Trump Card

Last week President Trump visited Milwaukee. In class that morning, one student said, “He’s not my president.” The timing wasn’t right to go into the nuances of that statement, to correct the fallacy that blindly believes saying “He’s not my president” excuses us of his wrongdoings (when we, the collective voting citizenry, put him there) but merely excuses his ignoring us, so my response to her was subtler.

“Whether we like him or not, he’s our president, and we should respect that.”

I refused to get religious. In fact, “refuse” is the wrong word: I keep my faith wrapped around my neck but not gurgling through my vocal cords, so I never genuinely talk about religion with my students. Perhaps, this time, I should have.

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When It Hits the Fan

Today starts our mini-unit on self-compassion in the mindfulness class I’m teaching. It’s a hard unit, even as a teacher, because so much of our culture says we need to be hard on ourselves–and probably much harder than we already are. It’s almost painful to be self-compassionate, and it’s about as awkward to talk about it to kids.

And on top of that, I’m still feeling sick. I got to bed a few hours earlier than usual last night, and I woke up feeling so much better–but my throat is so dry it’s raw, and I can barely open my mouth to talk without feeling the pain of it. I was talking to myself last night, and I know when I’m feeling sick I have the least amount of willpower, so all my normal challenges look like massive mountains right now.

So it’s the perfect time to talk about self-compassion.

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TBT: Subway Robbery

 

All times aren’t good times.

Heading into the subway at the start of our day, I was pickpocketed and we lost all the money we had on us, with barely enough to get back home.

All our plans were ruined, and I had to worry about ID theft the day before Christmas.

We were angry, frustrated, stressed, and pissed off. But we were together. So we allowed ourselves time to vent, to let it out of us, and then we walked around the city, stopping at places where we could explore without paying–like walking through an antique bookstore, a Judaica shop, and an art gallery.

Shitty things happened, and they always will, but we made it through.

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Three Winners

Sometimes the weather says it all: cold and bitter, turbulent, frustrated and uncertain–should it rain? Turn to ice? Remain indecisive, unfulfilled, until it blows aside?

Earlier this week three Muslim students at the blue school up the road (UNC Chapel Hill) were shot and killed over an alleged parking dispute, but in my heart, in my gut, I believe it truly was a hate crime. The small-town feel of our campuses was shaken, shattered.

The students, filled with fear, tragic loss. The weather said it all. A good friend, when I crossed her path yesterday, said it better: “They were our age, Darren. Our age.”

Since Wednesday I’ve heard nothing but the inspiring and heartwarming stories of these three students, their compassion, their faith, their service toward building bridges of understanding and commonness between diverse groups. And I can’t even bring myself to say their names, or write them, because to do so brings them too close, closer than I can handle. I didn’t know them, but I feel now as though I do, and it’s a loss I cannot bear.

I’ve thought all day, repeatedly for days, that hatred against anyone is hatred against everyone; violence against one is violence against all. And the oppression of Islam and Muslims in a Christan-dominated society recalls the same oppressions once faced by Judaism and Jews, and still often experienced if not at the same explicit and violent level as that experience by my Muslim sisters and brothers. I recall, as long as I can remember, the police officers guarding my synagogue’s doors, but what must they go through daily?

It’s rather atrocious, to think of it, that anyone should need security outside a house of worship, but that’s the virulent symptoms of a one-minded, belligerent society.

That’s not what I was trying to say. What I was trying to say is that today they were Muslim, but they could’ve been Jewish. They could’ve been gay. They could’ve been me.

Our age, my friend said. I think too often of death, but death is abstract, and in my mind I run through my obituaries, hopes and dreams of what my life should be: …survived by his husband and their children… well-known for his books of poetry and fiction series… They don’t stop at 25. They stop at 70 or 80 or 90. My greatest achievements are not serving in student leadership roles or working as a tutor–in these obituaries I’m praised for inspiring a hundred mathematicians, for being senator or governor or even president.

They don’t end at today. They certainly don’t end at the end of a gun.

It’s tragic, but that’s the wrong word. It’s sickening. Vile. Evil.

The Sages once asked, “Why was the Temple destroyed?” And their answer was sinat chinam, senseless hatred–and I believe that it is this same senseless hatred that has shook our community and every day still threatens to topple our entire world.

God, however, has provided an alternative: Chesed, compassion and loving-kindness, the lifeblood of these three students and the service that defines their all-too-short lives. Binah, understanding, the open-minded willingness to accept and learn. And gevurah, courage, strength, the candle flame flickering in the wind that holds on, burns brighter, stays alight.

I pray. I cry. What else can I do? I keep breathing, living, believing.

What To Do with a Dead Frog

I knew it was raining when my class was interrupted by the squeaking from the hallway. By the time I left the building to cross a small breadth of campus to my second course, it was merely a light rain, and when after that course I crossed to the bus stop, the light rain hadn’t picked up a great deal–but on account of now standing in the rain, by nature it seemed heavier.

I got on the bus, the standing crowd moving slowly toward the back to make room for the new recruits at the front.

Then on we went–and onward I shall forthwith go.

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For More Things Than One

After washing my face and turning to my towel, I glimpsed the light switch and thought how clumsy it would be to grasp it with my wet hands, yet how simply with a simple touch it could make the whole room go dark. While at the College Transfer Club this afternoon, our president saw the clock and remarked how none of them are ever right on time around our campus, how awesome a project it’d be if we could get them all in sync; she asked for a slogan, and I said, “The time is right: If not now, when?” The obvious allusion apparently unapparent. And all the while, in my head, tumbling music–specifically that of Regina Spektor, my obsession of late, whose newest album Far one of my kindest and closest friends gave me a copy of the other day.

It brings to mind a myriad of things to be thankful for–I’ll choose just one.

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Gideon

I didn’t write many stellar essays while in Israel. As I mentioned before, this was mostly due to my dislike of essays at the time, and although I’ve since learned how to imbue myself in a formal topic, most of my essays on AMHSI were too structured to be too entertaining: I was given a question, and I answered that question. No bells, no whistle, just facts. Rather boring, like I said.

A few essays, however, turned out rather well, and although I think–if posed with the same questions today–I could write them better, I still appreciate them as they are. They stand out to me as the stepping stones where I placed my feet while crossing the river between inexperience and skill in writing. True, some stories have the potential to demand a rewrite, but for these essays, to do such would undermine the importance of my time in Israel, and that simply is something I will not do. (Besides, changing them now would have no practical purpose, so it’s rather senseless anyways.)

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