Home Stretch Reflections – Noah Flinkman, CLIP: Onward Israel 2015

NoahFlinkmanCurled up in the fetal position with a fever today has given me a lot of time to think critically about the last month and half of this incredible experience in Israel. For one, missing the last two days of work has been simply devastating. I love experiencing my internship’s zany office culture, learning from my supervisor’s relentless drive to excel, and adjusting to my co-workers’ (endearing) lack of personal boundaries. One part real estate private equity firm and one part family, Axiom Global Investments is an internship placement opportunity nonpareil.

My second realization comes as a megaphone blares outside my four story North Tel Aviv flat. Not the siren alert of an imminent ballistic threat that would have been commonplace in this very spot a year ago, but something different altogether; a massive protest across from the Chinese embassy. I begin to consider the power of words, and how fortunate I am to have been blessed with the privilege to express myself verbally.

As one might plausibly imagine, a group of nearly fifty American students has plenty to say. Whether concerning the macro (like the feasibility of a successful Iran deal) or the micro (aroma sandwiches…again!?) our bus rides are often filled to the brim with colorful conversation. Occasionally, our cup doth runeth over.  In a society that glorifies the loquaciously silver tongued bombast and condemns the “awkward silence”, I question the value of silence and how, when it comes to words, more is not always merrier.

Over the course of last weekend’s Onward Israel Shabbaton in Kibbutz Galon, our cohort had ample time to consider these issues. In light of a previous week characterized by a certain degree of internal social tension and oral friction, these 60 hours in nature could not have been more therapeutic. With programming that was conducive to fostering constructive dialogue between people, a collective cohort identity soon began to crystalize. Perhaps one reason why our words had been driving us apart until now was that we simply had no idea just how rejuvenating the power of speech could be. Whether I was seeing secular and religious Jews pray together or hearing the unifying laughter of two strangers, I could not help but consider that we had all grown closer to one another than we had ever thought possible.

Summertime Forever: The Transition from Sleep-Away Camp to Corporate Camp – Maya Levine, CLIP: New York 2015

Levine,_Maya--Photo_2015_4981_2015-05-22Friday night Shabbat song session. Bug juice. Ropes Course. Bunk parties. Havdalah. Camp.

These words are examples of what made up my summer vocabulary when I attended the Union for Reform Judaism’s Joseph Eisner Camp in Great Barrington, Massachusetts for thirteen years of my life. Attending as a camper for ten summers and then a counselor for three, Jewish camp was a place that I always truly flourished. Not only did I make lifelong best friends at camp, but I also found that camp enabled me to define the roots of my Jewish identity—an identity inspired by community, justice, wholeness, and compassion. Year after year, I was nurtured by the Eisner Camp bubble, but as I grew older, the unfortunate realization that I could not be a camper forever became a daunting reality. As my mind transitioned into what summer would be like outside of the bubble, I thought, “How will I ever stay connected to the feelings that I feel at camp? Will Shabbat and my connection to Jewish life ever feel as meaningful as it does at camp?”

A few months ago, I learned of my acceptance to CLIP and my placement as the Northern Federation of Temple Youth (NFTY) Alumni Development intern at the Union for the Reform Judaism offices here in New York. Though I never participated in NFTY myself, I was very familiar with the program and excited to work within the context of URJ youth engagement. However, the same questions and anxieties that I talked about above persisted, and I wondered if I would ever find a satisfying answer.

My time at the URJ this summer is dwindling, but I am so happy to report that working here has been an incredibly natural transition into what I like to call ‘corporate camp’. My department is relatively small, so my supervisor and I have been able to cater my personal projects to my interests. Currently, I am helping with the launch of our new website and directory. Furthermore, I am serving as the liaison between NFTY and our network of alumni in college, which means that I am talking to my peers about young professional events, and ensuring that the URJ is doing everything possible to keep this generation engaged and connected to our movement. What I have realized is that the basis of my current job is not much different than it was at Eisner. I am working to strengthen the Jewish community and ensure Jewish continuity through the lens of engagement with our youth, the future (and current) leaders of our world. I am not completely outside of the comfort zone that was Eisner Camp, but rather CLIP has given me the tools to expand my bubble into something inspiring and personal. CLIP has helped me define my strengths, and shown me that my career in the Jewish world can cater to those strengths.

This experience has enabled me to see all the behind-the-scenes work that goes into not just Jewish camping and youth programming, but also into the intricacies of the non-profit world. I am continuously inspired by the way in which the leaders of this organization merge the pillars of learning, spirituality, Israel, and tikkun olam (healing the world) with everything they do.  And the cherry on top is that Eisner paraphernalia adorns my cubicle and trips to camp classify as work!

The Best Shabbat Recipe – Andrew Solomon, CLIP: New York 2015

SolomonShabbat, like much of Judaism, is up for interpretation. For some it is defined as “Pray, Eat, Sleep multiplied by three.” For others it is a time for family and friends. For me, Shabbat has always been a restoration; whether it was in the IDF or home with family, I always enjoyed the leisurely Shabbat meals and the calm that pervaded the 24 period of rest.

Here in New York City, much like the rest of the developed world, we are constantly inundated with information and stimulation. It seems like each week there is another social media application introduced. Whether it is Whatsapp, Groupme or Snapchap, we are expected by the culture to keep up with all of them. We build up stress and tension during the week and when the weekend comes we are in search of a release. It is for this reason that now more than ever, Shabbat is such a blessing and for some a necessity.

The Shabbaton that we spent together at the Capital Retreat Center was the epitomization of my ideal Shabbat. There was first and foremost a strong, inclusive and caring community. There was music, prayer, laughter and calm. We ate together, prayed together, learned together and most importantly grew together. The all-inclusive Kabbalat Shabbat included everything from a guitar Nigun session to a Mechiza (The divider between men and women in a conservative/orthodox service). People seemed to thrive on the diversity of the group rather than use it as an excuse to construct barriers.

We talked about everything from porn to intermarriage to soccer. Many hours were spent snacking on Kosher Lay’s potato chips and discussing the tenets of a belief in G-D. As I look back now I could not have asked for a better weekend. It is not often that I desire to relive history; I would definitely consider myself a forward thinker, an explorer always looking for the next adventure. That being said, the only thing I have to say about the CLIP Shabbaton now, after the fact is: “Take me back!”

 

 

 

 

Finding Peace in the Process: A Counselor’s Journey to the Intern World – Beckie Hamroff, CLIP: New York 2015

Hamroff,_Beckie-Photo_2015_7241_2015-05-25Emotionally, last week was an especially hard one for me. It was the first time I missed the opening day of camp since my camper years started in 2004. I was confused on whether I should be feeling sad about missing it or relief in having a summer to myself. Thankfully the start of camp coincided perfectly with my Superstorm Sandy relief program for the CITs of Capital Camps. It was them who showed me how important it was for me to be in New York this summer.

I am lucky enough to be serving as the intern for the Jewish Disaster Response Corps, an organization that specializes in mobilizing Jewish teens to do domestic relief work in areas that are undergoing long term recovery projects. Under their guidance, I have been working on educational and reflection based programming to supplement the volunteer experiences the campers are partaking in. I have become an expert on the effects Sandy had on the Staten Island and Rockaway communities. The need to become an expert in such a short time allowed me to focus my energy on something I found meaningful and interesting. But my real skills, and the reason this job fits me so well, were able to come out when the bus of campers pulled off.

They jumped off the bus with the same amount of excitement you would find hidden on a camper’s face on their first day of camp. It’s a mixture of nerves, anticipation, and excitement-the same blend I found myself trying to balance about my new summer experience. Right away, I got to lead them in mixers, where the counselor voice of power and certainty reemerged from a place I thought I had lost. The next day, when our real volunteer work in New Dorp Beach got underway, my counselor comforts of mentoring and guidance found ground to work with. And, later that week, as we discussed the macro facts of Sandy, what its devastation looked like throughout the continent, the counselor strengths of synthesizing situations and educating were in full swing. Because my strengths were being so well utilized all week, I was able to feel a sense of belonging.

CLIP placing me in the JDRC has shown me that my skills are not just tailored to the worlds I know best, to the ones that have been always been a part of my life. Even though I may not be at camp, all of the skills that I learned there can be transformed into a strength in the new workspaces I find myself in. Whether that’s through a group discussion or the tiling of a basement floor, my strengths are my strengths because I apply them to all that I do.

I may have missed the starting of camp, but I was able to open new doors for myself while continuing my love for helping others.

Beyond Ambiguity: Being Biracial in a Jewish World – Kelly Whitehead, CLIP: New York 2015

Whitehead,_Kelly-_Photo_2015_9648_2015-05-25Lacey Schwartz, a Jewish filmmaker and outreach strategist, did not learn about her black identity until she was a teenager. In June, the CLIP Interns were fortunate enough to meet Lacey and discuss her accomplishments as a Jewish professional in a diverse setting. Lacey shared her story, the focus of the documentary “Little White Lie,” and I immediately felt connected. Unlike Lacey, I always knew the origins of my biracial appearance.  Growing up, I knew I did not look like the other students of my Temple’s religious school in Brooklyn, or like my friends from my Jewish sleep away camp, URJ Camp Harlam.  While Lacey constantly questioned her appearance, I usually accepted my difference as a unique quality and conversation starter.

Similar to Lacey, I began to question my identity in my teenage years. I understood that I am both black and Jewish, but I did not understand how to be a part of both communities simultaneously. Throughout high school and during my early college years, I focused on the “other” narrative. Because I was neither fully black and both of my parents weren’t Jewish, I saw myself as an outsider. I believed my identity was “mixed,” and felt I was not allowed to relate to one more than the other.

As a young Jewish professional today, my personal conflict is not the ambiguity of my identity, but rather my ability to find comfort within the Jewish community. The students of the Sunday school classes I teach are increasingly diverse, yet I continue to feel like the token black voice in a room of peers. During discussions on race related current events, I feel responsible to be the voice of an entire population.  Following the events in Ferguson, Baltimore, and other cities across the country, important conversations were held amongst Jews of my campus. Although I wrote my senior history thesis on tensions between the black community and the police in the 1960s, I felt that my opinions on current events were legitimized purely based on the color of my skin and not my knowledge on the subject.

According to the 2011 Jewish Community Study of New York, the number of households that contain biracial members are on the rise. A diverse community is essential to the strength and longevity of the Jewish people. In addition, future young Jewish children will grow up in a community where their role models are from unique and varied backgrounds.  I am comforted to know that the world my campers and students grow up in will be different from the single white Jewish narrative experienced by Lacey and myself.

Between Story Telling and Social Justice – Elon Schmidt-Swartz, CLIP: New York 2015

Schmidt-Swartz,_Elon_Photo_2015_1690_2015-05-26“We must fight the good fight.”

Those were the parting words from one of our final panelists at Wednesday’s seminar. At the end of a long day filled with discussions and workshops about Jewish identity, Rabbi Andy Bachman was urging our group to repair a broken world. He explained that our shared vulnerability contributes to our humanity. He emphasized that Jewish traditions of collective suffering (“Do not oppress a foreigner; you yourselves know how it feels to be foreigners, because you were foreigners in Egypt” [Ex. 23:9]) call us to action.

We began our seminar that day by listening to Chimamanda Adichie’s 2009 TedTalk, “The Danger of a Single Story.” A Nigerian novelist, Adichie recounted stories of her childhood years in Nigeria, recalling instances in her own life in which she encountered an uncomplicated, one-dimensional narrative, or what she called the “single story.”

Adichie began with the single story of Fide, a Nigerian houseboy who serviced her family when she was a young girl. “The only thing my mother told us about [Fide] was that his family was very poor…[s]o I felt enormous pity,” she said. “All I had heard was how poor they were, so that it had become impossible for me to see them as anything else but poor. Their poverty was my single story of them.” Apparently, for young Adichie, Fide’s narrative was one-dimensional.

In describing her experiences with her college roommate in the United States, Adichie recounted a time during which her own story was narrated in uncomplicated terms. “[My roommate] had felt sorry for me, even before she saw me – her default position toward me, as an African, was a kind of patronizing, well-meaning pity,” she recalled. “My roommate had a single story of Africa, a single story of catastrophe. In this single story, there was…no possibility of feelings more complex than pity.” In much the same way young Adichie understood Fide, Adichie’s roommate understood Adichie – as an embodiment of suffering, a cause for pity.

“The single story…is not…untrue,” Adichie remarked, “but…incomplete.” In her estimation, “all of [her] stories make [her] who [she is].”

I spent a large portion of Wednesday’s seminar wondering whether Adichie’s assertion was correct. The single-story was certainly problematic, but was it “incomplete”? Would a multiplicity of stories, a series of multi-dimensional narratives, obviate Adichie’s concerns? To me, it seemed the problem was less the breadth or scope of the single story, the number or type of lived experiences it strung together into a narrative, and more the misguided idea that the narration of lived experiences could somehow explain their significance.

Any post-hoc iteration that incorporates a series of lived experiences, regardless of its content, attempts to create a coherence, a structure, a nexus of causal connections to make sense of our lives. Whether Adichie’s reformulates her experiences as mere suffering or as joy, whether her story is single-layered or multifaceted, it is, at most, a story – a narrative. Who is she to claim which lived experiences make her who she is? More importantly, how can she confidently articulate any of these lived experiences as if to explain their significance? There exists an unbridgeable gap between experience and account, between life and language, a chasm that even Adichie cannot bridge.

The problem is not that there exist too many stories to tell, or that the stories are constantly changing. The problem is the very act of story telling. Adichie claims that the single story “robs people of dignity,” but it appears that any story has a certain dehumanizing effect, an objectification rooted in the expression of the inarticulable experiences that make us human.

“Stories can break the dignity of a people,” Adichie concluded, “but stories can also repair that broken dignity.”

Rabbi Andy Bachman and Adichie both urged us to engage in an act of repair. But to repair, we must find the broken, and to find the broken, we must invoke the sort of pity that accompanies narratives of suffering, stories that Adichie herself so powerfully lambasted.

How do we engage in social justice without narrating stories about injustice? How do we repair when we do not know what it means to be broken?

Story telling may be inevitable, but I still wonder whether I will ever understand Adichie, or whether she will ever understand herself.

 

 

First Day Nerves – Bianca Haser, CLIP: New York 2015

Haser,_Bianca-Photo,_2015_5065_2015-05-26Looking back now to the start of my first day of work, I can only laugh at how ridiculously nervous I was. I began my first day with the expected unease of a biology major about to intern in the marketing and outreach department of a nonprofit. I imagined being completely incompetent at any of the tasks my supervisor would assign and that I would spend the entire day staring at a computer screen. In my mind, my supervisor would be very serious, only interested in work and I would be constantly in the way.

Instead the man who greeted me wore Warby Parker glasses and polka-dot socks, had a beard and immediately started talking about the concert he was at the day before. He spent the entire day getting Celia (the other CLIP intern) and me acquainted with the company and getting to know us and our individual interests and aspirations for the summer. I got to learn all about the projects they were working on as well as the fundraising processes that supports them. Most importantly, he stressed the importance of us doing real work for the company rather than menial tasks just to pass the time. From researching donors to updating social media (I may be the only 21 year old who has to learn how to use Facebook), I have been learning new things with each passing day.  The non-profit world was not something I had seriously considered as a career choice before, but getting to see the open and collaborative environment that makes my supervisor and the other employees passionate about their work has encouraged me to consider new options.

The Kind of Confinement That Sparks Conversation – Sophia Adler, CLIP: New York 2015

Adler,Sophia-Photo_2015_3616_2015-05-27I was given three choices of articles about Jewish denominations: Orthodox, Conservative, or Reform. The instructions were to read the one you most identified with. If that was too complicated, then pick the one that most closely influenced your upbringing. If that was confusing, the last criteria could be the community you would choose when moving to a new place. As college students, most of us are questioning our identity and where we fit into the Jewish community. These three options felt extremely confining, and I was sure others felt the same way. In an age where there are denominations within denominations and new Jewish communities popping up left and right, it seemed limiting to be given these three choices.

Right before lunch, we were split up into groups based on the article we read. I realized that this meant every single person sitting in the room was there for a different reason. Some grew up in this denomination, some identified with this sect currently regardless if they were raised that way or not, and some would just choose this community out of comfort in a new place. What better way to discuss a denomination than to include people that have different experiences with the sect. The group talked about issues, changes, and leadership within the community. Based on an earlier conversation, we also were able to talk about the stereotypes, or single stories, that either we or other people have about the denomination (Ted Talk: The Danger of a Single Story).

As we debated and discussed, I realized that the restriction of three groupings was what allowed all of us to come together in one room to talk about these important questions. No, the people in this room would not all attend the same synagogue. We definitely do not have the same views. Yet there we all were, noticing that even if we disagree, we are all stakeholders in the Jewish future, and therefore an integral part of these conversations.

After these discussions we split for lunch. A few of us from different groups sat down and spoke about the exchanges we had in our groupings in addition to our own personal opinions on the matter. I was amazed by the respect and openness everyone exhibited, and how willing each person was to share and be a part of these important conversations. As the program continues, I hope to, as the goals state, be able to “complicate notions of identity and community previously seen as simple”.  Because only then can we really feel like part of the Jewish conversation and discover identity within the vastness that is our community.

Orientation Reflections – Yael Jakobov, CLIP: New York 2015

Jakobov_Yael_2015_PHOTO_1737_2015-05-26Walking into the Bronfman Center on June 1st, I felt unusually calm; perhaps it was the calming Jazz music in the background, or the familiarity of the classic New York bagel breakfast. After discussing our breakfast choices and debating whether sesame really has taste, we broke up into different groups and played icebreakers, including sharing our favorite smells, ranging from coffee, clean laundry, to gasoline. Finally, we got to the meaty (or dairy) part of orientation: what is CLIP? CLIP is the Collegiate Leadership Internship Program whose mission is to challenge its participants to cultivate professional and leadership skills to further their career development, while simultaneously exploring their personal and communal Jewish identity. As such, each participant has an internship placement pertaining to their chosen field where they spend four days a week, with Wednesdays reserved for seminars, and Monday night workshops to continue the discussions cut short on Wednesdays. These seminars are intended for participants to develop their leadership skills, and think critically about their Jewish identity and their future as it pertains to the Jewish community. We discussed exploring what influences have crafted who people, places and institutions are today, and challenging ourselves to explore other niches of Judaism and affirm, nuance, or change our status quo.

In relation to our discussion about leadership, we discussed Moses’s leadership: was he a born or made leader? Elon Swartz pointed out that the text states that “he was goodly,” indicating that it appears as though there was some divine inspiration in Moses’s leadership. I believe that further in the text there is a similar indication, when it states that Pharaoh’s daughter found Moses, she immediately had compassion for him. I think this further demonstrates that there was something innately special and divine about Moses; presumably Pharaoh’s daughter was indoctrinated with Pharaoh’s desire to wipe out the Hebrews, yet she felt compassionate towards him.

Moreover, Lieba Brownstein indicated that she believes everyone is given their respective “toolbox,” which contains all the tools they need to reach their potential— so too Moses had his necessary “toolbox.” This was followed by Jessica Thea’s pushback that although everyone has a respective “toolbox,” their socioeconomic predicaments could limit them from fully utilizing their “toolbox.” And, it seems as though Moses had Egyptian privilege; he grew up in Pharaoh’s palace and thus he had a step in. However, while Moses had a “step in,” I think he also had a disadvantage—he had a heavy stutter, which is not charismatic and something he expressed concerned about. Yet, Moses became the most praised and famed leader of the Hebrews. Furthermore, as Robert Adler noted, Moses was put to a test, much like Abraham’s ten tests. When Moses killed the Egyptian, he in essence denounced his Egyptian privilege, thus proving his readiness to lead the Hebrews. Even more so, I think this action portrays Moses challenging his Egyptian upbringing and affirming his belonging to the Hebrews. Perhaps he is an exemplar portrayal of CLIP—he challenged and affirmed his beliefs, something I along with my fellow CLIP interns hope to accomplish this summer.

In addition, I think Moses’s leadership and our group discussion about our respective “toolboxes” relates to the Strength Quest survey we completed and discussed with Becca Herman. If one hones their strengths and exercises them intentionally, as they would a muscle, it ensures greater success and efficiency. After completing the Strength Quest survey, we all had an idea of what our top five strengths were ranging in the areas of executing tasks, influencing people, relationship building, and strategic thinking. Some strengths include: achiever, relator, harmony, positivity, intellection, and ideation.

I think Moses had many strengths, one of which I believe was his likability, evidenced by his mother’s description of him as “goodly” and Pharaoh’s daughter’s compassion to him. Moses also embodied the ability to garner empathy towards others, first evidenced by killing the Egyptians who tortured his “fellow brethren”—the Hebrews—and then by saving the daughters of the priest of Midian from the bullying shepherds. Moreover, the text does inform us of Moses’s weakness—his stutter—which he was aware of and concerned about. Yet, Moses managed to succeed albeit. I believe that like Moses, we need to be aware of our weaknesses, but in the same token, we need to discover our strengths and exercise them, as Moses did. Thus, I hope to uncover my inner Moses this summer; both in my placement at Bank Leumi USA and through the CLIP seminars and workshops.

 

Orientation Reflections – Nicole Katav, CLIP: New York 2015

Katav, Nicole-_Photo_2015_The three-day orientation for CLIP was a lot more stimulating and productive than I had imaged. Already, I know this summer will not only give me interning experience through my placements, but also a network that I will carry on well into my future. Additionally, thanks to insight we received from CLIP alums, I look forward to building personal and fruitful relationships with my fellow participants. One alumni said, “I found my best friends at CLIP.” I would have never thought that I would build genuine friendships during the CLIP program, but already I feel relationships growing. After our last day of orientation a few of us went to the movies and Shabbat lunch plans were even made and extended to everyone in the group. We are not only creating a professional network through CLIP, we are also building lifelong friendships. However, this growth would not have been possible without the guidance and welcoming nature of our leaders, Jay and Gabriel; they provide a comfortable environment as well as encourage us to share our opinions regarding the structure of the program and the activities we will be taking part in.  Without their quirky yet humorous remarks and attitude I would not have had the same orientation experience.  My suggestion for all new coming CLIP members would be come ready to learn, grow, and meet some amazing people along the way.