I am a lover of stories and often find myself drifting into worlds outside my reality. My young mind fought to protect Gotham City, sailed aboard the Pequod with Captain Ahab, traveled time with Billy Pilgrim, mourned the loss of Professor Snape, and fought beside Odysseus so he could return to his beloved Penelope.
Outside of the realm of literature, I am also a wanderer, collecting stories of those I have the pleasure to meet. Upon graduating college in New York in May 2012, I engaged in a major adventure – moving from Westborough, Massachusetts to Jackson, Mississippi – as part of the ISJL Education Fellowship.
The only thing I had to rely on were the stories I had read of the Mississippi – Aibileen bravely advocating for her fellow maids, the stream of consciousness surrounding the passing of Addie Bundren, and the adventures of Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn (on the Mississippi River and not in the state, a subtle geographical distinction I initially failed to grasp). I knew Mississippi in books.
Upon arrival, I expected to be an outsider. I dreamed of absorbing the idyllic South as if I was reading it in a book, surveying the lives of the Magnolia State residents, seeing their narrative as separate from my own. What I found could not have been further from my hypothesis.
The last two years, my story has become our story, the Fellowship chapter. This is the story of five people from different walks charting undiscovered and rediscovered worlds together. The story of sharing, spreading, and discovering Jewish wisdom and knowledge throughout the South, sometimes in the most unexpected places. That of leading song sessions and musical experiences, or Geocaching to explore Passover. We deduced that there are over a hundred different ways to eat grits and that flight times are negotiable. We found love and support in our communities – and strength and family in our relationship with each other.
And now, our stories diverge, as my fellow Fellows and I all prepare to begin our next chapters.
Sam will travel to Baltimore, MD to begin her studies at the University of Maryland School of Social Work.
Adam’s next chapter takes him Memphis, to begin his training to work in Development for the Pi Kappa Alpha Fraternity.
Dan’s story will have him teaching high school history in a public school in the DC area, bringing along the skills and ideas he learned in the fellowship.
Elaine, too, will continue teaching, and she’s going to be doing it in an exciting new Jewish setting up in Boulder, Colorado, working as the Adventure Educator with the Adventure Rabbi program.
And my story takes me back up North, to the Big Apple, where I will begin my graduate work in Education and Jewish Studies at NYU’s Steinhardt School of Culture, Education and Human Development.
Who knows where our stories will take us? Wherever they do, I’m glad to have spent this chapter in the Southern Jewish world.
In this final match-up, the game really came down to something simple: straight-up skills. So who was the ultimate player – underdog Devorah? Or long-time champ Moses? Let’s see how they measured up on the proverbial court:
Basket (ball): Moses has the one locked up. He started his life in a basket, y’all. That’s commitment. This one’s a slam dunk for Big M.
Flair: You have to bring some flair to the game, as any Harlem Globetrotter or Biblical Baller will tell you. In a battle of musical prowess, setting the tunes against each other, Devorah is particularly well-known for her victory song, sung after the Israelites defeated the Canaanites. This song is famously beautiful and is acknowledged as one of the oldest and most original sections of Tanakh. Although, Song of the Sea does put up a good fight… still, this one goes to Devorah!
Drive: Having skills takes you only so far. Taking your game to the next level requires massive confidence, the belief in yourself that you can go out on the floor and dominate, each and every game.The name Devorah is Hebrew for Bee. That’s probably why Devorah’s tenacity is similar to a swarm of attacking bees. As she summoned Barak to battle against an army of invaders, she is also putting a stinger into the idea that women do not deserve places of significance in Jewish liturgy. Score one more for Dark Horse– er, Bee– Devorah!
Posting Up: During half time, Moses was thirsty and struck his water bottle, and Devorah immediately got 15 points. Devorah stands out as one of the strongest female characters in the books of Judges. She was one of the many judges chosen by God, and led the nation of Israel at a time when they were struggling to conquer the land. Additionally, they were experiencing great spiritual uncertainty. She’s one of the only biblical females spoken about on her own merits. For example, Sarah is always referred to as Abraham’s wife or Miriam is qualified as Moses’s sister. She was patient in how she would sit beneath the palm tree where the Israelites could come and seek her advice. But Moses always comes back after adversity, so this one’s a draw.
Spontaneity: Lots of players over-think the game. Moses is quick to act in many ways. When he finds his people struggling beneath the oppression of Egyptian task masters, he is horrified. Witnessing one beating an Israelite slave, Moses strikes back and kills the Egyptian. When Moses sees that there was no one else to address the challenges of his generation, he rises to the occasion and does what is necessary, realizing that it would have far reaching implications for his life.
Final Scoring: Mensch means “a person of honor” and for us, the winner has got to be Moses, the ultimate team captain. As it says in Deuteronomy 34:10 – “Since that time no prophet has supported Israel like Moses, who Adonai knew face to face.” Devorah played well, came far, and her jersey will surely be retired, but in the end, there can be only one winner of Mensch Madness.
MAZEL TOV… MOSES, THE MENSCH MADNESS CHAMPION!
Thank you for playing along! How did your bracket match up with ours?
Today is World Cancer Day, a day when people worldwide are focused on cancer, to encourage its prevention, detection, and treatment.
But in my life, every day is cancer day.
Care and concern for my mother, Lori Winer (Leah B’rachah bat Hannah v’Reuven) plagues and inspires me daily. My mom is one of the most giving, caring, determined and lovely people in the world. She is truly an educator in every sense of the word and I am lucky to have her as a mom – and as my best friend.
In honor of World Cancer Day and my remarkable mother, I’d like to share with you some lessons I’ve learned during her surgery and treatment.
It’s not a definitive guide, but it’s become my go-to “How To Be the Jewish Daughter (or Son) of a Cancer Patient”:
1) It’s Okay To Feel Both/And. Have you seen those Ford commercials about and being better than or? As in, why choose “good looking” OR “great gas mileage” when you can have both? Both/and is often more realistic than either/or. I feel both/and quite a bit. My emotions are conflicted – contented that she is receiving what she needs AND overwhelmed by sadness and concern; confident in her care team AND fearful of the intangible enemy. I don’t have to feel one or the other. You can feel one, and the other, and feeling both is totally kosher.
2) Shower the People: One of my mother’s favorite singers is James Taylor and one of her favorites of his songs is “Shower the People.” The song says: “Shower the people you love with love. Show them the way that you feel. Things are gonna be much better if you only will.” I have learned to surround myself with people and activities that sustain me. I also see the power of connections. Creating a website to keep our contacts updated has allowed for people to share good wishes with her and our whole family. We shower my mother with love, and let others shower us, too.
3) Make Deposits: My mom is the queen of strong metaphors, and this is one of her best. Here is a quote directly from her blog:
I have come to realize that getting through the surgery, recuperation, chemotherapy, etc. will take a great deal of energy and strength. Therefore, I have decided to take this time to build up my physical and emotional strength and work on my positivity so that there will be enough “deposits” in my “account” to support the “withdrawals” that will be taken out in the next few months.
I, too, have learned to put lots of deposits in the account, figuratively and literally. In the last three months, mom and I have knitted over $700 worth of infinity scarves, blankets and ear warmers for our friends. We accept donations for these snuggly pieces, and all of that goes to help families like us in the present and future. We have donated to the hospital caring for my mother, the Dana Farber Cancer Institute; to an organization that supports families during recovery and remission, Living Beyond Breast Cancer; and to a childhood cancer charity near and dear to our hearts, 36 Rabbis Shave for the Brave.
4) Go Purple. My Facebook profile picture, also included in this post, is of me and my mother in shades of purple. If you change your profile picture today on Facebook or Twitter, Chevrolet will donate $1 per purpled profile (up to $1 million) for World Cancer Day.
5) Take a Moment for Prayer: While the “Mi Sheberakh“ is a universal prayer asking for a refuah shleimah (complete healing), there is a short, beautiful prayer that I say before she receives a dose of chemotherapy. It is derived from Mishnah Torah B’rachot 10:21, and is the prayer for bloodletting, which modern Jews find as a connection to sustained medicines: Yehi ratzon sheyihiyeh li refuah, which can be translated as “May it be God’s will that this will bring healing.”
I cannot wait to celebrate my mother being cancer-free, and together we will keep working and praying for our cancer-free world.
Ken yi’hi ratzon – may this be God’s will, and our own.
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