Rose-colored Glasses - post by Jessica

This is a time of transition in our lives, which always, always makes me nostalgic. The entire period from when we start dismantling a place I have lived until the time I am settled into the new place, I have the angels and demons of every period of my life floating around my shoulders. I think of unhappy conversations that I haven’t thought about in years, or fantastic events that defined my life somehow. Granted, this process is facilitated by the fact that moving involves picking up the physical pieces of our lives, sorting through them, sometimes evaluating whether they are worthy to be kept, and then putting them into a box. Still, I feel like this time is worse. I have some theories as to why.

First, R and I decided that we really, really needed to go through all of our stuff and organize before we moved. Because of last year’s craziness, we barely sorted anything before it got dumped into boxes to be moved downstate. Our move up to Chicago was also very harried – and we were moving in together for the first time, so we were too busy dealing with multiple utensils and furniture items to worry about the boxes of papers and trinkets that we had collected. Now, our lives from 2006 until now are being spread across the living room, sorted into piles, then recycled or filed. And, I decided to go through our card collections – both my mom and my adoptive grandmother send cards for many holidays, especially Valentine’s Day. ¬†So, I’m spending a lot of time in memory lane, even as we are starting to finally implement our plans for the year ahead.

In just about a week, I have my last day of work at Hillel. While I’m hoping to write about what I’ve learned here and some of my experiences, everything still feels way too close to even think about yet. I am still going to work every day, so it doesn’t feel as though much has changed since the middle of May when all the students left. And we’re still making decisions – trying to hire my replacement, hiring an Office Manager – the business here is still getting done. And yet, on July 1, that all ends, and on July 6 we fly to New York to find an apartment, and then head on vacation for a little bit. At the end of July, we’ll pack our lives up again and road-trip out to New York – and then, September 6, shortly after our fourth wedding anniversary, we’ll both start graduate school.

It’s daunting, and all the more so because I feel as though things are more vibrant this year. Maybe because I’ve been surrounded by student for a year, I’m more excited to be back as a student myself. It was such a risk to come here – whether we would be able to handle the absolute shower of problems here and then whether I would be able to get back into school. We dealt with as many of the problems as we could and we leave this place better than we found it. And I definitely got back into school! Still, now we face another huge life change – and I’m glad that we have made it to this time, place and season.

I’ll be sure to keep everyone updated – especially as things keep moving along with our big changes!

What’s your best or funniest moving story? Or your words of wisdom as we prep for moving?


Interfaith Shabbat

post by Jessica

So, I mentioned Interfaith Shabbat in my previous Random Thoughts post. A commenter here (hi Yid ūüôā ) asked if I could talk more about that. It really was a great event.

Well, one of the big parts of my job is to work with student leadership. One of our more amazing leaders came up with the idea of interfaith/multicultural shabbat after an event at the student union with a bunch of cultural and ethnic organizations. Since it was November, we decided to try it for second semester, and she sent out an email asking about dates to the listserve of the people who participated in the first event.

We had a consensus of February 4, and we started advertising when school got back in session. All the advertising framed it as “Come learn about Judaism,” so we’d get people who were interested in learning about us, rather than say, people who were just interested in a free meal, or interested in proselytizing.¬† In addition to asking the specific groups (i.e. the ones from the listserve), we also encouraged people to invite their non-Jewish friends to come and see what Hillel is about.

Our program for the evening was pretty similar to what we usually do on a Friday night, but with a few twists to hopefully make it more meaningful for those visiting.¬† First, non-Jews who didn’t come with someone (those from the other Student Associations) were directed into the Reform service, which had prepared a special explanatory service, both to explain what they did and a little about some of the things they didn’t do (i.e. compared to other denominations). The Conservative & Orthodox were open to visitors, but there were fewer special explanations. After services, we all gathered in the MultiPurpose Room for dinner – at which point we realized that although we had set for 150, we actually had closer to 165 people there. A quick setup of another table followed. We introduced Shalom Aleichem, the concept of kiddish and hand washing. Then, dinner was served. We served a traditional dinner – Matzoh Ball soup, chicken, kugel, veggies and chocolate cake. And we had enough for everyone – barely.

The best part about the whole thing was that people sat together and were talking at their tables about Judaism. Since we’d framed it as a learning about Judaism, everyone seemed to have good questions and be engaged in the topic. At the end of dinner, we had scheduled an informal discussion about Judaism and other faiths in the little cafe area off the main lounge, and it actually took a little while for that to come together since people were having such a great time talking at their tables. It got started though, and people talked for about two hours about a lot of different things related to religion, including religious reasons for covering and food restrictions. While the main discussion was going on, several other groups in the building were having smaller discussions as well.

In the end, it was a great success, and we made a lot of great connections with other groups – Asian American Student Association, African Student Association, Pakistani Student Association and more, not to mention several members of the Muslim Student Association, who were very interested in the similarities and differences. Given what those interactions can sometimes be like, it was incredibly positive.

The funny thing was, after having this great interaction with so many students (including several Jewish students that we don’t see a lot of who brought non-Jewish friends), we had a guy email our rabbi on staff asking how dare we have an Interfaith Shabbat and shouldn’t we just “stick with the Jews.” Given what the event was like, this seemed to totally miss the point. All of these students spent the entire evening talking to other people about Judaism. Not just Judaism, but THEIR Judaism. All evening. From 5:30 – 10:30 – and even with some stragglers afterward. It couldn’t have been more in line with our mission – and giving some other college students an insight into the Jewish community that they might not get otherwise! Since these people are going to be our future leaders, it’s definitely important.


[btw – Happy Valentine’s Day!]

the ultimate gift: life

Jewish tradition teaches us that to save one person’s life is as if we have saved the entire world. ¬†This is something which has always motivated me, and has shaped my life at a few points in a few key ways.

Post by Melissa

One such way was learning about the organization “Gift of Life” when I was in graduate school.

As a very active Hillel-ite I had the¬†opportunity¬†to attend a few conferences during graduate school. ¬†At one of these conferences I had the pleasure of hearing transplant donors and recipients speak about their experience with Gift of Life, and was profoundly moved. ¬†I decided that I would register as a donor with them and do whatever I could to help spread the message. ¬†Shortly thereafter, some of peers who had been similarly moved hosted a drive on campus to get people to join the regstry. ¬†Sadly, I was unable to participate at that time due to health problems – but I volunteered, made a donation, and pledged to join the registry as soon as I was able. ¬†Last spring I was finally able to join the bone marrow registry through Gift of Life and I couldn’t ¬†imagine a more¬†fulfilling¬†use of 5 minutes of my day.

I also had the opportunity to an internship with bone marrow and stem cell transplant recipients.  I got to see the hardships faced by the difficulty of finding a match and the relief at finally being able to go through the process.  That renewal is like no other.

Over the years when my friends have asked for causes to donate to for various reasons, Gift of Life has often been the first one that comes to mind.  I am also currently looking into hosting drives, bringing walks, and generally being an ambassador for this phenomenal organization which embodies so much of what Judaism is about at the core Рsaving the future of the Jewish people in any way possible.

Jay Fineberg, the creator of Gift ofLife (and a transplant recipient himself) is currently one of the leaders in the public voting portion of ¬†the Jewish Community Heroes Award. I have been voting for him daily, and encourage you to at least vote once. That may be the easiest thing you ever do to help save someone’s life. ¬†If Jay wins the $25,000 grand prize, it will pay for the testing and entry of over 450 people into the bone marrow donor data base.

If you are 18-60, in general good health, and not already a registered bone marrow donor (with any organization) click here to see if you may be able to register through Gift of Life.  With more than 6000 people waiting for their match, you can make a difference.

The Tenuous Balance

It’s been just about two months since we started here in our new life. It’s been a really great, if incredibly stressful experience so far. We’ve had our ups and downs – since school started, we’ve done Welcome Week, Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Sukkot (almost all the way through) and we’re about to get to Simchat Torah.

One thing the holidays have done, aside from make the entire staff more stressed out than we’d prefer, is to bring my own religious observance to the forefront. As with most of this job, if we’d had more time to prepare, I think it would have been an easier transition. For instance, I had been all set to begin covering my hair more consistently, knowing that the move to New York would signify the beginning of my husband’s career as a Rabbinical student. However, working on campus brings a whole other set of considerations. There’s already an Orthodox woman on our staff, and she operates in that role – Rabbi’s wife, mother, Jewish educator – and she’s good at it. For me, as Program Director? I probably need to go in a different direction. So, I decided on wide headbands for Shabbat, for right now. It makes me more comfortable, since I had gotten so used to covering, but is less intrusive than a full-head cover. At least, to me. Hopefully the students don’t notice it too much.

The other thing I hadn’t counted on was the difference of being in a smaller place. On one hand, working at Hillel, there are lots of choices and chances for Jewish observance – but sometimes that makes it easy to just float, rather than make definitive decisions about my own observance. In fact, sometimes, professionally, I’m required to float, especially on Friday night.

So, I float a little bit less securely at the moment, but I think that, in a way this too will help me with my religious life in the future – more experience won’t hurt me, at least this kind. And I look forward to seeing what the next few months will bring!

Men plan, God laughs.

post by Jessica

Today, R & I had lunch with our friend E downtown.

This may not seem that dramatic, but if you had a copy of our summer plans as of three weeks ago, this news would have struck you by surprise.

Why? Today, Monday, July 26, was originally moving day, the beginning of our personal Great Schlep to New York City and the beginning of my husband’s and my journey to becoming the Rabbi and Rebbetzin.

Of course, any plan can be modified by a few days one way or the other. The truth is, we had something dramatic happen about three weeks ago. On July 7, we received an exploratory phone call asking if we might be interested in two positions that had opened up at the largest Hillel in the state (also happens to be our Alma Mater), both at an executive level. So, as of our HR training this morning, R is officially the Interim Executive Director and I am the Program Director of a Hillel!

Had the call come even 15 hours later, we probably would have already found an apartment in New York City, and all bets would have been off. We were, in fact, in New York to look for places when we got the call. Given that these positions, which fit so well into our career plans (seriously, we both get experience in areas we want, we feel strongly about Hillel as an organization, and the financial benefit is nothing to sneeze at), fell into our laps at precisely the right moment (or, at least, the last possible moment), we have both had a feeling of the bashert, meant-to-be, about this. We are beyond excited and beyond nervous for this opportunity.

Of course, it has had its share of challenges. We’ve had the basic outline for our plan to move to New York for just about six months, and changing those so quickly has been a challenge. We did finally rent an apartment though – it’s just a little farther west of New York than expected! Since we’ve already been working for a week (despite when our HR training was), it’s been a challenge to try to get our apartment ready here and work as well. Still, we’ve been managing.

We didn’t make the decision lightly, either. R had to request (and did receive) a deferment from the Rabbinical School, which required explaining himself to a lot of people. I have to officially withdraw from NYU (that still has to be accomplished) and reapply in the fall, although I am told my chances are good, but I’m not guaranteed my spot. That’s been the toughest part of this whole thing!

So, our journey for the next year is going to be dramatically different. As we slowly ease our way through the transition, I’m going to work my absolute best to keep our readers up-to-date on what’s going on. As my absence for the last little while has indicated, that can be a huge struggle, but I’ll try not to keep you hanging as long next time! My deepest thanks to Mel, who has kept our little project going while I’ve been so busy!

Memorable, For Now

"Things NOT Appearing at Our Passover Seder" - post by Jessica

Passover preparations are now finished in our house. In a few hours, we’ll head to my in-laws for the seder and enjoy the two days of the holiday with them. It was a marathon sprint, but we’re almost there!

I have been thinking about writing this post since we started our series on Passover. I liked the topic of our favorite or most memorable seder so much, and then realized that I wasn’t sure what to write about! Maybe it’s because that seder experience is one I really enjoyed at the time, it’s not one that I really want to repeat. Funny how things go like that.

It was my senior year in college, and my roommate and I had foiled our kitchen in glory. It was impressive. Especially for two newbies at it, like ourselves. It wasn’t probably totally kosher, but it was the closest I had ever been. We’d stocked up on food, and I braved the seders.

Each night, I attended two seders. On the first evening, I led a seder at Hillel, along with the Hillel JLI rabbi (for whom, thinking back, it was probably a trying experience), and we were done relatively quickly. We used the standard Hillel text that I had helped put together, and added a few bits and pieces here and there, and the food was good. Afterwards, I went to R’s parents house. We were already dating at this point and I had been invited, like last year. Unlike the year previous, however, I was no longer a newcomer – I was more and more like family, even though we weren’t engaged yet. On the second night, I drove the hour home to my parents congregation (not yet having any compunction about driving on holidays) and enjoyed the seder with them. The small congregation had brought in a retired rabbi to lead the seder, and although he was a great scholar and an engaging leader, he made a number of gaffes to make the experience less enjoyable. Chief among them was the omission of the third cup of wine. I had suspected he had done the same thing the year before, and this year paid close attention in order to confirm it. Afterwards, driving back to school, I arrived at R’s parents house and just about the same point in the seder, since they had started a little later on the second night.

Perhaps I should think of the first time we were able to have seder as a family, three Passovers ago, or our seder in Jerusalem four Passovers ago as among my most memorable. I think, though, that this particular Passover captures a particular period in my life Рwhen I was still technically single but in a serious relationship, still very much a student, still very much connected to everything that had gone before, and just venturing into what was still to come.

Wishing everyone a healthy and happy Passover to those who celebrate, a healthy and happy Easter to those who celebrate, and looking forward to continued writing.

Passover for them AND for us

Post by Jessica

All adults face the challenge of balancing work and their personal lives. For those working in the Jewish community, the challenge can be even greater, and it’s one that I know we will be dealing with constantly as my husband becomes a rabbi and I continue to work in the Jewish community.

As students, it was pretty easy to maintain a balance. As a student leader, I was working¬† for my own community, so any time spent would help either me or my friends. R’s work as a student mashgiach (food supervisor) also helped the student community. Things changed when we entered the workforce as Jewish professionals. Suddenly, my husband was responsible for the logistics of seders for hundreds of people, and although the Hillel had been in existence for 60 or 70 years, it was as though no one had ever done Passover before. As it turned out, this lack of preparation meant that I became a Hillel widow for the two weeks proceeding Passover. He’d leave the house by 8AM, come home for dinner at 6PM, and then fall into bed at midnight or 1AM. Neither of us had been particularly prepared for how the Hillel Passover preparations would interfere in our lives. That, combined with my relative inexperience doing Passover, made for a very bumpy ride that year. We barely got the apartment kashered for Passover, and we were so relieved to leave town to go to R’s parents house for the seders, it was a little ridiculous.

We both hated the way that first Passover had worked out. R made a commitment to make sure it didn’t happen the next year, and it didn’t. Knowing exactly how much work it would take, he started much earlier and all the knowledge he had gained the year before helped him. Not only that, he had a small group of interns to help him with the many, many tasks he would need to accomplish. It was enough that when the situation demanded, we agreed to host the seders in our home, hosting R’s parents. I’ll post more about that experience next week. It did take more than R being able to handle his work situation better, however. It took us being able to plan together, to realize that we needed to plan together, and that if we did, we could make something really meaningful for both us and our guests.

This year, the stress from Passover has been intense but manageable. As always, new challenges pop up and old ones resolve themselves in different ways. We finished our Passover shopping this past Monday, and we’re not hosting seders again this year. We get the opportunity to be with our parents again, for which I am very grateful. The best part of what we’ve learned in these last three years is that you have to deal with the known stressors. If Passover is always going be stressful, than it’s got to be something we plan for. We’re not perfect, but hopefully, the lessons we’ve learned in the last few years will help us as we go on to our next step.