March On: Why I’ve Decided to March in the Celebrate Israel Parade

 

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As a Jewish kid growing up in New York City, the Celebrate Israel Parade (formerly “Salute to Israel,” and affectionately but not-so-sensibly, the “Israeli Day Parade” ) has been a focal point of my Jewish identity and communal understanding. I remember the first time I went to the parade. It was June of 2000, and I recall eagerly waiting for what seemed to be eons until my school group marched by. I didn’t really know too many of the big kids, but I was shepping some serious nachas. I pushed through toward the fence and plopped myself down in front of it. My one-year-old cousin sat comfortably in my lap, strangely unphased by the masses of people in our immediate surrounding. I took home a little Israeli flag. I was one little happy Zionist and I didn’t really know it. I hadn’t been to Israel, but I got the gist.

 

The next vivid memory I have is of the first time I marched in the parade. I was thrilled. It was mandatory from fourth grade up, at the expense of dropping half a grade in Jewish History. Aside from the notion that I had really looked forward to this momentous milestone, there was no way in hell that my Jewish History grade was going to suffer from this. It was my favorite subject. We had just come back from the Annual Ramah 4th Grade Schechter Shabbaton at Camp Ramah in the Berkshires (which later gained a whole other meaning). I was pooped, and felt weirdly carsick after watching Chicken Little and drinking whole fat chocolate milk on the bus. It must have been the combination. At any rate, we got to our line-up spot, were given t-shirts that were simply gigantic and banners that we got to share. Schechter was relatively frugal so we didn’t have any fancy boomboxes on rolling carts like some of the other mega day school groups, but we either sang along to the music coming from passing floats or a cappella. We would walk, stop by the grandstands, be announced, and continue marching. I came home exhilarated from the experience, but absolutely wiped out. I was asleep on the living room beanbag chair by 5:30 pm and was awakened for school the next morning horribly disoriented.

 

And so it went. I marched every year through high school. The Heschel School didn’t make marching mandatory, which always utterly confused me, but I to some extent got that it was because they didn’t want to impose any sort of ideology on us. That philosophy was evident in the enumerable davening options, the kippah policy, etc. Besides, one of my friends and her mother who taught at the school were self-declared post-Zionists, so I figured there must be others like them. I was always upset that the turn-out from my school was shameful compared to others, and wondered why other students weren’t really quite as motivated to make such a public, positive statement about Israel. It was for the most part not ideologically driven, I’m sure, but we can leave that option open.   During my senior year of high school, I spent a month as an intern at the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York, the primary organizing body of the parade as well as many other communal events and sub-organizations. My tasks included calling up officials, synagogues, schools, and donors, reminding them to kindly line up on 50-something street and Madison at x time on June 5th. Rain or shine. My partner in crime/co-intern and I lined the streets of Manhattan in posters, and delivered maybe a total of 300 to every Jewish organization imaginable. I still have these “oh my gosh, I remember postering here…this is the such and such shul…the security guard gave me a really hard time…” moments. Midtown and the Upper West Side were my playground. I learned a ton about working in the Jewish non-profit world, and culminated my time at the office by being the youngest member of the team allowed to staff the parade (a step above volunteering…please…). I was honored to be part of such a huge, dramatic operation, which on a yearly basis mobilizes tens of thousands of Jews and others from the New York Metropolitan area to show support for a distant land called “home.”

 

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The week after my return to the U.S. from Israel after my gap year, I volunteered at the parade. It was the best way to give back to Israel after an incredible and formative year. I was given the surprisingly enormous responsibility of telling the floats and marching bands to stop playing their music at the dispersal point. This was a HUGE power trip..and really quite difficult because they just plain wanted to finish their songs. Too bad. This past year, I decided to volunteer at the Celebrate Israel Run and then march with Brandeis as part of the Hillel cluster. So, you may ask, why is this such a big deal? Do you all of a sudden not want to “Celebrate Israel?” Even after working for the organization? Not even for the social obligations? I’ll give you the verdict before the explanation so you understand exactly how radical (or not really all that radical) I am. I’ve decided to go. Here are the qualms and my thought process.

 

As you may or may not have understood from the saga so far, I never questioned the power of the parade beyond its obvious benefits. This year I have undergone a tremendously tumultuous reevaluation of the American Jewish establishment and my relationship with the State of Israel. Likewise, and most importantly, I have a better grasp of what the American Jewish establishment has to say about my relationship with Israel. In short, through my involvement with J Street and a serious engagement with Israel discourse on campus, I have recognized that my education regarding Israel and the Occupied Territories has been remarkably myopic. I, like every good graduate of a liberal day school, could basically articulate that the big to-do these days is all about the two-state solution, and that for better or for worse, the settlements prove to be stagnating factor in peace talks. There was rare mention of what the status quo versus (any iterations of) a final status agreement would mean for Palestinians on the ground. And there most certainly was no discussion of the potential downside to Jewish nationalism and or the possibility of any abuse of power in the territories or anywhere else.

 

And for that I congratulate the American Jewish establishment. I fit the rather (unnecessarily) narrow mold of a Pro-Israel Activist. Heck, I was a to-die-for Pro-Israel Activist (and arguably still am). I had never referred to Palestine as a place, or the Palestinians as a people equally entitled to self-determination. I still sometimes take issue with people referring to the region as Israel-Palestine. Palestine doesn’t really exist at this point. That’s the problem. But even more than my blindness to that end of the conflict, or to requisite terminology (“occupation”), I didn’t see how empowered American Jews feel with relation to the State of Israel. There is a sense of deep pride, ownership, and even a joint fate.  The IDF has an ideological army branch right here in the States. I still serve in that army, but I don’t fall for the whole “Israel is perfect and is the start-up nation, etc.” campaign at the expense of knowledge of the contentious realities on the ground, conflict-based and otherwise. No, I will not empower the people of New York to think that Israel’s innovations and her flaws are mutually exclusive. And no, I will not say that Jewish nationalism has only produced a positive, flourishing, and all-inclusive society. But no, I most critically will not stand on the sidelines like someone with my ideological hashkafah is wanted to do (protestors have aimed at barring the progressive groups from marching, and likewise, J Street was recently excluded from the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations).

 

I am a Zionist, a Jewish nationalist, and a practicing Jew, and I hope to someday live in Israel (proper). Don’t bother calling me anti-Israel. That’s silly. I spend so much of my time wishing I were there instead of here. Reading Hebrew novels. Feeding my rather unusual affinity for Israeli alternative music. I don’t want anyone to hurt the State of Israel, take her security very seriously, and most importantly, don’t want to give anyone reason to cause harm. I am by no means willing to do anything detrimental to the sovereign state, but am open to conversation with those who don’t think the State of Israel should exist, at least not in its current state. I, like other American Jews, do feel I have a stake in that larger fate, and have a deep sense of pride. I shouldn’t feel any less entitled because I would never ever ever vote for Likkud.

 

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This isn’t a formal endorsement for this organization, but I have decided to march with the New Israel Fund in the “Progressive Cluster.” They aim at promoting equality and democratic values in Israel, with an aim to reach all citizens, regardless of race, religion, sex, etc., as promised by Israel’s Declaration of Independence. No worries guys, I’m going to try to also march with the Hillel International group. Israel may be my home, but the Jewish community at Brandeis is taking responsibility for me and my needs for the time being. Shabbat Shalom, and maybe I’ll see you at the parade in a few weeks. The choice is entirely yours.

Yours Truly,

Hannah Z. Kober

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Say What?! The Confessions of a Wordaholic.

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Quite possibly the worst time to mess up your speech…

 

Hey everyone! Happy Spring!

I hope you all have been doing great since my last post, and that these musings can alleviate some of the remarkably discouraging stress of midterms. Ironically, but not surprisingly, one of my assignments has given me some hilarious, unprecedented clarity to the way I approach the world around me and the rest of my classes. I’m currently taking a class on Psycholinguistics, for which I need to collect about twenty speech errors and ponder the cause of these slips of the tongue.

This has done something truly fantastical. My ears have been perked up, and I’m telling you, we say some bizarre things. I spend much of my free time going to hear various speakers, so my list spans from the closest of my friends at school, to a widely diverse crowd of ideologues and professors. Being articulate doesn’t make you immune to making these mistakes. And please still love me, but if you say something funny, I will write it down on my hand or handy-dandy notebook. I just will. You get off easy if it’s Shabbos. My memory is just fine, but I’m no superhuman. And I won’t ask you to recall something that you messed up on- we all jumble up our speech, so it’d be cruel to give someone a hard time about it.

Think of Sarah Palin. I am so incredibly far from supporting her political agenda, so no worries, guys, but she was given a lot of negative press for mispronouncing “nuclear.” A really outrageous amount of press. We get it, she may not be the most astute person on this planet, and she might like oil more than most, but as my other not-so-favored pop-culture figure liked to say, “…everybody makes mistakes.”

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Whole Foods summer program essay camp-out…

Ok. Moving away from the people who really challenge my conception of an ideal politician or singer, I’ll share some of the really wild things I’ve picked up on.

The best ones I’ve noticed are the mashed-up, mixed-up word combos.

I have the utmost pleasure of taking Phonology this semester, which requires many silly late hours and early wake-ups just to finish the most basic assignments. Late one night, I was studying in the lounge (a generous way to call three couches and a large window) next to my room with a friend, who, while talking about Linguistics, noted that she at times “jobbled” up her words. She looked remarkably quizzical and then burst out into laughter. She really meant to say “jumbled” and it just came out funny.

And so my adventure began. That I guess is a meta-story since we were already talking about ridiculous things that come out of peoples’ mouths.

One of my professors is by no means a native English speaker, and I usually don’t understand a majority of what she says-and I’ve already had her for a whole semester. For all I know I misunderstood her instructions and wasn’t even supposed to do this assignment at all. Well, I guess it’d be for the sake of learning. Which honestly isn’t the worst thing. The other day, she was talking about the “garden path effect,” which basically means that if you see a sentence and feel like you need to reread it because something seemed super funky, you’ve been led down the “garden path.” There’s also this thing called the kindergarten path…but we don’t need to get into that because I don’t want to sound like a condescending, holier-than-thou psycholinguist. ‘Cause I’m not.

At any rate, mid-lecture, she was really excited to tell us about the “garden state.” Ummm…spent much time in New Jersey recently? I thought to myself. Clearly not. She was mega-pregnant at the time of the comment. But it gave a very very dull class a good laugh.

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My list in my little book of wisdom. Fear the purple notebook.

There’s something else I’ve noticed which irks me although I myself am not devoid of this habit. We tend to wait on each other to make mistakes. Yup. I mean if you tend not to be in agreement with someone, you hope that some bit of their argument takes a turn for the worst…easily accomplished by a verbal blunder, of course.

There’s definitely a real name for this phenomenon (the same way as flipping the first letters of two words is called a “Spoonerism” after a famous 19th C. British intellectual who flipped his letters like it was no one’s business), but for now we can call it “The Sarah Palin Effect.” I will never give her this much air time again. I pinky promise.

To elucidate the very vague “I go to lots of random lectures” assertion from before, in case this is your first exposure to my life and writing, I am heavily involved in the Israel Activism community at Brandeis, through both J Street and bVIEW. I have been to a myriad of events emphasizing drastically different opinions on matters regarding the conflict and domestic issues, and therefore have heard speakers who fall far to the right of my position, and a few somewhat to the left.

One notable experience I had was when I went to a session at LimmudNY this winter, titled “Anti-Zionism is as Crucial to Judaism as Zionism” or something along those lines. I came into the lecture a few minutes late since I was staffing the day camp, and walked in while the speaker, Gidi Greenstein, was explaining a phenomenon he referred to as “flexigidity.”

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Evidence. From the heat of the moment.

What? Flexigidity? That’s NOT a thing. I jotted down the term, convinced it was a speech error, but after a few minutes I realized it was some invented, strange, convoluted term for a complex sociological dynamic of sorts.

“…this Jewish sauce, “flexigidity,” a portmanteau of flexibility and rigidity. He defines the hybrid term as the ability to optimize the pace of collective adaptation by balancing new and old, innovation and tradition, and flexibility and rigidity. Grinstein says this age-old balance has gone out of whack in recent decades, and the challenge is to set it right before it is too late, especially in the State of Israel.”

Renee Ghert-Zand, The Times of Israel, 12/30/13

I happen to disagree with the thesis of his talk, namely saying that Anti-Zionism simply exists for the sake of being “that inevitable opposition” that does not ever stand to negate the notion of peoplehood, but on the other hand those who fall into the BDS camp are inherently and fundamentally anti-Jewish-peoplehood. Therefore, on a basic level, I was determined that his phrase, although unrelated to the general thesis, was bogus, and that the strangeness of what I perceived to be a speech error was indicative of an intellectual gap.

Wow. That sounds pretentious. But NEWSFLASH- We all do that. Think about that the next time you’re listening to someone with whom you tend to disagree.

Disclaimer: I’m not trying to bring you all at odds with your friends, but just trying to bring your attention to something that really affects our perception of the people around us.

So on that note, as usual, now that you’ve sufficiently walked around my brain for a bit and hopefully enjoyed it, I’ll leave you to your stressful shenanigans and shindigs. Hopefully with a smile:)

‘Till next time!

Yours Truly,

HZK

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Slips of the tongue…fine. I need to be coerced to do this kind of slipping.

 

 

In the Kishkes

Hey guys! Hope your semesters and breaks went well! No, I am not acknowledging all of you fine people who are still on break. It’s a matter of dignity.

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Hey umm..remember finals?
(Too soon.)

I happen to be pretty excited to go back to school. Back to the grind. Back to the meal-to-meal, meeting-to-meeting mindset. Back to the less-than-six-minute commute to all of my classes. Back to the library. Just kidding. The stench of finals is certainly still hovering in the stuffy air in the random computer cluster next to the Judaica Section.

In my previous post, which was somewhat of a “this is my life, please stop harassing me with questions about the moderately contentious things I do on campus and let me study for Psych Stats” essay, I mentioned that I was becoming deeply involved with the independent community and minyan that my friends and I put together on campus this semester (Kehillat Sha’ar). I name-dropped the famed Hadar for reference, noting that the model on the Brandeis campus is essentially inspired by this flagship institution on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. And lo and behold, I have spent nearly my entire break learning the ways of that community.

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Berkshires takes Hadar!

I practically dove straight from finals into the Mechon Hadar Singing Communities Intensive program, which was a comprehensive introduction to revamping Jewish music through prayer and song in the context of the high holidays. Yes, we were shuckling and singing“Avinu Malkeinu” from the very bottom of our end-of-December hearts.

And yup, the girl who was never incredibly keen on liturgical music was just singing a slow tune to “Vechol Ma’aminim.” In January. While folding laundry. The bush may not have have been consumed, but the Hadar Kool-Aid sure has.

At any rate, that was beyond fantastic and I have so much more to say about that experience, but I have another important note to share with you guys, based on insights I picked up during my second week at Hadar. If you were there, don’t skip to the bottom and be all like “I already heard her reflection.” This part I didn’t share in public, so read on, Hadarniks.

During the Winter Learning Seminar, we spoke about the complexities we find within the relationship of Judaism and food. One morning, one of the faculty members posed the following question: Have you ever been given something to eat that you didn’t mean to consume, whether that pertains to some sort of dietary restriction, including Kashrut, or allergies, etc.?

My thoughts pushed toward the latter part of the question. No, I don’t have any allergies. At least not those whose reactions are induced by food consumption of any sort. I do have weird eye allergy issues, but that is simply so far beyond the bounds of anything relevant to my point.

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Hannah Z. Kober, age 5. Coolest lactard in town. Don’t mess.

am lactose intolerant. I have been since I was nearly five. It has been an inextricable part of my identity since. Thank God it’s not a really dangerous situation, but it does require a certain level of vigilance.

To take a step into my mind, you need to understand the strangely raised anxiety levels I incur when I watch a character on TV eat a cookie without taking a Lactaid pill. God, I hope that cookie’s pareve (non-dairy), my mind asserts. And with a glass of milk!? They must be out of their minds. Or, gosh, that’s irresponsible.

And naturally I’ve grown up to think that way…to really think twice about even the smallest snack that I may be offered. Lactose is freaking everywhere. Underrated. But lately I’ve been considering the times where I take more of a carefree stance on the situation, where I might just take something that someone offers me, and consciously decide not to take a pill, for whatever reason. Or have something that I simply shouldn’t be having to begin with, even if medicated.

For instance, this past semester, the various coffee vendors on campus were constantly running out of skim milk, and yet I would still order whatever I normally would and take the 2% milk willingly although with sufficient concern. For all the times I claim that my “stomach is going to die,” it only has gotten angry once or twice, so I haven’t really learned my lesson. Or we can think about the time last week that I went to Pinkberry with a few friends. I didn’t order anything, but a friend offered me a bite of his. I gladly accepted. Nope, no pill. Yikes. It was totally fine, but somewhat unwise. It’s what happens when you begin to take a condition for granted.

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Flashback to last winter break!

But the question of this YOLO approach can be discussed pertaining to certain religious texts we discussed over the course of my program. Granted that this was in reference to a discussion regarding the permissibility of smoking and transfats, we took a look at the Rambam’s Mishneh Torah, in the section hilkhot de’ot. He writes that you may not consume things that cause illness, and that in essence lessen your ability to worship God fully. This is part of a larger recurring theme in the Jewish tradition that emphasizes the concept of shmirat haguf, literally meaning the guarding/safekeeping of the body. According to these precepts, there is a certain expectation that one must be responsible in their decisions with respect to what he or she puts in his or her body, based on his or her respective limits.

I may be only 15 years into my diagnosis and may not have logged a fully comprehensive listing of my limits, but I get the general idea. No more shenanigans. No ifs, ands or buts.

Growing up I was “that kid” who was lactose intolerant. No one else around me was (except my mother), and no one really knew what it was. They just knew that I had these little white square packets that magically allowed me to eat ice cream. Now, it seems like more and more people are joining the party. The most amazing moment for me was at one of my first a cappella rehearsals, when during a birthday celebration, nearly half of the other girls there reached into their backpack pockets to pull out a pill. I was beside myself. Although at first I was alarmed that my distinctiveness was essentially gone, I later realized that it bode well for me that almost all of my friends carry around Lactaid pills. Being intolerant no longer causes me to be unnecessarily dietetic. Thanks, y’all.

And also the media has recently become kinder to us folk (maybe because everyone is realizing that most humans aren’t really meant to digest lactose anyways). “White Chicks”, a movie that came out in the early 2000’s, was not only incredibly offensive and unsophisticated in a larger discussion of race and gender, but also had a crude scene in which both main characters suffer from an “attack” of Lactose Intolerance. It’s not really like that, guys. During that movie, which I must have seen when I was eight or nine, I all of a sudden felt incredibly objectified and left the room. Probably the most dramatic thing I did at that age. Especially at someone else’s house. I didn’t really have many other crusades. Luckily movie producers are busy with other farces nowadays.

The bottom line is that the biggest part of growing up is learning to make these situational distinctions on our own and enduring the consequences of our faulty decisions. I have been dabbling at this since 1999 and have pretty much been calling the shots since, but nonetheless, having a greater understanding as an adult, especially with backing from various textual sources, has bolstered the profound nature of shmirat haguf and self-awareness. Oftentimes I say “self-awareness is key,” often in jest (insert bitter sarcasm) and in response to a friend who has just admitted to doing something ridiculous, but it really translates to just about everything we do.

Yup, that’s where I got them genes from….:)

You might be wondering the backstory of the title. Good question. So basically, the phrase “in the kishkes” has framed my winter break experience. Essentially meaning “in the gut” (kishkes is Yiddish), this phrase is a go-to favorite of Joey Weisenberg, the Hadar faculty member who basically ran the singing program and made a guest appearance at the end of the Winter Learning Seminar. He takes it to mean the process of really truly internalizing a certain piece of music (“first it’s all about knowing of the melody’s existence, then it’s about getting it in the kishkes…”). I clearly did that with the various liturgical pieces we learned that week, but I also am replanting the phrase into the food-centric exploration I’ve just laid out for you all.

And with that, I’m wishing you all the best and hope you’ve enjoyed this post! As usual, feel free to comment and ask away!

Happy winter!

Hannah Z. Kober

P.S.-Click here for the promo video us Brandesians at the singing program made for Kehillat Sha’ar:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wpBIC0Ipc98

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A really nice camp reunion before everyone heads off on their adventures!

Pressed for Words-Personalizing The No Labels Campaign

Story-time game face. Or pleading the 5th.

Hey everyone! I hope your semesters have been going well! This, along with every other entry, has come to me when I really should be applying my effort and words elsewhere-i.e. to the various essays and problem sets that require a majority of my attention-yet nonetheless, I sense serious value in the thoughts that I encounter walking from engagement to engagement, and from library experience to class. Last year, a majority of my anxieties were related directly to my academic career and most of my blabbering was, as I mentioned, a constant succession of major-minor combinations or potential jobs that would result from each of those paths. This year, I do spend nearly as much time talking about these things, but have added a thousand and one other things that are pressing in the present.

After years of day school, Ramah, and Nativ, I naturally came to one solid conclusion about my religious life: I am a Conservative Jew, yes, capital C, and I’m proud of it. So perhaps that wore off alarmingly fast as I arrived at Brandeis. I noticed that my “to-the-tee” observance of halacha according to Conservative standards looked a lot more like the left-wing Modern Orthodox practices of my friends. I was a radical, right wing Conservative (still capitalized) Jew, questioning my beliefs on the importance of egalitarianism and the flaky, wavering nature of the Conservative community as a whole (more specifically, the discrepancy between the actual ritual observance and theoretical observance). I felt that I unquestionably fit under the dati-leumi (national-religous) umbrella, and that I no longer had any sort of responsibility to save the essentially failing Conservative movement. I honestly can’t say all that much has changed significantly, but I’ve gained a new perspective.

An effort of mine and fellow Nativers to save the Conservative/Masorti Movement. Karmiel, 2012.

An effort of mine and fellow Nativers to save the Conservative/Masorti Movement. Karmiel, 2012.

At Ramah this summer, my campers were afforded the opportunity to make the decision between praying in an egalitarian or non-egalitarian minyan. Knowing that Ramah Berkshires frowns upon the lingering non-egalitarian aspects left at camp decades after the Conservative movement has started to ordain women rabbis, I took a non-confrontational approach and complacently went to the egalitarian minyan. Even though my campers questioned their own choices, I kept my decision to myself. I was the first girl to lead Ma’ariv for Shabbat at camp in 2009, and the change in myself is nearly astonishing. And yet there is a certain indulgence in going with the flow and doing what you see fit in the moment.

At school, I still feel enormously comfortable in the Orthodox minyan and community. Going into the school year, I knew I was one of the coordinators of the Shira Hadasha-Partnership Minyan (a feminist, quasi-egalitarian compromise within the confines of traditional halacha and the Orthodox community). Aside from the reputation of a simply gloriously beautiful, spiritual and musical davening experience, I do firmly stand with the values of the Partnership movement and find myself most comfortable knowing that women are counted in the minyan and can participate, yet women’s participation cannot stand alone without an equal male presence. One of the troubles inextricably tied to any egalitarian minyan I’ve ever participated in is the disproportionate female participation and the near ostrasizing of men. This is truly a bizarre concept.

Nevertheless, I got to school expecting to fall into the positions I had been given and or established for myself, not questioning much at all. I am a person who needs to be in a constant state of cognitive dissonance, yet oftentimes being in leadership positions can elude a person of the opportunity to reframe and reevaluate a status quo.

On the first week of school, while having coffee with a friend of mine who was essentially handing over the torch of the Shira Hadasha minyan, I was introduced to the potential and nearly actualized idea of having an independent, vibrant, and traditional egalitarian minyan on campus. So if you think like me and have the Jewish community outlined on a concrete spectrum of sorts (shout-out to former NEJS 164-Soc. students), visualize this concept as culturally between Reconstructionist and Conservative Judaism, and halakhically between Conservative Judaism and the previously mentioned Partnership Movement. For all of my New Yorkers out there (or Upper West Side wannabes), think Mechon Hadar. My initial outward reaction to this friend was along the lines of “I’ll definitely consider it. I”ll come to a meeting or two and feel it out.” What I was actually thinking was “…meh. I’m settled. Why complicate things?”

And just like that, we can fast forward two months to where I stand now. The independent community, which came to be known as Kehillat Sha’ar, has become an important project to me.  I need this space to dabble with the world of progressive Judaism in a safe space, with people who are just as invested and or confused. Different people in different areas of the Jewish community at Brandeis and beyond may be skeptical of the need or potential consequences of the emergence of communities like this, but it has been truly incredible to note how many people from vastly different backgrounds can find themselves comfortable within this amalgam of traditions.

Sha’ar in action.

In addition to the religious ideological whirlwind you just caught wind of right now, I also have found myself revisiting my views on Israel, regarding both the conflict and domestic issues. I can’t say that “I’ve found myself” there as if it’s a totally passive process, but I can settle for a calling it a partially passive process. This year in addition to all of the other shenanigans I’m involved with on campus, I’m also in the leadership of bVIEW, Brandeis Visions for Israel in an Evolving World, which is the non-partisan Israel discussion group on campus, aiming at depolarizing discourse for a more productive and less antagonistic result. Naturally, we make it our business to really take part in Israel activism on campus in all forms, and as a result, at my first meeting at the end of the spring semester, one of the members of the board made a serious push for attendance at the J Street Conference in the fall. I was not really able to look that far in advance, but I also had no interest whatsoever in attending an event of an organization that I knew near-nothing about and had perceived to be practically dangerous for the future of Israel. Classic day school kid reaction. When I came back to school in the fall, it became essentially the talk of the Israel activism community. So in the end, I decided I would go to the J Street Conference and miss a day of school to learn things I didn’t know much about. Honestly, you can’t judge someone or something until you’ve actually been exposed to what it’s really about. And I definitely jumped in head first.

(*Ironic side-note: During my senior year of high school I went to Brandeis Admitted Students Day instead of hearing the J Street representative at the Heschel Senior Seminar on Israel. I love coming full circle.)

Chronically enthused and confused.

I must say that I thought I was going to be upset by things that I heard at the conference, but I was relatively at ease with a majority of what I heard. I journaled throughout the conference, detailing what I thought of every single speaker and conversation I had-I’ll spare you mostly because I trust you’ll ask me in person if you’re actually curious (you are really cordially invited and encouraged to ask) but also because you’ve already been subject to a bulk of my prolific post and you deserve a break. I can, however, attest to the fact that the organization as a whole spans a huge spectrum of standpoints on the issues at hand, and it wouldn’t be fair to put all J-Streeters in a box. At the end of the day, I resonated with (on even a deeper level than I expected) with the zeal the participants had for peace in Israel, and a sustainable solution for what seems to be a stalemate in negotiations. And as a self defining left-leaning moderate, I don’t think I’d fit into that box. And that wouldn’t be fair either.

I’ll admit that it was concerning that many of the people I engaged with at the conference were so focused on the conflict and a viable two-state solution, as well as redeeming the reputation of J Street at their universities and within the Hillel umbrella as a whole that they were unlikely to tend to the looming domestic issues in Israel proper. And this isn’t just a J Street issue. This is widespread throughout the diaspora. Even people falling off of the right edge of the political spectrum can’t necessarily tell you all that much about housing costs, illegal immigration, the education system, the army draft, etc. My question in response to this information gap is twofold. First of all, if you’re like me and hope to one day live in Israel (proper, of course), wouldn’t you also be taken to issues that will really affect your life once you get there? And secondly (my bVIEW hat has officially been donned for this one), wouldn’t it be more practical if some of the political zest and energy towards the conflict were shared with the internal issues since internal peace creates a more united front towards external peace? Feel free to disagree, and at times I may as well, but we should at least be open to that option. I’m also sensing that I should take the class called “Inner Peace, Outer Peace” next semester before I get ahead of myself, and possibly reconsider a minor in Peace, Conflict, and Coexistence Studies. Or not really. But it’s back on the table.

Another word pressing outlet. #acannouncements

So at the end of the day, and this excessively essay-like post, I’ll confess that I’ve taken the time to put this together because I’ve been asked tons of questions regarding the (seemingly many) moderately contentious things I’ve taken part in thus far this semester and I needed an outlet to really outline what I’ve been thinking. The punchline is simply that we all need to understand the value of educated experimentation-and by that I mean that we’re all entitled to question and give substantial thought to all of the various things we do.  We should do our best to rise above some of the labels we create for ourselves and each other. We don’t all fit into boxes. Humans are incredibly complex (I know this isn’t news).

I’m also glad that you’ve now received shock-exposure to my psyche-especially if you’ve never read any of my posts before. On that note, thanks for being incredible listeners and feel free to comment as you please. I also promise that my next post will be a little less heavy. Ok, no promises, but I at least intend for it to be that way because for now my humor is reserved for the people who are right next to me and get to experience a flustered, overtired and sarcastic Hannah as you have had the privilege of hearing previously. And sharing is caring.

Bye for now and keep reading! Wishing you all the best!

Yours Truly,

Hannah Zahava Kober

Seeing Double

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Hey guys!

I hope you’ve been enjoying your summers and are gearing up for a fantastic year ahead of us. For the past eight weeks I’ve been working at Camp Ramah in the Berkshires, completing my third summer on staff, and tenth consecutive summer at camp. It’s my home away from home, and that has not been given due justice on this blog. Well, at any rate, my anecdotes have in fact stepped foot on the holy ground of Wingdale, NY, as I retold these tidbits of my life to my campers as a rainy day harga’ah (story time, although literally meaning “calming down”). Granted that words from the wise about college lifestyles may not have the same effect on rising high school students as on the majority of my readers, I’ve hopefully garnered some loyal blog followers who will simply be prepared for future casual stumbling blocks.

Last year at this time (one year anniversary-woo!), I was in deep self-reflection leading up to Yom Kippur, which I referred to as cheshbon nefesh. However this soul-searching was inextricably tied to my adjustment to college and clearing my slate at the beginning of freshman year. This year I’d like to focus more on my experience this summer-on seeing double.

I’ll confess. This year in school, I did not do all of the reading I was supposed to complete. I know. This news is absolutely shell-shocking and ground-breaking material. No regrets, but nonetheless, the pages of reading that I did get to are simply innumerable, and thus my vision has slightly declined. Only slightly though, no worries. You’ll see where I’m going with this.

A couple of weeks ago, on one of my days off from camp, I went to the optometrist to be tested for a new prescription. One of the measurements the doctor took required me to notice when two images merged and overlapped, and vice versa, when one image split into two separate entities. The rest of the tests went fine and I headed back to camp, but the thought of that part of the exam loomed over me.

I know I’m kind of a corny person and this metaphor is somewhat far-fetched, but bear with me. This summer, I’ve been struggling with seeing two separate entities within myself; Hannah that has grown up at camp and Hannah that exists in post-high school contexts (Nativ and onward). I all-too-often experienced the incredible phenomenon to be in a room with both someone who knows you as a gregarious, goofy, and grounded person and someone who sees you as a only-speaks-when-spoken-to/ someone with a (no offense to the food-allergic folk and my ashkenazic heritage) pareve, gluten-free, passidic (non-gebrokts and no kitniyot) personality. Okay, so maybe that’s enough of the dramatics, but it is difficult to be who you want to be in a place that doesn’t promote or condone change. Don’t get me wrong, I will always love camp, but my biggest frustrations this summer were when I saw my fellow staff members as well as my campers relaxing for the summer and being the crazy, no-filter people they never felt comfortable being during the year.

Epiphany: I learned how to be the way I am now from the people I love at camp, but I for some reason could never be that person when I was there.

Ok, so maybe this isn’t an epiphany, rather a clarification or reiteration. But now that you’ve read some of my raw and vulnerable reflections of my summer, you might understand why thinking about this constantly may trump a post of my campers’ ridiculous isms. Fine. Perhaps that would merit its own post.

To top it all off, the ultimate clash of my worlds took place over the 5-day “Sababa” elective trip to the Brandeis Bima (Theater/Visual Arts) program. One of the highlights of the trip most definitely was having the kids run shenanigans around campus, but it was an undeniably glorious and funny experience for all to see me in my “natural habitat.” A real bed, wi-fi, and Starbucks honestly didn’t hurt either.

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So with that, I’ll close wishing you all the best this coming year and that you keep following to hear about the unexpected insight I’ll pick up along my way. Snaps to all of you guys for being fantastic listeners.

Shabbat Shalom and Shana Tova-Happy New Year!

 

Hannah Zahava Kober

The One with the Changed Title

Hey everyone! Happy summer! I’m currently in car ride home after completing my freshman year at Brandeis. Woo. I’m going to use this post to recap some of the most important parts of this year, culminating with the all-important title change.

So you may ask: why are you changing the title? I’ll tell you. After being admitted to Brandeis in December 2010, graduating high school in June 2011, spending a most wonderful year in Israel on Nativ, and these past two semesters, I’m pleased to announce that I am no longer a “first-year.” It’s been a slice of life, but I’m ready to move on.

This year, I have learned tremendously valuable things about myself, my friends, and my surroundings, both in classes and out. I have had conversations with people and sat through performances that literally felt like they were maturing me just by sitting there. It was probably not in my best time interest to even do half of these things, but let’s be real here-I made it anyways. Here are a few of the lessons I’ve learned in the process:

1) Never have coffee past 8PM. You’ll be up all night. Try Honest Tea.

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*I will not say how many empty bottles of this stuff I accumulated when I thought I was contributing to the Ba’note recycling competition efforts. 

**This is in effect a retroactive shout-out to my enablers.

2) Kale and soy sauce are a delectable combination and make for a fantastic post-Shabbos dinner…and a panini grill is the ultimate kitchen appliance for making kale chips.

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3) Use a bottle of lactaid pills, not the packets. Even though it’s funny whenever the packets are found on your friends’ floors, it makes a mess (and apparently an opportunity for origami).

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4) Unless you’re in finals crunch mode, and have trouble getting work done, work in very public places such as academic building hallways. No one usually passes by, but when they do, they don’t want to see you on Facebook…and the anthropology masks in Schwartz Hall can behoove anyone to do their work.

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5) If you haven’t exercised in a while, put on gym clothes and go back to the library. When you feel you need to go to the bathroom and do jumping jacks, take this as your cue to run in circles outside. Or have a dance party.

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6) Organize your school papers throughout the semester, although it definitely was good fun reopening my desk drawers as an archeological dig site.

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*For the sake of my own dignity and confidence in my organizational skills, I decided to not show a picture of all of the giveaways from the fall activities fair.

7) Never use sparkler birthday candles in a dorm room. They often cause excessive smoke. Fans don’t help. Febreeze doesn’t help. CAs don’t help.

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 *Notice Eli in problem-solving mode. We just thought it to be a nice photo-op.

8) NEVER leave your computer open in the library. It can change your life. Or at least your life story.

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*Just in case you’re reading this and have only seen the hacked status, I’m NOT going to Harvard. Brandeis is just fine, thank you. But if I could defer this admission to one of their graduate programs, I wouldn’t mind…

9) VITAMIN C. There simply is no better way to put it. The cacophonous coughing during the psych final was mildly obnoxious, and I apologize for my contributions.

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10) Use art as a way to decompress. When my hard drive failed, I was absolutely anxious before rehearsal, so I drew this fun self-portrait. 

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*This may serve as a confession for the ladies of Ba’note who may or may not have thought it was just a random doodle someone left on the whiteboard. It’s in a different style than our average elephant butt.

11) When a friend/multiple friends warn you not to take a class, listen to their words of wisdom. 

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…or you will take out your anger by virtually talking back to a teacher. At least I got some great life-scheduling done during that class.

#LING197A #It’sbeenapleasure 

12) Sing in the shower. It is entertaining for all. Hass 4 Cubby 2013-14, you are cordially invited to sing along.

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Well, on that note, I hope I’ll be able to integrate these 12 lovely precepts into the way I live my life next year. I have to say, albeit cautiously, that I’ve left this year off at a good place. I knew I couldn’t leave for the summer without declaring my major(s), so I picked up and met with the respective department undergraduate advising heads. So if you read my previous post, little February Hannah who marched over to the Psych Meet the Majors events is now a psych major, and plain Hannah who came to Brandeis to be a NEJS (Near Eastern and Judaic Studies) major has declared as well. I guess my first semester addiction to Srugim, Merchak Negiyah, and other various Israeli sitcoms can pass for more than just constructive procrastination strategies.

I’m off to start a hopefully productive and exciting summer. If all goes as planned, I will spend the next month arranging a second song, running a lot, spending time outside and catching up with friends and family, reading, and regulating how often I frequent Starbucks. Then I’ll be working at camp for my third summer, which will surely give me lots to say and reflect on:)

So everyone, say goodbye to Shapiro 102A, and get ready for a rockin’ summer and incredible sophomore year! Thanks to all those who helped me when I reached funky spots and glitches and took me to do fun things I never would have done on my own; I owe you guys a ton!

Till next time!

Hannah Z. Kober

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P.S.-I didn’t actually change the title yet. That’s your job!  Please comment with any ideas!

Recalculating

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If you did not read the title in a GPS voice, please reread the title.

Anyways…hey guys! Hope you all had as incredible of a winter break as I had and that you’re soundly settling into second semester.

I personally did not have an especially restful and relaxing break, but I most definitely loved every moment. I had the opportunity to not only leave the hustle and bustle of the finals atmosphere that I touched on in my last post, but also traveled back home to New York, took casual excursions to New Jersey, and a far-less-casual trip to California.

But as I’m currently back on the Brandeis campus (in a science building…what?!), I have discovered a new perspective on what exactly I’m doing here. Over break, I very much looked forward to returning to school and missed the overwhelmingly positive experience I had during first semester; My associations regarding Brandeis were inextricably tied to all that transpired over the past couple months.

Although I am by no means having a bad time; I have encountered new challenges and not everything that was in order at the end of the semester immediately came into fruition with my return. For instance, with the exception of a cappella rehearsals and Shabbat, the basic structure of my schedule was entirely undetermined. Status pending.

When I was younger, routine meant nothing to me. My bedtime was virtually non-existent. I liked eating salad as my last course. Need I say more?

Somewhere along the way developed a need for clarity in forward-thinking; I need a plan. Maybe it was my 17th birthday present. It was during senior year that I started writing out these ridiculous schedules. That’s also when I decided I was going to double major in Near Eastern and Judaic Studies and History, with a minor in Peace Conflict and Coexistence Studies. No questions asked.

I won’t entirely mock the motivation and stubbornness behind that statement because I really thought I knew what I wanted to do with my life. These days,  I often spew out different combinations of majors and minors that somehow will result in a fantastically well-integrated senior thesis on everything that interests me in that given moment. Many of my closest friends at school have pleasure of hearing these somewhat-crazed concoctions on a daily basis.

So to be perfectly honest, I was quite unnerved by the turnover in course selection from what I had chosen in early registration to the final edition.

But whatever. C’est la vie. הם החיים. YOLO.

A wise friend of mine claims that college is likely the only time that we’ll be able to study what we’d like and participate in whichever activities we choose. What we do now has a tremendous impact on how we define ourselves, but not necessarily how the world defines us.

So as I’m heading over to the Psych “Meet the Majors” event and, if I get my act together work-wise, Zumba, Mishmar and a Hillel Crepe Event, I’m at least trying to convince myself that a couple minor glitches and changes to my routine are normal and healthy. Maybe I’m not convinced enough to be all like “come at me! I don’t care!”, but that isn’t a bad thing.

Forming a near-blockade of my quad, construction workers are allegedly fixing the water pipes. Each day I climb around the fencing on an either slick snow or mud-covered (depending on the day)  hill to get to the humanities quad for my morning classes. This is a recurring theme, but I have terrible balance and often nearly slip-n-slide down the little hill. I would even venture to call it a mound. You get the idea. At any rate, each time I near the mini-obstacle I try to think of a novel and safe way to not fall on my face on the way to my writing seminar.

Regardless of my end goal, whether that be safe arrival to a class or club meeting, a freaking fantastic schedule, or professional path, I, and perhaps we, need to understand that it’s in our best interest to look around ourselves and remember to do the things we love best. Even if that means we have to recalculate.

Wishing you all the best and keep following my posts!:)

Hannah Zahava Kober

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