A Litmus Test of Growth


Hey everyone!

It’s been way too long since I’ve published something this summer, and I’m really excited to share my thoughts with you all. Just one thing to note- I have actually written many different iterations of blog posts over the course of the vacation, but I haven’t released any of it for reasons to be explained below. But at any rate, I, like many others, have had quite a turbulent summer. Saving the political or “heavy” material for later,  I want to reflect on the first-for-everything aspect of my break. For all intents and purposes, it was my first summer “in the real world.” Ok, just to be clear, I am still a college student and my yearlong day-to-day reality exists in a constructed, convenient intellectual bubble. My point is that I have survived the overhyped first summer “not at camp.” After spending 10 summers in the Ramah sphere, it has unquestionably served to be default of sorts, and I mean that on a practical level, not undermining the value of any of my experiences and the intrinsic beauty of that environment (both socially, religiously, and aesthetically).

Aside from being overwhelmingly comfortable with the people, the schedule, as well as the place itself, I also was familiar with what it mean to grow and thrive at camp. Things were easily measured. I grew an inch. I made X-many new close friends. I learned from a mentor. I ran X-many miles. My campers repeated my jokes.  I found such-and-such religious activity or learning experience particularly meaningful.

And that, my friends, is where I find the game-changer. I may not be in the real world, but my successes and perception of self-development measure up differently or at least contextualize differently in the settings in which I found myself this summer (ignore the implicit passivity). I could explore with you all about how I felt I did at work, or how much I learned from those various tasks, but I don’t want to put you all to sleep. So let’s get more concrete.

Literally, concrete. Concrete jungle.

I anticipated that as part of my internship at AVODAH: The Jewish Service Corps I would learn a thing or two about domestic poverty and what we can do to improve the situation on the ground. Granted that my job mostly dealt with alumni work, I did have the opportunity to learn about Jewish responses to poverty and social justice, as well as (an intro to) community organizing for systematic social change from my supervisor and her students (shout-out to my all-star cousin, Ariella!). I knew that I had much to gain with regard to coming to terms with the facts and unfortunately great extent of poverty in this city. New Yorkers are jaded and we tend to have pervasive tunnel vision. I am far from an established antipoverty activist, but my tunnel has collapsed and it’s time to wake up and pick up the pieces. Obliterating the causes and effects of poverty can only stem from better understanding the concept and the humanity behind it all.


The dynamic duo takes on #JUSTCity.


There are a few other areas which I can mark successes in my summer experience. One of them is the frequency of doing my laundry. I’m not kidding at all. As a young kid, I had a strange fear of the laundry room. Maybe I saw some horror show on television, or didn’t like the smell of detergent. Maybe it’s that the laundry room floor is strangely slanted. Who knows. Regardless, this seemingly baseless fear has been reinforced by a litany of bizarre experiences doing laundry, amassed over the past couple of years. Here’s a sampling. You never knew laundry was this eventful.

It was the Friday morning of Parents Weekend 2012, and I was running out of time before my interview for a job at the Hebrew School that meets on campus.  I was on-time to the interview, and I left elated that it had gone well. I came back an hour later to notice that my laundry had been moved by the parent of a fellow resident who was using all of the machines.

Lovely, I thought. But I don’t really care about people touching my stuff, so I’ll just wait. Nevertheless, the parent chastised me for being so irresponsible as to  leave my clothing in  the machine for longer than necessary. Thinking that my excuse was more than a sufficient response, I told her about my interview, but that did not suffice. In my head I had outlined all the reasons why her presence in the laundry room might indicate that perhaps her son is less responsible, but she seemed to convey that she potential to become more ostensibly livid.

Sometimes I love to incur the wrath of angry laundry room mothers, but angry grandmothers are undeniably the best. At the beginning of this summer, I put an ungodly amount of laundry before running out on a classic Kew Gardens Kosher cheese spree. I came back in time, and lo and behold an old woman from two floors above me was staring me down. Turns out that right after I left, the machines got overworked and started to overflow. Great. Following two lectures about how my parents failed me by not teaching me how to launder properly mixed with a “you don’t even live here” twist, I took my laundry upstairs, slightly defeated and belittled.

The moral of the story is that at the end of the day, or rather by the end of the month, I took to doing my laundry on a nearly weekly basis–without regard to the high chances I had of encountering other strange, angry people. You may disagree, but I’ve always been under the impression that doing laundry often (not too often as to conserve water, am I right?) is a marker of maturity. Of being a real person. So maybe in that respect I’m heading in the right direction as well.

Let’s backtrack to my conception of the real world  (or at least my admittance that I perhaps may have skimmed the edge of a basically invisible line splicing that world from my childhood-resemblant bubble). Last summer, I grew frustrated that I wasn’t in a space  which was conducive to “important conversations” outside of the structured programming geared towards my campers. This summer, I took to the books. I may or may not have overcompensated for the lack of intellectual stimulation that came in tow with administrative tasks (i.e. data entry). Yet at the end of the day, creating intellectual headspace allowed me to think critically about my surroundings and of course the tumultuous and tragic events transpiring in the Middle East. I have made a conscious decision not to share what I’ve written on this topic in this post since what I have so far is prolific in its own right, but I will clue you all in at some point and would love to have a conversation about this. At any rate, I have learned a remarkable amount about my community, the people and places I love, and most notably about myself, from exchanging my ideas with others (without discounting the dash of insufficiently civil discourse I encountered in the process).


Subway chicken-scratch or blog post in the making?


I’m concluding these thoughts from the international storage dungeon in my quad at Brandeis, where I am completing my Community Advisor Training and any last semblance of summer vacation. I haven’t the slightest idea what this new school year will bring, but at least I am confident that having these nifty summer experiences in my back pocket will contextualize and contribute to my year in a positive way.  Of course, on the flip side, it will also inform my reflections going into the Jewish season of repentance.

Wishing you all the best of luck, and looking forward to sharing more with you all soon!

Yours Truly,

Hannah Z. Kober



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