Where I fit: Finding my place at JBBBS.

Like most people, I am someone who wears many hats, someone who makes many costume changes throughout the day. I am a daughter, a friend, a girlfriend, a caseworker, a professional, an artist, a sibling. The list goes on. You can find me sitting on my roommate’s bed with her eating ice cream and talking all night, or front row at a show in some Allston basement cheering on my boyfriend’s band, or meeting my brothers at a movie theater to gorge on popcorn and soda. But a place that, until this past April, I never guessed you’d find me is a synagogue on a Friday night, a week before Passover.

In fourth grade, my best friend at the time was Jewish.  After sleepovers, I was once or twice invited to attend Saturday morning services with the family.  I didn’t mind. To the contrary, it was an opportunity to spend more time with my best friend. I embraced it. I reflected on the experience as I sat in Temple Beth Shalom on that Friday night. I was invited to attend services there in conjunction with my work in the Friend 2 Friend Program. And it seemed only fitting, an opportunity to spend a little more time with the clients whose company I enjoy, the work about which I’m passionate.

I’m not Jewish. I’m not religious. My relationship with Judaism starts and ends with my father and our shared love for Klezmer music. But, these days, I work for an organization with deep, proud ties to the Jewish community. And, admittedly, when I started, I expected some culture shock. It turns out, though, I fit right in. I fit in because the staff here share the same devotion to our clients, the same passion for the work.

So about being not-Jewish in a Jewish agency: I’ve learned a little more about the laws of Kashrut, the stories behind the holidays and community resources to help clients and families connect/reconnect with their Jewish identities. But more than that I’ve learned that by examining our differences, we only make them more obvious. Yes, it was different for me to attend Services, however, by focusing on the similarities I share with co-workers and participants I only see a group committed to mentoring, learning, discovering and growing.

– Mary Weinburg, Caseworker

In our community: Community Organizer, Aliza Schwartz.

AlizaIt was a memorable spring for JBBBS Community Organizer, Aliza Schwartz. In addition to her work with the agency, in March, she was published, first author, in an academic journal for research conducted while still an undergrad at Brandeis University. The same month, she joined HaZamir alums for a performance at Carnegie Hall.

Within the span of a few weeks, you were published in Cognitive Science and you sang at Carnegie Hall. Tell us what goes through your head on an awesome week such as that?

I am thankful for the amazing mentors I have been so lucky to have in my life. Two of those mentors were in these areas. Both of them created incredible environments that allowed me to strive for challenging goals and feel genuinely empowered, valued, supported and creative.

You studied culture’s impact on categorization in memory. In a sentence or two (which any non-scientist can understand), tell us what you learned!

A lot of cross-cultural research compares East Asians to Americans. We examined Turkish culture, which is interesting because it is made up of a blend of Eastern and Western cultural influences. We found, through analyzing “false memories,” or errors in memory, that Americans tend to use categories as a strategy to organize information in memory to a greater extent than do Turks, who tend to emphasize relationships and similarities.

Let’s talk music. What’s your favorite to listen to? To make?

I am obsessed with acoustic YouTube covers. For example, Michael Henry and Justin Robinett’s cover of If I Die Young by The Band Perry.

You’re also a JOIN fellow. How has your experience in JOIN informed your work at JBBBS?

JOIN is teaching me strategies to build powerful teams, develop leaders, and cultivate relationships: all skills that play out every day in my work here, especially at the temples I work with. The JOIN community itself models the content of what we learn and discuss, and I’ve found that being a part of this fellowship and a part of what JOIN is building is incredibly useful for what I do at JBBBS.

And, speaking of that, what’s your favorite part about working here?

The staff and the mission. Walking into the office each day, I feel motivated to work because of the amazing people who surround me and the powerful impact we have.

National Jewish Heritage Month.

Israel 60 yearsFounded in 1948, Yom Ha’atzmaut (Israeli Independence Day) marks the establishment of the State of Israel. The Israeli Knesset (Parliament) declared that the preceding day be Yom Hazikaron, Israel’s Memorial Day, for those who lost their lives defending the State of Israel while serving in the Israeli Defense Force (IDF). Jewish holidays last for 24 hours, from sundown to sundown, which means that Israeli Independence Day begins the moment Memorial Day ends.

While on a gap year program between high school and college, I was fortunate to experience the transition from Yom Hazikaron to Yom Ha’atzmaut firsthand in Israel. Transitioning from a somber day to a day of celebration may seem a bit strange or perhaps difficult, but I found it be one of the most moving and emotional days of my year. I went from feeling profound, inexplicable sadness to smiling and dancing hand-in-hand with my favorite people.

An excerpt from my May 7, 2008 journal:

As of sundown the previous night it was Yom Hazikaron. From the moment the sun set, I knew the day was going to be different. The world just seemed quieter. I awoke early in my apartment and went to meet the rest of my friends attending a memorial at a huge cemetery. Even though I am an American, my only friends and family who’ve served in the military have served in the IDF. I have been fortunate to never lose a friend or family member in the active line of duty. In the United States I have never visited a cemetery or been to a memorial on Memorial Day. In fact, modern day Memorial Day is typically spent outside with family and friends enjoying the sunshine. In Israel the day felt different. Every citizen is deeply affected by Memorial Day because every citizen serves in the IDF.

This year, we were attending a tekes (ceremony) and going to hear the siren along with hundreds of people. On Yom Hazikaron, the nationwide siren is sounded twice throughout the country, during which the entire nation observes a moment of silence. All traffic, all speaking, and all movement stops. For exactly two minutes the entire country falls still and everyone is silent. In that moment we were all one — our minds and our hearts all thinking the same thoughts — of those who sacrificed their lives and independence so we can have ours.

The rest of the afternoon was spent listening to speakers, watching films, and hearing stories about different people, both Israelis and other nationalities, who gave their lives for Israel. By the end of the day we were emotionally exhausted. I returned to my apartment with a couple of friends uninterested in the celebration that we were to be attending in a matter of hours. We sat on our rooftop looking over the neighborhood and reflected on the day, the people we met, and the stories we heard. Come sundown everything changed and a new day began. We once again fell silent and that’s when we heard the fireworks.

It was as if the world had shifted. The sky lit up and people began cheering. A different energy filled the air and I could not help but feel excited. It was Yom Ha’atzmaut and the 60th anniversary of the foundation of Israel. We spent the night in Tel Aviv at a street celebration. I knew right then and there that I would always remember being in Israel on Israel’s 60th birthday. For me, this was a once in a life time thing.

Each year, on Yom Ha’atzmaut, I think of that day. I remember the people I met, the sound of the siren, the feeling of unity, and watching the fireworks from my rooftop. Joining these two holidays may seem like an anomaly, but to me it bears a simple message: We owe the independence and the existence of Israel to the people who sacrificed their lives for it.

– Elana Sable,  Administrative Coordinator