Amongst the other reasons to wallow in fear and depression (because you’re certainly looking), I was alarmingly saddened by the passing of Florence Henderson. That’s exactly what you…
Amongst the other reasons to wallow in fear and depression (because you’re certainly looking), I was alarmingly saddened by the passing of Florence Henderson. That’s exactly what you’re expecting to hear from a 23-year-old young professional Jew in New York City, and surely you were waiting for someone in my demographic to be writing a tribute to The Brady Bunch.
Yes, I was very, very pre-utero when the show was on-air. I first saw the show on Thanksgiving weekend immediately following my 12th birthday. My cousins and I were sprawled out on my grandmother’s couch, clearly recovering from a turkey overdose when my uncle put in a DVD of the first season. In our sluggishness, aside from our annual bowling trip, we landed ourselves in a weekend-long series marathon. We were totally hooked, and I was convinced that I was some sort of Jan Brady reincarnate. My uncle lent me the DVDs (which I still urgently need to return) and the marathon continued.
When I was in 7th Grade, I was a remarkably lanky, nerd-in-denial, with the fashion senses of a budding adult nostalgic for childhood. I wasn’t ready to adopt teenage gender and sexual norms, nor fake it for my own (social) sake. I was a near-graduate of a small, pretty heimish (modest) Jewish day school and a new camper at Ramah. I was Jewishly hyper-engaged, and it was the only world I knew- despite growing up in an incredibly diverse neighborhood. I “secretly” began observing Shabbat, and Jewish ritual practice was a growing part of my life.
I wasn’t into sports-watching or TV more broadly, and I wasn’t really such a fan of any computer games. I loved playing tennis and drawing, and had very little to distract me from my own reality. No- “The Chosen”, “The Promise”, “Davita’s Harp”, and “The Rise of David Levinsky” didn’t really introduce me to anything actually new or foreign.
I don’t mean to throw around the term “Jan Brady reincarnate” lightly. There was critical part of my identity that longed for siblings, for space to run around, and for the freedom to be a young adult in a society that made a stronger attempt to preserve childhood innocence at least until high school. I had a deep-seated desire to recognize “regular” Americanness (a blonder and more Christian one, at least). I was moved by the burgeoning feminism in the female characters, the devotion the siblings had toward one another, as well as the ways in which each character overcame each of their more emotionally-trying moments (albeit sometimes ridiculously trivial and plot-less).
The show was a real framing lens to my own life for the duration of that school year. I was socially aware enough not to blab on about the show with my peers- because let’s be real here- 12 is just one year too young to appreciate “vintage” stuff without social backlash.
Even just one year later, the TV show took a backseat to the issues that my newly-minted teenage self needed to prioritize. I turned 13, had a “real crush”, bought makeup, and discovered coffee. My Judaism was an issue of public angst in my house. I was morphing into a quasi-sophisticated, cynical city kid who became keenly aware of how my only-child-ness afforded me certain privileges that would not have been obvious realities otherwise (especially when it came to Jewish Education). I also jumped over the semantic fence from being a Jewish American to a bona-fide American Jew (hameivin yavin). I was somewhat proud of my distinctiveness from mainstream white America.
The part of me that wanted to jump right into the set of the show and live a bourgeois Californian life during that time period has dissipated, and I’m relatively comfortable as a social, city-dwelling yeshiva student in Manhattan. But despite resolving the pre-teen insecurities that drove my obsession with The Brady Bunch, the show still manages to serve as a counter-narrative to the America that I have been privileged to know up-close. In a world where every affront to humanity continues to be perpetrated, and in a country where polarization has become our primary success, the over-simplistic (political/religious/ethnic/racial white-washing) and oddly pleasant tone is ironically fitting and timeless. I could argue that the tone can represent the sheer ignorance that much of liberal America had experienced leading up to the election, and the haughtiness that we had toward the those who failed bring the (definitive) ills of society into their purview. But I’m not interested in any grand claims and generalizations (at least in this post). I do know that the show has given me an acute sense of how it can feel to want to be part of a dominant culture that was never really your own. I was glued to the screen until I realized that no one like me was actually going to make an appearance, and was privileged enough to cope with that fact. And it’s that sense that has grounded my investment in my own religious, ethnic, educational, linguistic, and social distinctiveness, as well as in the legitimate distinctiveness(es) of others. This isn’t meant to be a declaration of self-righteousness, but rather a feeling of indebtedness to whatever The Brady Bunch was and is. And that in itself is deserving of this long, long-overdue personal tribute.
I hope your summers are going well! As many of you know I came to Israel this summer for a number of reasons. The more “official” reasons, so-to-speak, were to do research for my Near Eastern and Judaic Studies Senior Honors Thesis, and to study Palestinian Arabic. This combination itself is ironic and meta to a certain point- I’m now researching why Jewish students at Israeli universities are choosing to take Arabic while I’m filling that role in one way or another. The other reasons, which are arguably more important on a personal level, include a strong desire to reconcile my love for Israel and my understanding of Israel’s flaws, as well as a deep-seated interest in experiencing all that Israeli society has to offer that I had yet to experience. Although I’m nearing the end of my trip I can confidently share that I have barely even dipped my toes into each of the issues that matter to me, despite near-constant engagement. I have devoted a lot of time to learning about the ways in which the conflict and the occupation inform, complicate, and supersede mainstream Israeli consciousness. Although I have lots to say regarding the all-to-familiar buzzwords such as “occupation,” “BDS,” “Iran,” and “Hasbara”, the most important buzzword of my time this summer, which is one of the omnipresent symptoms of these words is the following: bureaucracy.
A very naive and optimistic Hannah landed in Israel on May 21st, expecting to interview high school students about their choices to study Arabic just a few days later. After a number of days of taking long pleasure walks across Jerusalem, I finally got permission from Brandeis’ IRB (Institutional Review Board). I was ready to start, and began making phone calls to the schools on my list. I got a response to one of my shaky voice messages asking if I had permission from the “Mad’an Harashi,” i.e. the Head Scientist of the Ministry of Education.
“emmm mi? Af pa’am lo ‘amru li sheyesh min tzorech kazeh…”
(“ummm who? No one ever told me that there’s this sort of requirement…”)
“Ani mitzta’eret, aval titkashri suv ksheyesh lach ta’ishur hanachon. Bai.”
(“I apologize, but call again when you have the right permit. Bye.”)
I panicked as I looked up the form, knowing that I clearly wouldn’t get any sort of permission before the schools would close for the summer. I also realized that my academic Hebrew might be up to scratch, but bureaucratic Hebrew is a whole ‘nother animal. I put out a couple of posts on facebook asking for help, and got myself a meeting with a prominent professor of Education for later that afternoon. When I first got there, he bluntly asked why I was even bothering to do research here. I’m a smart-enough-cookie, why not look at the role of Spanish in America and skip all of these Israeli traps? I got a little defensive in response, but scaled back because it was futile- this professor had moved to Israel himself to make a career out of educational research. He decided to call of the Ministry of Education for me so I could potentially get a meeting with them as soon as possible. He began explaining my situation, and the clerk was ready to pencil me in for the next day. When she found out I was from an American university, she abruptly said there was nothing she could do for me. As of a month before I had arrived in Israel, with the change in government, a new policy had been put in place that forbids a researcher from a foreign institution from getting the necessary permits to go into public schools.
I looked up at the professor in disbelief. I knew exactly where this policy was coming from – it was instituted as part of a series of proposals to keep “internationals” and “leftists” (NGOs specifically) out of Israeli institutions. I know that this is a manifestation of Israeli defensiveness and paranoia that is alive and well. It is understandable considering the flux of BDS and “Tear Gas Tourism,” but these policies are hardly justifiable. I have spent much of my time trying to break down the Hasabara-oriented conceptions of Israel that are ever-so-present in the American Jewish Community, but this a lens I never expected to have incurred before working for any of those allegedly evil leftist NGOs.
By the end of the meeting I established that I would write about university students, therefore bypassing that policy and the need for parental consent. Besides, I am pretty well connected into different circles of university students who fit the bill and have already been incredibly helpful in a number of ways. The demographic shift is probably for the benefit of the project since university students are far more in control of their educational decisions, and can articulate both their rationales for studying the language amongst other experiences that have shaped their language ideologies.
The so-called “happy ending” of the story is that I finally got permission to begin interviews, seven weeks into my time in Israel. I have already learned so much from the people I’ve interviewed so far, and I genuinely enjoy hearing all of their stories.
It’s possible that I got a bit too much of an insider’s view of Israeli bureaucracy for an American Jew who is doing a (quite frankly, very) small-scale research project. It doesn’t make me reconsider any interest in doing similar work here again, but it does mean that I have my work cut out for me. These policies are part of a broader framework within Israeli society that are unhealthy and discriminatory (and I’m not talking about myself here). The conclusions I come to in my research will have some decently important implications of language policy in Israel, and for now, just continuing the project is a means of bringing the likely-to-be-suppressed issues to light (whether Bennet likes it or not). Israel’s well-being and intellectual honesty (and freedom) are two values that are remarkably important to me, and I hope to be a part of any effort that makes these trending policies a thing of the past and allows these two values to coalesce.
Shabbat Shalom, and I look forward to updating you all shortly and of course hearing your thoughts on what I’ve shared!
Hannah Z. Kober
I hope your summers are already off to a truly fabulous start. I’m about to go on a pretty incredible, hard-earned journey to Israel for the next couple months for my thesis research and to brush up on my Arabic… and my Hebrew.
I was thinking of calling this post something along the lines of “when the hell am I ever going to be fluent??!?!” (in linguist lingo- this plateau is really getting to me. jaɪks.). But to be clear, I know that my Hebrew isn’t too shabby, and that I’ve had ample opportunities to both learn it formally, and expose myself to it in informal contexts. But the issue here is not that I don’t speak the language, or that I “sound too American,” rather it’s that I’m caught in what some people like to call the (all-too-awkward) “borderlands” between American and Israeli Hebrew. Just a couple months back, I sent out a survey about “what kind of Hebrew you speak”, and got responses from over 170 (mostly American) Hebrew speakers. I never published the results, but essentially my thesis was that there are really two separate dialects, which are often mistaken for just “accents”. That’s not wrong at all- but it’s missing part of the picture.
What is American Hebrew? It’s Hebrew that is phonologically in-sync with Standard American English. Now that’s the accent part. If you want an idea of what each sounds like, watch this adorable video (background: the mom sends her daughter to an Israeli pre-school).
However, aside from that (the more expected differences), American Hebrew doesn’t really venture into syntactic forms that don’t appear in Standard American English. That might be a result of not-exactly-proficient speech, unfamiliarity, or uneasiness using forms that are marked “Israeli” (not for political as much as social reasons). For instance, it’s really common to hear non-native Hebrew speakers add an unnecessary pronoun, or answer in full sentences in a way they would never dare while speaking English informally. Also, since many people who learn Hebrew as a second (plus?) language outside of Israel don’t have access to the rapid nature by which the language evolves.
My mom takes the cake for this one. As a Hebrew School student in the late fifties/early sixties, she was taught the following dialogue:
How are you? (lit.- “How are your faring?”)
שלומי טוב, תודה. מה שלומך?ה
Shlomi tov, todah. Mah shlomkha?
My welfare (lit.) is good, thank you. How are you?
The initial greeting is still in vogue, but if you told someone with any significant background in modern Israeli Hebrew that your “welfare is good, thank you,” the most feasible image for that person to conjure up is of a nice bloomer-clad pioneer in the late 40s.
Maybe that’s an extreme example, but a better one may be the concept of learning “slang”. The only trouble with slang is that if it’s only produced in native-speaking environments, so by the time that non-native speakers get their hands on it, particularly in a diasporic situation, there’s no chance it isn’t at least a bit outdated. People who want to index authentic Israeli-ness via their Hebrew might use forms that are either really new and popular, or might overuse slang they were taught previously (overshooting, or hyper-accommodating).
It’s hard to say where I fit into this glorious mess. I grew up around many native Hebrew speakers, but since I was (fourth-gen.) American (as opposed to Israeli-American), I did not have ownership over the language. I was automatically relegated to the “American Hebrew”-speaking category. I’m far from the only person who has shared that kind of sentiment.
About 76% percent of the participants in my study claimed to be at least proficient in Hebrew, but only 10% have used an “Israeli accent” consistently in their lifetimes. One participant noted:
“ I was taught Hebrew while surrounded by other American children and therefore never learned to speak properly. If I am thinking about it, I can sometimes do it, but I generally speak in a very American way.”
Another participant said the following:
“I’ve learned most of my Hebrew in Day school, where I had Israeli teachers, and Israel where…well, where there are Israelis, so my ‘model’ for how words are pronounced has always been with an Israeli accent. Plus it sounds better.”
A third participant echoed a manner of social distance between those in their classroom and social environment between native and non-native speakers.
“My mother tells me that I had an Israeli accent in Kindergarten, picked up from Israeli hebrew teachers, but I was embarrassed to use it and lost it quickly.”
I can resonate with each of these points in different ways. Since my last trip to Israel, I probably have been exposed to a disproportionate amount of Hebrew considering the relatively small amount of time I spend speaking to native speakers. In an interview recently, I phrased it as “false native bilingualism,” in that I spend so much time engaging with it, that it doesn’t seem like it is a language that I had to spend years learning in a formal setting. A better way to look at this breakdown is perhaps that I see my American and Israeli Hebrew (respectively) as two separate but fully competent entities (or registers). One of them indexes an American Jewish day school student, gap year kid, or a Ramah camper, while the other indexes someone who wants to integrate into Israeli society. A huge part of my summer will (hopefully) be the interviews I’m conducting as part of my thesis research. Aside from the new, somewhat esoteric research-related terms I just learned, this will give me a new sense of ownership of the language, and will offer me the opportunity to finally make peace with my Hebrew.
At any rate, I’m really excited to put all of this theory into practice and actually just speak for once, instead of having the thoughts I just shared with you run through my head on repeat. I’m ready to call it quits on the constant fluency debate, and just assume the best. I’m of course also looking forward to working out a lot of my thoughts about being in Israel and what sort of role I would like for Israel to play in my life. I hope to share more with you all soon, and that you have incredibly restful and wonderful summers!
Hannah Z. Kober
P.S.- Feel free to contact me if you want more information of the study I referenced above, or want to learn more about my thesis project. I’d love to share, and am always looking for suggestions.
P.P.S.- You win serious QWERTY bonus points if you got what was going on in the picture up top. I’m shepping.
Hey everyone! Hope your holidays and winter breaks have been super swell thus far. I don’t know about you, but I’m heading back to school next week for training, so I’m already experiencing preemptive nostalgia. You’re welcome to join me in the process.
At any rate, I’ve had the really wonderful opportunity to go back to Hadar’s Singing Communities Intensive Program, catch up with friends and family, and meet some incredible new people throughout. I’m guessing that my next thoughts have materialized because of the self-perception that goes into the process of getting to know new people (or getting reacquainted with old friends), and perhaps as a result of the singing program, which was focused on Yom Kippur. I’ve been launched into a frenzy of seemingly impromptu cheshbon nefesh and habit-reevaluation. Another factor could be the secular new year, but that may just be an opportune coincidence. Regardless, I have been taking much of this break to think about why I do what I do and why, and how that fits into the communities in which I have and continue to take part.
A few days after coming back home, my best friend’s little brother had his Bar Mitzvah. That sounds like many degrees of separation, but they’re really mishpocha. Aside from the really beautiful and nearly teary-eyed moments (it’s either hormones or weddings are going to be mad challenging), I felt more at home at my shul than I had since high school. I would be hyper-critical about over-attachment to the Conservative Movement, or how Jr. Congregation wasn’t the same, or how such-and-such member was going to make some ludacris conservative comment to me. The list goes on. But this weekend wasn’t about tearing apart Pew Study taboos and sputtering pretentious “well at my school…” comments. It was about appreciating what was there, and how much I’ve capitalized on (or neglected) skills I gained leading up to my Bat Mitzvah. It was about recognizing that growing up in Queens made me critical of posh-oriented communities, while still being retroactively wary of the tribal separation which characterizes the fine borough and even my questionably rag-tag Jewish elementary school. Most importantly, I admittedly spaced out a number of times in shul (you can call it finals fatigue if you want) thinking about how those elements inform my Jewish practices.
In community organizing parlance, there is a lot of talk about accountability politics. In practice, this means that you can map exactly whether an individual or organization is matching values and actions. If there is any discrepancy in behavior, you as an organizer (or really anyone with a particular stake in the issue) are responsible for holding that party accountable. So for our purposes, we can flip this around to be more of a personal process, following the same model. As people who think critically about our surroundings, we at least attempt to take that extra step to hold certain expectations of ourselves, requiring our actions to represent the values we seek to uphold. There are a couple of elements in particular which have become recurrent struggles for me, particularly in terms of my Jewish identity. And to respect your time and patience, I’m only going to stick to two (if you’re dying to learn more, we can talk in person).
An issue that has become increasingly important is egalitarianism in religious spaces. Over the past few years, this has meant very different things to me. You can scroll back in the blog for a refresher- but in short, when I started college, egalitarianism was inevitably inaccessible on campus in prayer spaces that felt right to me. I fell into a pattern of neglecting the requisite cognitive dissonance that came about when I was behind the mechitza. I would tell myself, “No worries, Hannah. You just happen to not be leading.” Last year, I began to unpack that mentality, and become increasingly critical of my experiences in non-egalitarian spaces, but would still find myself in such spaces by default regardless. Recently, I’ve taken to avoiding those spaces, but still attend to feel a part of the observant community, and tend to be insufferably snarky about gender segregation, my naturally abrasive overt sexuality, etc. As someone from the conservative end of the Conservative Movement, the only time I as a female have been in a sea of tallis and tfillin-clad women is at Mechon Hadar. Last week, while at the program, I came to the conclusion that I need to be working through the reasons behind my reluctance to be tallis and tfillin-clad as well, and confront this aspect which critically dilutes the legitimacy behind the feminist fervor I feel when in non-egalitarian spaces.
At the last Sha’ar service of the semester, I gave a dvar torah on my relationship with the concepts of chosen-ness and ethnolinguistic nationalism. Not only was it entertaining that very few people were surprised that I chose that topic, but I also had a byline that kind of sounded like a jingle or subway add for Jameson: Use responsibly. As some one who prefers to stick to the traditional liturgy, I tend to tense up around lines that say “You chose us from all of the nations, languages, etc.” and am livid about the modern application of those principles (the recent arson attack on the Hand-in-Hand Bilingual School in Jerusalem). Ironically, I don’t have the same respect for prayers that are “altered” (whatever that means) or readings in English. The thesis of my talk was that we all make decisions regarding language-use, and we simply need to understand that our choices are our own and not actually superior to the choices of others. But perhaps that line was too moderate and apologetic, as it didn’t really tackle the universalist principles being suppressed by the liturgy according to their literal meanings. That too is something I need to work through, perhaps consulting Kaplan in the process.
This project of mapping values and actions is difficult, but as I get older, I see that the process becomes all-the-more significant. For me, this also carries over into the discrepancies between vegetarianism and leather use, between condemning structural racism and extent of participation in recent protests, etc. When push comes to shove, we tend to go with our instincts, for better and for worse, and our job is to stop for a moment and reevaluate.
So with that, I wish you all a happy and healthy new year and Shabbat Shalom! I look forward to hearing your thoughts and writing more soon!
Hannah Z. Kober
בערב תשעה באב אני שואלת כמה שאלות על משמעותיו של היום. האים הצום יוביל אותי למקום יותר טהור או קדוש. האים הראש שליימצא את עצמו בעננים או בעיר הקודש. אני לא מסוגלת בכלל לדבר על התשובות האלו עכשיו, אבל כדי לתת לי עוד זמן לחשוב עליהן, הבאתי עוד שאלה–שאלה שבוודאי תהיה יותר מאתגרת ומסובחת. ה
מה נשתנה הלילה הזה מכל הלילות?ה
בימים האלה, מחשבותי מבוססות על המצב הנוראי שמתרחש במזרח התיכון. בזהירות וברצינות אני מנסה לאזן את דאגותי לבני משפחתי ולאומי שנמצאים בסכנה גדולה ואת הגורל הטרגי של אזרחי עזה. הערב, במשך קריאת מגילת איכה, הידידה שלי שישבה לידי פנתה אלי ואמרה בעצב עצום שהמילים במגילה הזאת הזכירו לה את המצב בישראל בזמננו. כך גם הבאתי את מקראות זמננו לתוך הקריאה, אבל קשה היה לי להבין ולקבלֹ את מבנה המיטוס והתאולוגיה שקשור לחורבן הבית. כנראה שבתי המקדש נהרסו בשל חטאותינו וחוסר יראת שמים ואהבת אחים (ואחיות…). וזוהי דוגמה פנטסטית של ההתעורבות של הקב׳׳ה בצורה מיליטריסטית כדי להעניש את היהודים כתגובה למעשיהם וכדי להוביל אותם לדרך הישר של תשובה. לפי ההבנה הזאת, האים אנו אמורים להבין שיש בנו חברה מלאת–אסון?ה
לפני כמה חודשים ישבתי בשיעור על הצורך של היהודים להלחם, בדרך כלל, לפי סיבות שנמצאות בתנ’’ך. האישה שלימדה את השיעור אמרה שבעצם נוכל להלחם ללא–אשמה עד שנכבוש את ארצינו, כמו שרואים בכיבוש הארץ בזמן יהושוע והשופטים הקודמים. אז יופי, יש לנו רשות לכבוש את הארץ בלי צל של ספק או חשבון נפש. היא המשיכה ואמרה שצריכים להלחם עד שיש את השלום. אבל לפי הדוגמאות שהיא הביאה, המלחמות באות מאת כוחותינו עם העזרה של הקב’’ה, אבל השלום יצטרך לבוא מאת ה’’.ה
יצאתי מהשיעור בזעם. אים אנחנו נבראנו בצלם אלוקים, אז למה יש לנו רק את היוזמות להלחם ולא את היכולת להביא את השלום? הלא לפי המסורת יש מסר של השגת שלום? ב
המצב היום בישראל ובעזה נראה כמו הדמוי הגרפי שמאפיינים את הנבואה של הנביאים שהתנבאו את חורבן הבית.ה
אז אחזור שוב לשאלה המקורית: מה נשתנה הלילה הזה מכל הלילות?ה
לדעתי, ההבדל בין ימינו לבין המצב הג׳יאו–פוליטי בימי החורבנים האלה הוא שאפילו שישראל סובלת המון מהטרור הבלתי–נסבל, היא גם בעלת הכוח בארצה. יש לה את הסמכות להלחם לפי שיקול הדעת של הממשלה. יש לה את הכח להגן על אזרחיה. וגם יש לה את הכח לשלוט בנחלה לפי גבולות שאינן מסויימות בהכרח. יש הזדמנות להמשיך את הכבוש בגדה, ויש לה הזדמניות רבות לתרום לחברה ישראלית יותר בריאה ובר–קימא ומדינה פלסטינאית שיושלט על ידי נהיגות שדורשת שלום. ואני תקועה בדעתי שצריכים אפילו לנסות להביא את השלום במשא ומתן. אים לפי ההבנה הדתית של ההתנהגות הצבאית של ישראל אומרת שהלחימה היא בעצם קדושה, אז למה הולכים למלחמה אים אנו לא בטוחים שהלחימה הזאת דרושה מאת ה’’, אבל לא מתקדמים את יוזמות לשלום בלי אותות מהאלוקים. ה
כמישהיא שדואגת על רפואת העם היהודי וגם דואגת על ההשפעה המשיחית, אני כרגע רק יכולה לעשות מה שביכולתי להתקדם את יוזמוות לשלום, בהתחשבות לבטחון המדינית של מדינת ישראל ותושביה, והבטחון האי–מדינית של אזרחי עזה.ה
בעיני, המושג של חזרה לציון צריכה לבוא לידי בטיו בזמן של שלום, הבנה הדדית, ודו–קיום. אז בסופו של דבר, הלילה הזה שונה כי אם נרצה לחזור לציון, נוכל לעשות כך. אך אין ספק שיש בכולנו איזשהו נוכחות אלוהית מיועדת באופן ספציפי להביא את השלום.ח
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.
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).
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!
Hannah Z. Kober