This Shabbat, in Vayigash, we read that Joseph reveals himself to his brothers. Joseph asks them to bring their father back to Egypt, and the family is finally reunited. Feeling all the feels, Joseph says to his brothers, "I am Joseph. Is my father still well?" (Genesis 45:3). His brothers are stunned and say nothing. Joseph persists, saying, "I am your brother Joseph..." (Genesis 45:4).
In Vayigash, we witness the moment in which Joseph reveals himself to his brothers. We, the readers, know this man is Joseph. But for his brothers - the sons of Jacob, this is a moment of great surprise. Big family moment and lots of feelings abound.
The concept of revelation is a tough one, and the connected emotions and process is heavily dependent on the relationship we have with those with whom we are interacting. Revelation occurs when the true identity of a person is shown to another. This can happen publicly or, as in the case of Joseph and his brothers, in private, and can range from liberating to frightening and everywhere in between. Some revelations are easy and jovial, while others are difficult and deeply personal.
This week, I announced to my friends on Facebook that I have never seen any of the Star Wars films. The response, while expected, was overwhelming and hilarious.
"How is that possible?"
"Is this a safe space? Neither have I..."
As an educator who loves to connect popular culture and works with adolescents, teenagers and emerging adults, many of my friends and colleagues expressed great disbelief in this revelation. On top of that, many contacted me privately and questioned my sanity for sharing such a dark secret. While humorous and entertaining, it got me thinking.
I recognize that this revelation was small potatoes. While I won't be one of the millions of people standing in line and viewing this anticipated new chapter of the Star Wars series, I do appreciate its place and importance in our culture. And I also appreciate that many of my friends wrestle with revelations that are significantly more difficult than mine. There is so much judgement and hatred in our world right now, which often makes it hard for someone to feel completely safe and/or able to share themselves with others.
Earlier this week, I was able to spend time at a local Islamic center with a group of teens and parents. During this experience, we shared great conversation, enjoyed a nosh and learned about the vast similarities between our communities and faiths. It was difficult to hear about the baseless hatred and stereotypes which are a norm in their daily lives. Our neighbors and friends do not feel safe to openly express their thoughts, beliefs and identities. We must not stand idly by. We need to speak up for our neighbors, regardless of what similarities we can find. In fact, we are commanded to love our neighbors as we love ourselves. (Leviticus 19) So we need to start doing that.
Organizations such as Keshet, Planned Parenthood, HIAS and the Religious Action Center for Reform Judaism are a few examples of many who are fighting for change. As the great Yoda once said (or at least my friends have told me he did), "Fear is the path to the Dark side. Fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, hate leads to suffering."
Every single day, we choose which parts of ourselves to reveal to others through moments of interaction and connection. Let us hold onto the teaching of Hillel and not separate ourselves from the community, but rather to embrace and celebrate our role in it. Let's challenge ourselves to help others and ourselves by making our communities more welcoming, safe and inclusive places where we can feel comfortable celebrating all that we are. Shabbat Shalom!
Chanukah is a holiday of juxtaposition. We weave our way through darkness and light, oppression and freedom, despair and miracles. Much like our lives (and in my last post), there are times of joy and times of difficulty. Certainly not an easy course to navigate, and while there are times we wish it could be, this route is not included on the current versions of Google Maps or Waze to act as our guide.
Halfway through the festival of lights, I find myself struggling. The past week has been a rollercoaster of emotion, finding myself caught in the middle of helping my community, simultaneously celebrate and heal. Talk about juxtaposition. Sometimes we find ourselves looking for the light, and, at other times, we recognize that we must be that light for others.
For the past week, I have tried to find the words to speak or write, but they would not come. Only tears. What can you do when someone in your life can't find the light they need? This week, I felt helpless and paralyzed. Why are so many of our amazing, talented, intelligent and special teens unable to find the light through the darkness? How can we, as mentors, advisors, teachers and role models, keep our light burning and visible as we attempt to support and comfort others? Not to mention all of the other noise surrounding us. Another shooting. More antisemitism and baseless hatred. What is going on here?
Headlines. Alerts. Notifications. Our schedules are filled with interruptions, jockeying for attention, informing us of additional information that fills our screens, inboxes and news feeds.
Pray for [city name].
Our thoughts and prayers are with...
Sending prayers to...
Please include [victim names/location] in your prayers.
How many times have we said, heard or read these words in 2015 alone? The NY Daily News front page says it all. Our public officials, who make religious references in times of pain and tragedy, are spending an awful lot of time thinking and praying. Not that praying isn't a good and important option, but it needs to be combined with kavanah (purpose and meaning). It needs to lead towards action.
We need to make more time to talk about mental health amidst this ridiculous race to nowhere culture in which we live. We need to create better support systems for our children, and help them develop the language to identify and talk about how they are feeling. We need multiple reminders that it's okay to not be okay, but it's not okay to feel like you can't ask for help. We need to talk about how racism, baseless hatred and bullying are not the answers to any problem, and that it is our responsibility to engage in productive dialogue and build relationships with those who we may not see eye to eye with or understand from where they are coming. Oh, and by the way, we also need to stop shooting each other.
While Shabbat candles are meant to brighten the table, we place Chanukah candles by the window to publicize the miracle of Chanukah. The Chanukah lights are meant solely for enjoyment and celebration--they are not to be used for any practical task, like giving light or making a table more beautiful. Perhaps this tradition can teach us this: to appreciate, calmly and joyously, things for just what they are. [CLAL website]
While I am, at this moment, not quite able to appreciate things for just what they are, I am grateful for a many things and people that add light to my life.
Technology. For the miracles of connection, ability, strength and discovery. While I am provided with abundant light just for being able to light the Chanukiyah via FaceTime with my partner while we live apart with busy schedules, others are given the ability to walk and learn through important advances.
Jewish Camp. I've been blessed to not only be part of multiple camp families, but I also am able to connect others through my work. I am, without any doubt, who I am today because of the people I have met and the experiences I have had through my time at Camp Bauercrest, URJ Eisner Camp and URJ 6 Points Sci-Tech Academy.
Community. We often say it takes a village, and I wholeheartedly subscribe to that belief. Through the countless meetings, encounters, conversations and experiences I have had over the past week, it is consistently the special people in my life who find ways to lift me up and find the light in the darkness. I am grateful to have friends, teachers, mentors and family who help me recalibrate and find my way.
In the spirit of pirsum hanes, publicizing these miracles, for the final four nights of Chanukah, may the Chanukah lights help us to appreciate the miracles that we overlook and recognize the power of the light we bring to others. Let us speak up, be agents of change, love our neighbors as we love ourselves and help bring out the light in each other. Chag Urim Sameach!
For videos, blogs, recipes, tikkun olam and other Chanukah resources that I have compiled, visit TBEYouth.org/chanukah.
Those Who Walk in Darkness
Those who walk in darkness will see the great light.
Those who yearn for freedom will find a home.
Darkness rules over the lights
and those who stand, still search for miracles.
Who will light a candle for the future?
Who will sing a song?
Who will find in their heart a new bright light?
In yesterday's torch, the fire will still burn.
Sometimes a great miracle occurs.
The candles are lit on my window sill.
There are some who will know how to solve my dream.
It is the same story, the same play
"in those days and at this time."*
Don't promise me miracles and wonders.
Even the fog is a sign of the future.
In a stormy season, don't repeat.
On your way you will find hope and light.
Those who walk in darkness will see the great light.**
* Based on the prophet Isaiah: "The people who walk in darkness have seen a great light, on those who dwell in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned." (Isaiah 9:1)
** Quoted from the blessing for Chanukah candles, Al Hanissim, "who made miracles possible for our ancestors in those days and at this time."