Sunday, June 28, 2015

Collegadox Goes Community

Three stories about determination that intersect, I promise.

It’s just after my first 9 to 5 workday. I’m tired, slightly annoyed and sitting on a carpeted hallway floor with 35 others feeling ticked off while watching the clock tick by. Arms at a right angle, the face reads 6:15. Some girls start complaining beside me wondering how much longer we’re required to wait for the teacher before we can leave.

It’s “unprofessional,” they say, “unfair.” I pull out a container of roasted broccoli from my bag, setting up camp, when a woman from the downstairs quickly strides down the hallway holding a piece of paper. She tapes it to the front door and turns to face the hallway. “Mr. Woo is on his way but is running 15 minutes late,” she announces.
A chorus of curses over missing the Hawks beat Tampa in the Stanley Cup Finals. The woman has her hands on her hips.

“Mr. Woo was on his way here a few hours ago, but got in a car accident. His car was completely totaled. He’s on his way straight from the hospital now.”

When Mr. Woo did arrive, he was smiling so much so, that I couldn’t see his eyes: a composite of exhaustion, relief, wrinkles, ethnicity and pure joy. Just three hours after his near-death experience,  the eighty year old Woo looked at his wrist with the ivory hospital band still fastened to it, and said “I’m sorry I kept you waiting.”

It doesn’t matter that I haven’t understood a word of his Chinglish since that.

I’m part of a fellowship program for young Jewish professionals. We have seminars once a week in downtown Chicago where I get to ride a train with real conductors, cross over the beautiful Chicago River and gawk at steely skyscrapers wondering how enough people exist to sit in every window. Sometimes I’ll bring an extra Chobani for this homeless man on the corner of Monroe and Lasalle street. Sometimes I’ll remember to pack a Chewy bar, because I’ll remember not everyone likes Greek yogurt. He hasn’t complained yet.

During our seminars we meet with Jewish giants in the Chicago community- lots of CEOs, V.P’s, people with long titles that start with executive at the beginning-and we usually wrap up our seven-hours of lecturing with an exercise related to Jewish identity.

This particular session, we split into groups of five, and were given a cluster of papers reading “Marrying Jewish,” “Tikun Olam,” “Israel as a Home Land,” “Speaking Hebrew,” etc., and tasked with ordering the pieces from most to least important. Taking a frum from birth, two Reform, and two secular Jews, and making them produce a unified list everyone approved of, was not as difficult as it may sound. When you strip it down, I think we’re all more in sync than in-sects.

A top principle that most groups agreed were among the top two was “marrying Jewish.” Personal backgrounds, Talmudic codex and community norms were tossed into the air. Debates flew overhead, much like how I imagined ancient discourse among sages duking it out in the times of the Mishna and Gemarah. At the apex of intellectual-emotional crossfire, a gentle arm stretched high into the air like a white flag.

We all need to learn a lesson from our good friend J.K. Rowling, she said. She cleared her throat.

“We all know who the most noble wizard of all-time is. He had incredible adventures, killed Voldemort, and changed Hogwarts forever. His father was a wizard and his mother was a muggle. But even so, I don’t think anyone would disagree that Harry Potter was the most magical wizard in history.”

The room exploded in a round of applause. Trish, a half-muggle as she put it, dispelled the brief tension.

I’m writing grants this summer, fundraising for donors to sponsor programs at the Holocaust Museum. With the meter running and no change to spare before we lose the entire generation of survivors, we’re doing everything we can to document local stories on film. Interns and VP’s alike are encouraged to step away from the desk and attend the speaker filmings.

So far, I’ve listened to some supernatural survival accounts: one woman was a child saved on the Kindertransport from Germany en route to Britain, and met her husband there, also a Kindertransport survivor. One woman shared how she would protect herself against rape from guards in the ghetto, by cutting her arm with glass and dabbing blood on her underwear so they would be repelled by a menstruating woman.

There’s a nineteen year old German boy interning here completing a gap year program to repair relations between Germany and the affected Ally countries. Two weeks ago all the interns got a VIP tour with a docent. The docent asked us who the perpetrators of the Holocaust were. Someone answered “the Nazis,” another said “the economy.” I said, “anyone who has the choice to inflict evil and chooses to.”

I was totally unprepared for this boy’s answer.

“My grandparents” he said. “My grandfather. And my grandmother.”

Belly flopped before a computer screen trying to figure out what determination is, it’s these images that shuffle on repeat. An emigrated U-Chicago alumni, slightly senile, questionably sane, undoubtedly committed to teaching community college economics. It’s a girl with her bloodlines called under question, steadfastly committed to her Judaism, reminding us all to be a bit more human. A boy who strives day after day to undo the evil of his homeland, committed to reclaim the legacy of his own namesake. 



Thursday, June 4, 2015

What the Beep: The Eyes of the Trucker Go Up and Down

There's something new I'm sensing about my neighborhood that's making me uneasy--something I'd never noticed in all my life living here, but made me cringe, like a Q-tip hitting the brain, in just two weeks of being home.

I'll share with you an incident that occurred less than 24 hours of being home:

The way my heart raced, you'd think it had been years not weeks since the last time I'd seen my sister. Yesterday I was too exhausted to drive, let alone walk, to visit her my decade-divided twin, so I collapsed on my bed instead and hoped she'd understand. With the summertime luxury of sleeping-in, I woke up after 10:00, brushed my teeth and threw on something to wear. I rushed out the door, calling behind me that I didn't know when I'd be back and began the precisely 4.45 minute walk to my sister's townhouse.

Strolling down my street, taking in the familiar birds and 50 degree "summer" heat of Chicago, I noticed out of the corner of my eye  a red pick-up truck parked  along the curb. Lawn mowers and hand held weed-whackers filled the trunk and a Hispanic looking middle-aged man sat in front looking bored. There wasn't much to take in and I found the squirrels wrestling in front of my feet much more entertaining. I trailed their squirelly game to the end of the block, and it wasn't until they jumped into the bushes that I noticed the truck cruising alongside, matching my walking pace.

I figured it was only a coincidence. He must be headed somewhere in the same direction...maybe he was running low on gas... who knows? But as I turned the corner and walked the width of two more blocks it slowly dawned on me that the "this isn't happening" situation, was happening to me.

 He drove a bit further and parked on my side of the street. With  1,000 and one red flags raised, along with every hair on my arm, I decided to cross to the other side, putting distance between me and the vehicle.Crossing to the other side helped my nerves as did being a few steps shy of a major intersection, but just as I thought it was over, a heckle hit me hard.

"Shake that ass baby! Shake that ass!"

Over my right shoulder I threw a hard look of shock and confusion, and in a beat, the truck u-turned fleeing like a torero in a Spanish bullfight. The match was done. The red truck drove away and I became the trophy animal--enraged then gouged in the belly by his words.

As an ED survivor, the metamorphoses of my body from frail-lanky boy, to strong and curvy, isn't just physical, but psychological. Since my ED I've gained over 20 NECESSARY pounds, and its those pounds that let me get back to the things I love. Whether it's losing the time while roller-blading, counting my chin-ups between breaths or striking my personal trainer with an uppercut during a boxing lesson, its moments like these when I almost forget the girl whose undernourished body physically couldn't get up from bed one morning. It's moments like these when my body and me are finally on the same page.

So obviously I was stunned, to say the least after this episode. Should I run, cover up, be embarrassed of the body I was so proud of? Would I stand there and let others ridicule my self worth because I'm an attractive woman? No, and you know why? Because I've spent too long reducing my own body to let others do it for me.

So the tally stands at seven now, a count of seven "nice ass"es, whistles and honks in the two weeks since I've been home. Don't think I'm strutting around in thigh high boots and patent leather minis: I literally got honked twice on my way home today wearing an  sweaty XL gray t-shirt with a picture of Challah that says "Hallah Back" and capris from 8th grade.

What's going on?

I believe that women and girls have the right to walk down the street without being made self-conscious, just as men and boys have a right to express their favor. And women do love compliments! But next time, please, tell your mom/sister/grandma/girlfriend/wife/best friend she looks beautiful today. Tell her how strong and confident she looks. Save the antiquated "a-woogas" and whistles for some cartoon network show or 1920's black and white clip. Let's change the way we give compliments.

Yes, there's something new I'm sensing about my neighborhood that's making me uneasy--but it's not about the way I look, it's the way some are so blind.


What the Beep?