On Light

In 2014, I traveled to St. Petersburg, Russia with the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee and we spent Shabbat with a group of university students on a boat. Despite the language and culture barriers (and my slight seasickness), once we began singing L’chah Dodi, it was as if those barriers dissolved. This is one of the many things I love about Judaism: wherever you are in the world, whatever synagogue you are in, whatever language is spoken, we are all reading the same sacred texts and singing the same joyful songs. I want this for all of us, for the Jews of Color, for the LGBTQ+ Jews, for the Jews with physical and mental disabilities, for all of us. As we begin with the Barchu, the ancient call to worship, my hope is that this is the beginning of a truly inclusive and diverse Judaism where once you step into the tent, you are no longer the stranger.

One of the pieces I wrote for the ma’ariv service I co-led with JewV’Nation alumni

I’m still processing my Biennial experience and also desperately trying to catch up at work, hence the lateness of this entry that also happens to coincide with the first night of Hanukkah. I have a lot of thoughts about Biennial and it seems like Hanukkah is the perfect time to give voice to them.

The prayer service was an amazing experience and I am so grateful I was asked to be a part of it. The two weeks leading up to Biennial were stressful and upsetting, which resulted in me breaking down into tears during the service. I had hoped to avoid that scenario, but I had also pushed back the tears one too many times.

I’m not normally a hugger, even with people I know, but I hugged a lot of strangers after the service. However, what really surprised me was that after the service all I wanted was to hear my mom’s voice. I hid in the makeshift backstage area and called her, promptly bursting into a fresh round of tears when she answered. My mom knows how much I’ve struggled these past few months, she knows about all the microaggressions and racist incidents, and she knows how much those have hurt me. But even with everything that has happened, she has never once told me that I should give up or leave Temple, because she knows how important Temple is to me.

I have a good support system at work and at home, but a particular incident has really tested me lately. I’ve struggled with depression all my life and I am lucky enough to have a good therapist and psychiatrist, plus a medication regimen that has helped me climb out of that darkness. But sometimes you can get so beaten down, you lose perspective and all you can see is what you have done wrong and you question everything about yourself. Besides my mom, I have some pretty amazing friends who keep reminding me that I’ve come so far and done so much. But it still hurts and I can say that the incident is still very much on my mind.

Kintsugi is the Japanese art of repairing broken pottery by mending the cracks with lacquer. The point is not to hide the cracks, but to show them with pride. I never wanted anyone to know about my depression or how I had to be hospitalized three times in high school because of it, but one day I realized that keeping those secrets did me much more harm and so I stopped. Nearly two years ago, I went to the opening retreat of the JewV’Nation Fellowship and realized how much of myself I had been hiding by not speaking up about the racism in the community. It hasn’t been easy and there are certainly days when I wish I had never opened up about it, but I honestly don’t think I would do it any differently if given the choice. A crack here, a few over there, slather on some lacquer and keep going because the work isn’t done.

The Hashkiveinu is many things, but for me, today-  it’s the reminder that at anytime I can ask God to cover me with a canopy of peace, especially when I feel anything but peace. During Kabbalat Shabbat services, I more often than not find myself praying for strength, the strength to be a compassionate caretaker for my mom when she needs it, the strength to not throw my hands up in frustration when I teach on Sundays, the strength to walk into the sanctuary and feel alone, despite being surrounded by community. In the past couple of years, I have asked for strength for a different purpose: the strength to keep advocating for myself and Jews of Color, to call out racism in the Jewish community, to keep going when it all seems so hopeless. That’s the thing about diversity, equity, and inclusion work, it can be all-consuming and emotionally draining and sometimes we can forget to take care of ourselves. The Hashkiveinu prayer asks God to protect and comfort us, something that we may forget to do for ourselves. There will always be work to be done, but unless we take the time to administer self-care, we cannot keep going.

My piece about the Hashkiveinu prayer

Happy Hanukkah!

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