Friday, October 31, 2008

Ode to Hillel on Friday afternoons

It's Friday afternoon at Hillel. I'm drinking mint tea, listening to the rain, and waiting for Shabbat. Friday afternoon is the best part of the week at Hillel. It's so festive! Soon the interns will show up and we'll start chopping vegetables and boiling water for soup and the whole room will smell warm and fragrant. People will stop by to help out or hang out or both. We'll make decorations. We'll listen to bad Israeli pop music I don't understand.

Once 5:30pm rolls around, we'll be in panic mode - "The students will be here in an hour and we still haven't done x or y or z or all of the above!" But from about 12pm-4pm at Hillel on Fridays, everyone is excited and happy. There's no panic. Only giggling and making dinner and cutting out autumn leaves for table decorations.

I was a student here for six years. Hillel was the family I came home to, every Friday night, all through undergrad and my masters program. Now I'm the Program Director, and everything is different. Instead of attending events, I'm planning and organizing them. I just spent an hour with the new JSU President, helping her come up with a meeting agenda and brainstorming ways to get students more involved. It comes very naturally to me, and I love it, despite all the stress. Sometimes I have to keep myself from working for 14 hours a day because there's just so much to DO. No doubt about it, Hillel is a challenge.

But something happens on Friday afternoons, especially when we know it will be a mellow Shabbat. For a few hours, all of my work feels like a blessing, all of the stress is worthwhile, and Hillel, once again, feels like home.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Because it's time to start again with Bereishit, I'm re-posting this one

History of Loneliness

In a beginning, there was nothing. Then, God said.

There were light and trees and oceans and horizons,
and there was Adam.

God said everything into existence,
Those who missed something nonexistent no longer suffered.
Darkness was lonely, and there was fire.
The trees were despondent, there was shade.
Adam was aching. God said. And there was Eve.

God said “This is very good.” And it was.

But soon, Adam and Eve realized they missed the longing they’d felt without each other.
They built a fire, darkness disappeared,
and when the fire sputtered out, darkness became even louder,
thicker than before the first flame.

When Eve ate the apple, and offered it to Adam,
they were sent out of Eden.
And the first people on the planet felt another kind of longing,
called homesickness.

Ever since then, people have been obsessed with the notion of home,
and the notion of emptiness,
not to mention God.

You see, in a beginning,
God didn’t know that people could long for nothing,
could court nothing, could fall in love with absence.
So God filled God’s world with endless somethings
that begat more somethings,
and each something found a longing inside
that no other something could fill.

They say God’s light was a vessel that splintered
into millions of pieces.
We are glittering fragments trying to heal the world
by finding light in each other.
We are drawn to glowing because we are drawn to God.
They also say that God didn’t create the world,
but is creating the world,
so we are constantly repairing and shattering
and repairing again.

It wasn’t the beginning, it was a beginning,
and it was an ending.
It was the end of nothing.

(copyright 2007)

Friday, October 17, 2008

What I'm likely sharing tonight at Sukkot Shabbat

Shabbat Shalom, everyone! I have a few quick thoughts to share while you finish your dinner. Call it some food for thought. Sukkot was my first Hillel event in fall 2002. Can I get a show of hands if this is your first Hillel event? Welcome! Joseph and I came to Sukkot all dressed up when I was a freshman because every time I'd gone to synagogue, I'd had to dress up. How surprised we were to find everyone sitting on the ground together in the Sukkah at Porter college, some in jeans, some barefoot, everyone singing. Joseph and I looked at each other and smiled: This was something completely different. This was something we could get into.

The Sukkah represents several different - and contradicting - aspects of Jewish life. I've been told that the Sukkah is place where you feel the most safe, the most comforted. But at the same time, the Sukkah is, at its core, a temporary dwelling. This space of ultimate safety and comfort only lasts for a week, and the rest of the year we are left with its memory.

We recall Sukkot each week at Shabbat we sing "Ufros Aleinu Sukkat Sh'lomecha," and spread over us Your shelter of peace. But like the Sukkah, Shabbat is also a temporary shelter - the liminal space between one week and another. The difference is that we return to the shelter of Shabbat each Friday at sundown. Sukkot only comes once a year.

The point I'm trying to make is that whether it's Sukkot, Shabbat, or both, these holidays represent the transience of our personal shelters. Many of you left the shelters of your homes to come to college. Every student I met seven years ago at my first Hillel event has graduated, leaving the shelter of UCSC to seek comfort and peace in other communities. And even though I'm still here, celebrating my 7th Hillel Sukkot, I'm a different person when I enter and exit the Sukkah every year.

When we reconvene for Sukkot next fall, we'll all be a little different. But regardless of the transience of each of our personal shelters, the comfort and warmth that we feel when we gather in the Sukkah will inspire us to keep coming back. I look forward to seeing all of you in the Sukkah next year. Shabbat Shalom.