The Opposite Of Loneliness – Inspiring Words of Gratitude By Marina Keegan

shutterstock_237596851-2

This post was also shared on ISH’s Blog. 

Today, we turn our 30 Days Of Gratitude blog over to the late Marina Keegan, who died in a car accident soon after graduating from Yale in 2012. Her words, which we share below, were written for a special edition of The Yale Daily News which was handed out at her graduation. As a new school year starts and many of us send our kids off to college, as some of us prepare to gather together to welcome the new Jewish year, Marina’s words remain extremely powerful. They celebrate the “abundance of people who are in this together” and our ability and obligation to start over. We need to do the same.

“The Opposite of Loneliness,” Marina Keegan

(published in the The Yale Daily News – May 27, 2012)

We don’t have a word for the opposite of loneliness, but if we did, I could say that’s what I want in life. What I’m grateful and thankful to have found at Yale, and what I’m scared of losing when we wake up tomorrow and leave this place.

It’s not quite love and it’s not quite community; it’s just this feeling that there are people, an abundance of people, who are in this together. Who are on your team. When the check is paid and you stay at the table. When it’s four a.m. and no one goes to bed. That night with the guitar. That night we can’t remember. That time we did, we went, we saw, we laughed, we felt. The hats.

Yale is full of tiny circles we pull around ourselves. A cappella groups, sports teams, houses, societies, clubs. These tiny groups that make us feel loved and safe and part of something even on our loneliest nights when we stumble home to our computers — partner-less, tired, awake. We won’t have those next year. We won’t live on the same block as all our friends. We won’t have a bunch of group-texts.

This scares me. More than finding the right job or city or spouse – I’m scared of losing this web we’re in. This elusive, indefinable, opposite of loneliness. This feeling I feel right now.

But let us get one thing straight: the best years of our lives are not behind us. They’re part of us and they are set for repetition as we grow up and move to New York and away from New York and wish we did or didn’t live in New York. I plan on having parties when I’m 30. I plan on having fun when I’m old. Any notion of THE BEST years comes from clichéd “should haves…” “if I’d…” “wish I’d…”

Of course, there are things we wished we did: our readings, that boy across the hall. We’re our own hardest critics and it’s easy to let ourselves down. Sleeping too late. Procrastinating. Cutting corners. More than once I’ve looked back on my High School self and thought: how did I do that? How did I work so hard? Our private insecurities follow us and will always follow us.

But the thing is, we’re all like that. Nobody wakes up when they want to. Nobody did all of their reading (except maybe the crazy people who win the prizes…) We have these impossibly high standards and we’ll probably never live up to our perfect fantasies of our future selves. But I feel like that’s okay.

We’re so young. We’re so young. We’re twenty-two years old. We have so much time. There’s this sentiment I sometimes sense, creeping in our collective conscious as we lay alone after a party, or pack up our books when we give in and go out – that it is somehow too late. That others are somehow ahead. More accomplished, more specialized. More on the path to somehow saving the world, somehow creating or inventing or improving. That it’s too late now to BEGIN a beginning and we must settle for continuance, for commencement.

When we came to Yale, there was this sense of possibility. This immense and indefinable potential energy – and it’s easy to feel like that’s slipped away. We never had to choose and suddenly we’ve had to. Some of us have focused ourselves. Some of us know exactly what we want and are on the path to get it; already going to med school, working at the perfect NGO, doing research. To you I say both congratulations and you suck.

For most of us, however, we’re somewhat lost in this sea of liberal arts. Not quite sure what road we’re on and whether we should have taken it. If only I had majored in biology…if only I’d gotten involved in journalism as a freshman…if only I’d thought to apply for this or for that…

What we have to remember is that we can still do anything. We can change our minds. We can start over. Get a post-bac or try writing for the first time. The notion that it’s too late to do anything is comical. It’s hilarious. We’re graduating college. We’re so young. We can’t, we MUST not lose this sense of possibility because in the end, it’s all we have.

In the heart of a winter Friday night my freshman year, I was dazed and confused when I got a call from my friends to meet them at EST EST EST. Dazedly and confusedly, I began trudging to SSS, probably the point on campus farthest away. Remarkably, it wasn’t until I arrived at the door that I questioned how and why exactly my friends were partying in Yale’s administrative building. Of course, they weren’t. But it was cold and my ID somehow worked so I went inside SSS to pull out my phone. It was quiet, the old wood creaking and the snow barely visible outside the stained glass. And I sat down. And I looked up. At this giant room I was in. At this place where thousands of people had sat before me. And alone, at night, in the middle of a New Haven storm, I felt so remarkably, unbelievably safe.

We don’t have a word for the opposite of loneliness, but if we did, I’d say that’s how I feel at Yale. How I feel right now. Here. With all of you. In love, impressed, humbled, scared. And we don’t have to lose that.

We’re in this together, 2012. Let’s make something happen to this world.

Standing Before The Three-Way Mirror: End Of The Jewish Year Exam

be211ccc55d46a26ae1fd6a88f7d6989_screen-1 2
We are a little more than three weeks away from Rosh HaShanah, one week into the Jewish month of Elul. As we prepare for a new year, we are taught to spend time closely examining our lives. This is not easy. Some compare this self-examination process to looking into a three-way mirror – the type you often find in department stores. We generally have one of four reactions when standing before such a mirror. The most common reaction: we are startled by a part of us that we never knew was there. Reaction two: we know what is there, but don’t want to acknowledge it, so we refuse to look into the mirror. Reaction three: we stand before the mirror and see a side of ourselves that actually makes us happy. Reaction four: we stand before the mirror and simply see clothing and pay no attention to the body that fills the clothing.

I hope that each of us has the courage to stand before a spiritual three-way mirror this time of year. As we do so, we can’t ignore the soul (our essence) that fills our body. Taking a step back and honestly looking at who we have become will be challenging for many of us. The difficult aspects of our lives, that we have worked very hard to ignore, will be completely visible before the spiritual mirror. We will discover attributes or behaviors that we never knew existed and would like to change. And, without a doubt, we will be given an incredible opportunity to see what makes us truly special, holy.

How exactly do we stand before the spiritual three-way mirror? We do so by performing Chesbon HaNefesh, an examination of the soul. Good news! Such an exam does not require an office visit or a co-pay. It simply involves your time and honesty.Below, you will find the “End Of The Jewish Year Exam.” Take it. I have sent out this same exam in previous years. If you have taken it before, don’t cheat off yourself! Answer the questions based upon your behavior during this Jewish year that is coming to an end. You don’t have to share your answers with anyone. Study your answers, as they are your spiritual three-way mirror. Learn from them. Embrace what you love. Don’t be too hard on yourself – appreciate that some of your imperfections are blessings. At the same time, however, recognize that, with some work, you can change a lot of what you don’t love! Grow. Change. This is what Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur are all about. Give yourself the gift of the spiritual three-way mirror.

End Of The Jewish Year Exam

1. Have you taken care of yourself this year? Did you get a physical, go to the gym on a regular basis, eat well, give yourself time to relax and reflect? If you have not taken care of yourself, what has kept you from doing so?
2. Have you taken care of the important people in your life? How have you treated your spouse, boyfriend/girlfriend, children, parents, siblings, friends, extended family, colleagues, etc. this year? Would you like to change anything? Are there relationships in your life that need improving?
3. Do you owe anyone an apology? If so, when will you apologize?
4. Have you refused to make amends with someone who apologized to you? Why?
5. Have you been financially responsible? If not, what can you d
o to change this?6. This year, what was your number one weakness? How can you overcome it in the new year?
7. Most of the time you feel________________(fill in the blank). Do you like the answer? If not, what can you change?
8. As this Jewish year ends, what do you regret the most? What can you do to not feel this way next year?
9. As this Jewish year ends, what are you most proud of? Have you congratulated yourself? Do you accept praise and compliments? Are you too hard on yourself?
10. What are you afraid of? What can you do to overcome this fear?
11. What unfinished business do you have to complete before the Jewish year is done?
12. Overall, are you happy with your life? If not, what do you want to see change this upcoming year? List three ways you can make these changes.
13. Have you given tzedakah (charity)? Do you volunteer
your time to help others? Do you have a “cause?” If you answered “no” to any of these things, would you like the answer to be “yes?” Why?14. Have you taken the time to explore your spiritualit
y? If so, what have you learned?15. How do you feel about God? Are you happy with your answer? If not, what can you do to make your answer different next year?
16. If you believe in God, have you been angry or upset with God this year? Have you expressed your feelings? If not, why?
17. Have you prayed/meditated this year? How did it make you feel?
18. What is one thing you want to accomplish in the new Jewish year?

ISH – Innovation, Spirituality, Home

transparent ish

As many of you know, last year Ramat Shalom began an innovative project known as The Center for Jewish Life. The Center was a project that I was inspired to pursue as a result of my Fellowship with Rabbis Without Borders. Its primary goal was to reach out to the 90% of unaffiliated Jews in Broward County and provide them with a connection to Judaism – a connection that would encourage them to become more involved with Ramat Shalom. Thanks to the support of the national team at Rabbis Without Borders, our own Board of Directors, the generosity of our member Craig Lamm and the leadership of my wife, Rabbi Cheryl Jacobs, The Center for Jewish Life has grown and evolved over the past year. We have helped many folks find a meaningful connection to Judaism and, at the same time, strengthened the Ramat Shalom family. In April, I was invited to speak about The Center for Jewish Life at the annual meeting of Clal – The National Jewish Center for Leadership and Learning in New York City, where I received tremendous support for our program. As we move forward, we expect that our outreach efforts will continue to attract national attention and provide meaningful ways for the unaffiliated to connect with Judaism. In addition, our efforts will encourage membership growth here at Ramat Shalom and subsidize many of the synagogue’s programs and events.

Earlier this year, in an effort to ensure that The Center for Jewish Life would truly strengthen our community, we engaged in a visioning process with a professional consulting team at no expense to Ramat Shalom. This visioning process helped us further develop our goals and mission while transforming The Center for Jewish Life into a truly unique program that would appeal to a vast number of spiritual seekers. The results of this process have been incredible.

We learned very quickly in the process that if we are trying to appeal to unaffiliated Jews, many of whom are turned off by institutionalized religion, The Center for Jewish Life is the wrong name. Further, we learned that there are many spiritual seekers out there who might not officially identify as Jewish, but are very interested in exploring our faith and eventually finding a spiritual home among us. Over the past several months, Rabbi Cheryl has officiated at numerous conversion ceremonies and welcomed proud new Jews into our community.

As part of our visioning process, we were encouraged us to create an interactive website that will enable us to expand our outreach efforts well beyond Broward County and help an even larger audience engage spiritually with Judaism. Further, we talked about how there are many pathways to Judaism – each pathway leading folks closer to a meaningful connection with our faith. All of this encouraged us to change our name from The Center for Jewish Life to ISH – Innovation, Spirituality, Home. At ISH, your path can be left-ish, your path can be right-ish, your path can be somewhere in between-ish. At ISH, you will always find something meaningful and always connect to something Jewish. (For a great article on the birth of ISH as a word click here.)

Rabbi Cheryl is the Director of ISH. As with The Center for Jewish Life, Cantor Debbie and I play no role in ISH lifecycle events. We are here for our members. I will be teaching some online courses at ISH and I am excited to announce that all of ISH’s online learning programs and other events will be accessible to Ramat Shalom members, including an online Kabbalah class that I will be teaching beginning the end of the month. ISH’s website officially launches this weekend. I invite you to check it out – www.FindYourISH.com. For those of you who enjoyed last year’s High Holiday’s Gratitude Project, I encourage you to take part in ISH’s 30 Days of Gratitude which begins this weekend on the ISH Blog.

It Is Easy To Hate and It Is Difficult To Love

Friends,

lovehate37-thumb

Last week, Shira Banki, a 16 years old Israeli teenager, was murdered at the Jerusalem Gay Pride Parade by a Jew who had just completed serving 10 years in prison for stabbing three people at the 2005 Jerusalem Gay Pride Parade.

Also last week, Ali Dawabsheh, an 18-month-old Palestinian baby, was murdered by radical Jewish extremists who burned down her home as part of a “price tag” terrorist attack.

Earlier this week, an Israeli woman driving through East Jerusalem was severely burned by a firebomb that was thrown into her car by suspected Palestinian terrorists who are still at large.

Yesterday, three Israeli soldiers were wounded when a Palestinian terrorist intentionally hit them with his car as they were hitchhiking in the West Bank. Hamas and Islamic Jihad have openly praised the terrorist.

These horrific acts of violence remind us that any religious extremism can be used to kill, maim and terrorize. No matter what religious ideology one embraces, once he uses this ideology to hate, he loses his humanity. Hate does not discriminate, it just destroys.

Confucius taught centuries ago that:

It is easy to hate and it is difficult to love. This is how the whole scheme of things works. All good things are difficult to achieve; and bad things are very easy to get.

Sadly, his teaching remains true to this day. All it takes to hate is ignorance, fear of the unknown and the desire to be right. Love requires learning about someone else. It requires a connection, a relationship. Love requires understanding, compassion and the realization that we are all different. Love requires hard work.

Last week, in response to the murder of Ali Dawabsheh, Israel’s President, Reuven Rivlin, expressed his sorrow and shame over the murder. He wrote that “we must continue to believe in our ability to build bridges of coexistence, or a shared existence.” We must continue to believe that while it is easier to hate, we have the ability to reach out, lift up and love. It’s not easy to do – but as Confucius taught us: “All good things are difficult to achieve.”

May the memories of Ali Dawabsheh and Shira Banki somehow, some way, become a blessing. May their families be comforted by communities of many faiths and traditions. May those who have been injured in the recent attacks in Israel be healed and strengthened. And may we do our part to bring about peace this Shabbat and in the weeks and months ahead.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Andrew Jacobs