My uncle is both a famous electrical engineering professor and the hospitable Abraham incarnate, so on the Shabbos my thirteen year old cousin became a man, my uncle invited his entire PhD class to Seudah Shlishit, and I introduced myself to a group of Asians that eat IQs like mine for breakfast.
I met a girl whose name started with an X but called herself "Sally." The 23-year-old engineer gave herself the name 7 days prior to our conversation, the day she landed at LAX airport to begin her life in America.
I met "Joe"- or Jin- a chatty 30 year old with a smile that reached from the corner of his eyes to the tip of his chin. I welcomed the freshness of their foreign politeness by jumping into reporter mode and interrogating them with questions like, "I've heard about the one child rule in China, are you an only child?" and "Do you ever feel that because you're so smart it's difficult to interact with normal people?"
Oddly enough, my probing questions made their smiles grow wider, and I got to know a lot about them. Sally likes taking pictures at the nature arboretum; Joe enjoys ping-pong. Their families gave everything for their education. They both think the world of my uncle, and he, thinks that any of them could easily do his job.
Eating bagels and cream cheese on a warm L.A. night at my cousin's Bar Mitzvah surrounded by less than strange strangers, my uncle cleared his throat:
"Half of you sitting here are smarter than me, it's your job to figure our which half," he said. Chuckles all around.
"Look to your right and your left, all of you scored in the 99th percentile. What sets everyone at this table apart, is the last .1%"
At this point I hold both sides of my folding chair and take a huge scoot back from the table. Everyone laughs.
We continue with the banter and before I know it our arms our linked in rippled circles with the havdala candle at the center. And as daytime folds into night, I cant help but think how these kids come full with ambition, grab hold of opportunity, and quite literally, make names for themselves.
This Rosh Hashana I was unimpressed with the congregants' spirits. As someone at lunch pointed out, "it felt like a room full of observers not participants." And while I couldn't disagree, I too fell victim to a deluge of distraction.
There was the woman cautiously teetering in her too-high cheetah stilettos. The 5 foot granny who owned a glasses case with purse-like handles and peace signs. The shietal hairspray fumes. And the 14 year-old nuzzling her forehead into her mother's shoulder wondering how the chazzan can hold a note for that long. And as I was ready to flail my arms in a "serenity now" motion, the Rabbi quoted a fortune cookie, and I was brought back:
"Challenges aren't there to make us bitter, they're there to make us better."
There I was, altogether moved by an obscure cookie scrap written in a factory producing fortunes by the minute, probably with the phrase "lucky numbers 39, 8, 4" on the other side. But from then on, I plugged in.
I plugged into the challenges this past year that made me bitter. Rejection letters from jobs. Interviews that ended with "but you're so young." People who finally apologized for tormenting me and making 8th grade a dungeon with school bells. People with problems who say to me: "help I'm bulimic," "I'm an ex-cutter," "my parents found out I smoke weed." Insert problem here.
I plugged into the challenges that made me better. Competitive awards and scholarships. 27 hour deadlines. Love-filled relationships and new friendships.
While the room around me had much to recapture, the room within me filled with rapture. I felt my mind replay snippets of this past year and i felt my heart swell with appreciation and awe. More than anything I felt eager for the new year and energized to recommit to my two-year Aliya timeline.
- Exhaust Nefesh B' Nefesh website
- Make as many contacts as you can when you intern at an Israeli newspaper this winter break
- Learn Arabic
- Become a super nerd in all things Investigative Journalism related
- Convert those 20 new pounds into self-defense/Krav Maga muscle
- Only date guys who want to make Aliya too
In my prayer quorum of one, I felt like Sally and Joe- not ready to shake off the world of challenges that brought me to today- but rather ambitious, opportune, and ready to make a name for myself.
I really got to work on my don't-scare-the-foreigners with questions about Communism skills
P.S. shout out to friend since five and fellow blogger Aaron Bloch on starting humansareartists.blogspot.com and carving out his own name in the bloggers' community!