-d slowly moves the puzzle pieces of my life into the picture I want, I have multitudes of blessings to work with. But I’ve also been thinking that I don’t have to be content with that – I can stomp my feet and ask for more, as long as all the while, I am thanking Him for what He’s given me.
I’ve always been a bit of a paradox. I’ve lived much of my life fearful of others thoughts and others minds, and the fact that I can’t see inside them.
Yet, I’ve also lived in an almost fearless way of not being afraid of telling others what I feel. Of reaching out, of putting myself in the deepest, most vulnerable spaces for the sake of something so much bigger and better.
I’ve been thinking about perfection. I’ve been thinking about how much I wish my writing was perfect, that I was perfect. Often, I find myself admiring other’s wonderful qualities and wishing for them – before I remind myself that just like dying my hair red, someone else’s best quality would sit oddly on me. And that life is not about being like others, it’s about being there for others in the best way we can be.
I’ve been thinking about my future, because I never stop thinking about my future, and how I spend each day looking for the rest of the characters to walk in at any moment.
I’ve been thinking about how I chopped my hair off, and in some twisted way, my hair knew that I needed something drastic to change before my heart truly admitted it.
I’ve been thinking about 21, and what it means, and how much it doesn’t mean.
I’ve been thinking about all of these things.
I’ve been reading my student’s stories and realizing that doing something that scares you is the deepest reward you can give yourself.
I’ve done things that scare me, and sometimes the result is obvious, the gain is immense.
Sometimes you do things that scare you, and the result is not obvious, and you can barely see any change, any gain.
But I’m realizing that every moment, every thought, every word, every day, despite how meaningless they often seem, are so so full of impact, so so full of development.
And as I make my small plans down here, G-d is shifting the big things up there.
And as I scheme and develop what I feel are big things down here, G-d is moving timelines and space to make my dreams come true.
I’ve written 26 blog posts since September.
Some of them, I could feel the words rush through me, their purpose clear.
Some of them I posted with some shame, some feeling of letting someone down, perhaps me most of all.
But I don’t think any of them were useless.
For they proved to me, if nothing else, that I can do it.
That it’s sometimes not about perfection, it’s not about being inspiring, or funny, or insightful, or writing the best post ever.
My students may not have all fallen in love with their short stories – but they wrote them, and you know what?
For me, for today, that’s what counts.
I guess what I’m trying to say is that I’m trying to remind myself that I only see one tiny sliver of the picture. And I know that in the deep part of my heart, but it’s much less accepted in the forefront of my brain. So when my blog post seems like it’s missing something – yet I post it anyway, and I make plans, but I’m not sure I’ll be able to follow them through, or I pray, and pray, and pray, yet it seems like I’m praying to a closed door – I am trying to remember that this is not everything. I don’t know everything. I never will.
And as I feel guilty for wanting more from life when I have so, so much, I am reminded that I don’t even know how much more I could have, and while it is foolish to feel ungrateful, it is useless to feel guilty.
And as I discover the impact of one moment months later I am reminded that I never know the background story of what is happening around me, and I am reminded that as I pray for G-d to write my story…

He is writing as fast as He can.

Blog Post: 26/52

Featured Photo courtesy of a birthday gift from a very thoughtful friend.

Just Click On Me

I hate Wednesdays. I hate Wednesdays simply because they are not Thursdays.

Now, before you start judging me for hating on an innocent day because it is lacking what another day has, take a moment to realize that you hate days too. You hate days because they don’t have what other days have.
We all universally hate Mondays because they are never as great as the weekend.
I hate Wednesdays because it means that I still have two days until I can say TGIF.
And TGIF is my all-time favorite thing to say.
Because Fridays. What is Friday lacking? Nothing.
In my life, Friday means the beginning of a weekend.
Friday is like a person that people look forward to seeing every day. A person who brings smiles to every face. A person whose mere presence tells everyone around them that it’s going to be okay.
Every day of the week has a personality that goes with it.
Saturdays are fun to be around, but seriously, they get a little annoying after spending too much time with them. When you are friends with a Saturday, you end up spending too much, eating too much and all-around making bad choices.
Sundays are tense and full of worry. They’re anxious about anything that might be approaching them, even in the distance. They’re stressed out but trying so hard to enjoy themselves in the moment that it’s stressing them out. They mean well, they are good friends, but they can make you crazy after a while too.
Mondays. Mondays have a bad name, and occasionally live up to it. But sometimes they surprise you with their sunny smile, or their good news. Sometimes they’re not so bad. And when they hang out with Saturday and Sunday, they bring both of those days up and help them feel better about themselves.
Tuesdays. Tuesdays are not my kind of people. We just can’t get along. They are sweet. They try hard. But they’re a little bit of nothing. They aren’t the beginning of a hard week, but they aren’t the sweet relief of the end. They just make me angry with their wish-wash, their endless back and forth and ups and downs.
And, we are back to Wednesdays. Did I mention I hate Wednesdays? I’m pretty sure I hate Wednesdays because I am a Wednesday. I’m not anxiety filled, like Sunday or Monday. But I constantly question what purpose I serve. I feel like an extra human at times, too big to fit into what would be the perfect 6 day week. Honestly, who needs Wednesday? Without Wednesday, all the days would be elevated in status, and reach a fuller potential. I spend plenty of my time wishing I was further on the journey of my life, much like I spend my Wednesdays wishing they were Thursdays.
So, why do I wish so much upon Thursdays?
Because Thursday means that tomorrow is Friday, and the waiting is over. The worst of the week is over. Thursdays are like the friends of Friday, and Friday rubbed off on them in all the best ways. They are cheerful, they are motivated and they are excitable. They are driven and have big dreams. Now that is a day to be.
Fridays are beautiful and have everything they need and want. It’s dangerous to be a Friday, because it might become easy to lose sight of who you are, and you are in arms reach of becoming a Saturday.
I want to be a Thursday. That’s why I hate Wednesday. But the beautiful part of a week is that each day slides into the next, and each day has the potential of being a better day.
Maybe I can still become a Thursday.
Or maybe, I can transform my Wednesday into a Thursday.