Thursday, September 24, 2015

Hair Cut? I Got Them All Cut!

I got a hair cut last week. On a recommendation from an AVODAH alumna, I went to the AVEDA teaching institute to get a low-cost cut from a student. When you check-in, they make you sign a waiver saying you won't cause a fuss if there is suffering or damages.

I expected a mediocre haircut, in-and-out in an hour. I knew it would take longer because I had a student, but I thought an hour was plenty of time to cut my hair.  This was not the case.

First, I had a chat with my stylist about my current hair routine where she reviewed the AVEDA products with them. Next, she had to check-in with her teacher to make sure that she was ready to cut my hair. After deciding on products, she washed my hair, cut it, and got instructor approval. All of this did not take too long. But then came the styling. Oh, the styling.  I got the blow-out to end all blow outs.  She blow-dried, curled, sprayed, pulled, and poked at my hair. She styled my hair tiny section, by tiny section. When the stylist was finished with me, my usually straight, curl-less hair looked like I'd just walked out of the 70s. I'm talking like Farah Fawcett hair. After all this, everyone was packing up and going home, but she still needed to do my make-up demo for my AVEDA experience to be complete. So that by the time I walked out two hours later, I felt ready to go take my "glamour shots."

To be clear, she did a great job, and I looked fabulous by the end of it, but I was trying to get home to eat dinner and go to bed, so while I love a good pampering, I had other priorities. Once she started though, I didn't feel like I could ask her to stop.

Before and After 

That said, as I watched other women enter and leave with much less fanfare, some with wet-hair even, I was reminded of a story my father used to tell about a man and his haircut.*
One cold night Beryl and Rivke Yancovic were in their bed sleeping. Suddenly, their door was blown open by a gust of wind. It kept banging open and closed, with a deafening clatter. 
"Didn't you lock the door?" Beryl asked his wife.
"No," she answered.
"Go and close the door"
"Why should I? You close it!"
Beryl replied, "Because I said, 'Go and close the door.' When I say something I keep my word."
"I'm your wife. If you're a man who keeps his word, I must be worthy of you, and I have to keep my word, too. I said, 'You go and close the door,' so you have to do it." 
"Well," answered Beryl, "I like your stubbornness. You're a fit wife for an honest man like me. Therefore, the situation is complicated. I can't shut the door because I gave my word not to, and I can't tarnish my reputation. I can't make you lock it because you're my wife and you must also keep your word.  Let's agree that whomever speaks first must close the door." 
The rain turned to snow, the wind into a hurricane. The window kept banging and the house became quite cold. Beryl and Rivke were shivering in their bed and neither could sleep. Still, neither of them closed the door. 
Before dawn, the storm quieted a bit, and two thieves went out to see what they could pick up. When they passed Beryl's house and saw the open door, they entered. Beryl and Rivke heard voices. 
While Rivke and Beryl shivered in their beds, too cold and scared to confront the thieves, the two robbers cleaned out the house. The next morning, Beryl and Rivke found their house empty of everything, but the furniture.  
When Rivke saw there was not even food for breakfast, she left to go to the store and walk around the town while Beryl stayed home and sulked.
Things hadn't turned out right, His wife had not closed the door, the thieves had taken everything. 
Now, in those days, barbers did not have shops, but they went from house to house looking for work. A passing barber noticed the open door and wandered in. He looked in and saw Beryl sitting on a chair deep in thought. 
"You know, Beryl," the barber said, "you need a haircut badly. Shall I cut your hair?" 
 Beryl did not answer. Well, in that town, silence meant consent. So the barber spread his tools on a table, removed Beryl's hat and began to cut his hair. He trimmed and sang merrily, and after a while, asked, "Well, Beryl, how do you like it? I think I did a good job!" 
Beryl was boiling with anger. He didn't want a haircut! But, of course, he couldn't answer, for he would have to closed the door. He grunted, but did not speak. 
"Well," said the barber. "I think you look great, but I think you'd look better with a closer trim! What do you think?"
Beryl said nothing. So the barber enthusiastically continued to cut and chat, cut and chat. Beryl became angrier and angrier, but not a word escaped his lips.
So the barber cut and cut and trimmed and tripped, until Beryl resembled a shorn sheep.
"Do you like the haircut now?"
Well, what could Beryl do? He couldn't say that he didn't need a haircut, didn't want a haircut, and looked ridiculous!
The barber looked at the silent Beryl and said, "You know, you do look really good right now, but I think you should just shave your head so that the hair will grow better! How about it?" 
When there was no answer, the barber soaped Beryl's head and shaved it clean. 
When the barber had shaved his head, Beryl was still quiet. The barber looked at him, and squinted one eye. "You know, Beryl, with a clean shaven head like this, your bear looks wild and bushy. I'll trim your beard!"
Beryl wanted to jump and scream, but he couldn't say anything!  
So the barber trimmed Beryl's beard. He stopped and asked whether it was enough, but Beryl did not answer and the barber contnued to cut and trim until all that was left was a tiny goatee. 
Then the barber turned to Beryl and said, "You owe me ten bucks, and I must say you got your money's worth. Pay me." 
Words cannot describer Beryl's anger, but what could he do? HE couldn't argue the price or else he'd have to close the door, so he sat in angry silence. 
The barber began to plead, "Beryl, I'm a poor man and I worked hard! Pay what's coming to me. Look how clean I shaved your head!" 
Beryl's face became red with rage, but he did not say a word. 
The barber became angry. He gathered his tools and erupted, "WAIT! I'll teach you a lesson, you stubborn silent donkey!" 
The barber went to the chimney, took some soot and covered Bery's face and head then stormed out of the house and did not close the door. 
When Rivke returned, she found her husband sitting o the chair, head shaven, beard gone, and his face black with soot. She forgot the agreement, dropped the groceries, and cried out
Beryl rose calmly from his chair, and yelled,  "LADY! YOU SPOKE FIRST. YOU CLOSE THE DOOR!"

Was this whole blog post just an excuse to tell one of my favorite stories from my childhood? Initially no, but actually, quite possibly.

There are some serious lessons to be gleaned thought. Looking back on my experience at AVEDA, I can't help but wonder if I had made my desires for a quick haircut heard, if I wouldn't have walked out with just what I wanted and nothing more.

During this AVODAH year, I have already learning the importance of voicing needs and desires. This is the way consensus decision making works, when we all participate fully and honestly about what we need.  It is easy to confuse a strong desire and a need, so we make sure to self-reflect.

Unlike Beryl in the story, people living in intentional living communities must exercise flexibility and  humility in order to serve the community. While we have a chore chart and accountability systems to make sure everyone participates equally, I try to not keep score and to do more than is asked of me when I am able. On the request of a house-mate, we try not to call our tasks chores; instead we call them contributions.

Honest communication, flexibility, and dampening the ego, are all steps to creating "everybody wins" situations. Before AVODAH, I'm not sure I really believed in those, but now, I believe that when we communicate effectively, allow for enough time, and have patience with each other, it is possible to create a living environment where everyone can be happy. But not just happy, a situation where everyone can feel like they "won" and got most (if not all) their needs and desires met.

This is something I actually want to devote an entire blog post to next week. The idea of "everybody wins" and how I've seen it play out thus far in AVOADH and how I hope to see it play out in the world around me, especially as it relates to my interfaith work.

Until then, loyal readers. ;)

*I copied then edited this story from Simon Solomon's story Go Close the Door printed in his book called More Stories of Chelm.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

For Whom The Shofar Blows

Weird is the word. Everything is weird. Adult-ing is weird. But actually, there is very little that is familiar or routine right now, and in the in-between time of being on the high from arriving and really settling into life, there is a period of discomfort and awkwardness and weirdness.

This week,  for the first time in my life, I woke myself up and got myself to Rosh HaShanah services. In college, I did go, but always as the guest of my adoptive Denver-mom would would knock on my door and urge me on. It feels different when you set your own alarm and travel alone to services.

It's possible I'm remembering wrong, but I swear when I was a kid in Day School, we'd prepare for the holidays for months. We'd learn about the holiday and the blessings, sing songs about it,  marker tons of coloring books, and do art projects. So I would anticipate every Jewish holiday. At that point in time, the holidays were meaningful to me in a way I haven't been able to re-capture. 

Starting in high school, but really in college, the high-holidays seemed to appear in front of me, an unexpected interruption to my life, but usually a welcome one. I wanted that anticipatory feeling back though. I wanted to walk into services feeling prepared for the Real experience of the Days of Awe. 

I thought that this year, being in a Jewish community, I would prepare more for the holidays, get myself into the right mentality before the services and be ready to pray. It didn't really happen though and I walked in as un-prepared as always.

After finding a seat, I experienced the same odd sense that I've been having the past few years:  expectation coupled with resignment, knowing that I won't be fulfilled. Cold-calling religion just doesn't work. The services can't provide spirituality if you're not in a receptive head-space. Once I'm finally sitting down, all I can think about is how I'll possibly pass the next 4-6 hours of services.

Rabbi Sharon Brous says that she felt similarly during the high holidays of her youth.  In her interview for the podcast On Being (you should listen to it, she's amazing), she talks about high holiday services feeling irrelevant to her day-to-day life and being a spectator to her own religious experience.  

She says, "We found ways to busy ourselves during services... we found things to do to occupy ourselves because it was treacherously long and completely uninspiring for us."

Then later on she explains, "We came into this space only out of obligations, not out of religious obligation, but out of familial obligation and we'd sit for hours and hours in desperate boredom kind of waiting for the service to end..."

But I went to services alone, no one would have noticed had I not shown up. So why was I feeling obligated? And to whom?

When I walked into services, I immediately felt out of place, but after singing some of the songs and reading familiar poems, I began to connect. 

Rabbi Aaron Alexander's sermon really drew me in. It was a hard to summarize sermon with many examples and stories, but here are the highlights: 

He zeroed in on this unattributed quote: "We need to stop taking ourselves so seriously and learn how to be serious about ourselves."

He explained: 

"When we take ourselves too seriously, we tend focus on the superficial, the fleeting - flashy presentation over depth and substance.But being serious about ourselves points toward the heart, asking life's most essential questions of meaning. It's... everything to do with intentionality."

Intentionality is a word that catches my ear. If I had to define my time with Avodah in one word, at this point I'd say intentional. 

The point of this was to focus on the question of how can we be more serious about ourselves, especially and distinctly as Jews. How can we take our Rosh Hashanah services and take what we learn outside of the 4 walls of a synagogue?

 He went on to ask and answer these two questions:

1) How do we take God and praying to God, seriously?

2) How do we take Humanity seriously?

He answered the first question by suggesting that we make God small when we focus on ourselves and in prayer and relationship to God, we must think on the communal level. In turning towards each other, we turn towards God. 

In response to part two, he again affirmed that we must never dismiss each other, that we are all made in God's image and to be serious Jews "our heart-space must reach beyond the comfort zone of those who look, think, and act like we do." While I don't have the quote, he did specifically call out the problems faced by people of color in our own communities. 

I had never heard a Rabbi talk this like from the pulpit, and never in person. Clergy fighting for justice had always been from another religion, or speaking to me from a computer screen. But here was a man talking to his congregation on one of the most important days of the year about the importance of social justice, not as a feel good issue, but as a structural issue that we can play a role in. 

We talk about the shofar blast as a wake-up call for ourselves and the way we live our lives. As part of his sermon, he did not address the individual's reflection, but the community's reflection. What have we, as a Jewish people, done to help our neighbors yesterday, or last month? How have we fought for a more just world? The answer for many, sadly, is that we haven't.  Many of us are complacent or down-right deny the privileged status that we have attained. 

The Jewish community needs a wake-up call to fight for a more just world. That is part of what I hope to achieve in my year with AVODAH. This is what I hope I can instill in my family, friends, and community. 

So therefore never send to know for whom the shofar blows; it blows for thee.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Dressing The Part

When asked to list our work-related-anxieties during AVODAH orientation, I wrote down "clothing." I have been wearing jeans and t-shirts for the past four years and have just never quite felt myself in anything else. While not nearly as frightening as my pre-Thailand shopping extravaganza, my mother and I did once again have to venture to the stores to prepare my wardrobe for this adventure into the working world.

Today, was the first day of work and I dressed myself in my new clothing and told myself I looked appropriate as I ran out the door. In DC, it's common to wear tennis shoes to work and then change to nice shoes when you arrive. I decided to do that. What folks don't tell you is when it's appropriate to switch to your work shoes. After much angst attempting to be not too early, but not late to work, I managed to arrive 15 minutes early, grab a tea from Starbucks, and awkwardly switch shoes in the store. I have no idea if this was appropriate, but no one glared at me.

When I arrived, the doorman at my office building pointed me to the elevators. When the doors opened on the 5th floor , I hesitated to step-out. What if someone saw me? Was my hair and makeup still correct? I  pulled out my phone to look in the front-facing camera when the elevator doors closed and returned to the first floor. When they opened, I tried to stay hidden behind the door panel and just return upwards, but the doorman saw right through me. He called out that I would need to use the other elevator now, so I shamefully exited one elevator into the next. He must think I'm not too smart.

My first day in the office has been good and full of information. My main concern is that I drank about two 32 oz bottles of water. A key is required for the bathroom, so the office manager saw every time I went.  I'm concerned she thinks I'm young, unmotivated, and getting up to take extra breaks. She hasn't said anything yet, but I still worry.

During my first trip to the bathroom, I look at myself in a mirror again, trying to get used to this new look. In the reflection, I see another woman looking in the other mirror and when I turn to smile at her, I realize it's me. I literally do not recognize myself from the back.

Taking a lunch break is strange. I decide to walk to DuPont circle and eat lunch outside. My boss tells me I can take an hour for lunch, but I don't know if I need or want this much time. I realize I will have to learn to take the hour breaks and not over-work myself, but it feels weird to be on this regimented schedule with "lunch breaks" again. Breaks that I should take, but am worried about taking too generously.

I hit about 30 buttons on the microwave, probably annoying the entirely silent legal staff with whom we share offices, before I figure out how to heat my leftovers, then head to the park.

I keep stealing glances at myself to get used to this look. I wonder what other people see. Am I seen as a fancy professional or can people tell how uncertain I'm feeling? Do I read young professional or intern? Can people tell this is my first day on my first job? 

Living in DC, especially Columbia Heights, is problematic as a white middle class person; I am taking up a space that could be given to a low-income family and my presence and purchases push gentrification forward. Even though I'm working on these issues, I need to take into consideration my impact to maximize the good and minimize the less good.

Dupont Circle, the park specifically, is an odd place for lunch. You've got young professionals in their fancy business attire eating $15 salads and fancy vegan bowls next to homeless folks on cardboard boxes pan-handling. The sun is high above and hot and I walk around for way too long trying to find a shady place to eat, before sitting down.

After eating a few bites, a man sitting a few feet from me smoking a cigarette asks in a raspy voice for food and I freeze.

My friend Samantha gives something to nearly every homeless person she sees, even though she is living on a student's budget. It's been a year since I learned this about her and now I can't pass by someone panhandling without thinking of her and her generosity.

So now this man has just asked me for food. I've already given a lot this month, but I don't see this as a reason to pat myself on the back when a hungry person is in front of me. I look at him, then my food, then him, then the food, back and forth.  I only brought a small amount of leftovers for lunch and would like to eat it. He notices my hesitation and asks me if I'm hungry; I don't know what to say.
In my head:

Yeah, I am hungry. And I brought this lunch.  But my hunger is probably quite different from yours. If I give you my food, I will still be guaranteed a delicious dinner tonight, and I could buy more, but I'm on a tight budget....If only I brought more or had a granola bar, but this is my lunch...

I give him the small bit of pita I have. I've taken several bites out of it and it feels wrong to give him this bread, but also feels wrong to give him nothing.  It is the only compromise I can make as my bowl of food can't easily be divided and shared.  He asks if I have a dollar and I give him one, but he wants 3. I can't afford to give to every person on the street. I am self conscious as I hand the dollar to him What do the other lunchers think of me? Can they tell I'm new by this interaction? Have they already learned to filter out those asking for money? Have I just marked myself as naive? I finish my few bites quickly and walk away.

On the walk back, I see my reflection in the windows of the fancy shoe store.

I still can't figure out who I see.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Orientation Week Days 1-4

This is just a quick run-through of the things we've been up to. I don't even have the energy to put everything in.

AVODAH Orientation officially began Sunday with move-in and some planned programming.

Moving in to a house with 12 near-strangers is an anxiety inducing experience. It's also not possible to address every concern at once, so there is this bit of living in limbo, where you know you have things to talk about and decide on, but you can't decide on yet. The way the program works is that on Sunday everyone just puts there stuff in a room and picks a bed temporarily, then on Wednesday there is a meeting to settle on the rooming situation. 

Monday, we went to Gary Rosenthal's Art Studio. He is a huge supporter of AVODAH and just a cool guy. We made Mezzuzot and built a community covenant. During that time, the AVODAH DC director who has been leading a lot of programming this week shared a self-care metaphor with us that I think I will be using a lot. She said that our energy is like a cup of water and we want to be able to give water to everyone so we give a little and a little a little and then eventually we run out of water and we don't even have enough for ourself. So the goal is to do things to fill your cup so that it overflows and give to other people from the overflow so you don't deplete your own cup and can continue sustaining yourself. I feel like that's going to be something I refer to a lot when I discuss my energy level. This week has been exhausting, so by the end of the day I just have nothing left to give.

One of the coolest parts of Monday was an Introduction to Urban Poverty with Ed Lazere, the Executive Director of DC Fiscal Policy. It was just a lot of statistics that were interesting and depressing, but he ended on a positive note with recent success in the DC area including minimum wage increases, paid sick leave mandates, legislation to prohibit discrimination against returning citizens (people who have been in prison), and a living wage of $14/hr for all city contracts.

Tuesday was a very long day. We were at Washington Hebrew Congregation. We heard an amazing motivational talk from Rabbi Lustig and then a super cool Torah study session with Rabbi Aaron Miller. We were learning about this weeks torah portion Ki Tavo. In it, we learn about tithing some of the first fruits of a harvest to give to those in the community that do not have land. It was a really interesting discussion and in the end Rabbi Miller said our AVODAH year was a bit like tithing crops. We give our first year out of school towards serving others before we serve ourselves.

 The rest of the day was spent learning about AVODAH and the learning structure for the year. One of the things I really love is that one of the core values is joy. I know that the way I talk about things creates a narrative in my head that will then reflect in reality. If I talk about how hard the year is, then that is all I will focus on, so I am committed to remember and speaking about the joy that I have gotten and will get out of this year so that when things get tough, I can carry on.

One of the most important things we've done in our different sessions is write and give voice to our concerns individually. We've found that a lot of us are concerned for the same things and excited for the same things. 

Today was the fourth day and was spent mostly in the house. We learned about facilitating meetings, group formation, creating a pluralistic Jewish community, our needs and desires for Kashrut and Shabbat practices and then at the end we had our roommate discussion.

We learned that there are generally two type of group decision making styles. There is Majority Rules wherein there is a vote and there is Consensus Decision Making. The Consensus Decision making style allows for more opinions and voices to be heard and complexities discussed before instating new policy. We went way more in depth with the process though. 

After a day of learning about facilitation and Consensus Decision Making, the roommate meeting went really well. Two corps members facilitated the discussion and we were able to calmly make a plan that made everyone happy. I was actually pretty surprised how well it went! We all had a lot of anxiety about it and then it was just so pleasant! (I thought). It definitely wasn't without tension, but it was smooth. 

I feel way calmer about a lot of stuff after today. I am moved in officially, so I feel settled and seeing our group come together on something that had a a lot of anxiety and a lot of potential to go poorly really gave me confidence in the group and our ability to navigate the challenges of the future.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

What I'm Doing

Hello Folks!
        I have so many wonderful caring people in my life that want to know about my time in DC, that I've decided to start up my blog again!

I have joined AVODAH:the Jewish Service Corps in Washington DC. The mission of AVODAH is to strengthen the Jewish community's fight against the causes and effects of poverty in the United States. AVODAH does this by engaging participants in service and community building that inspires them to become lifelong leaders for social change whose work for justice is rooted in and nourished by Jewish values.  Essentially, I will be working in a non-profit and living in a community of people doing similar work. 

I will be working full time as a Program Associate at Yachad. Yachad is an organization committed to bringing communities together by preserving affordable homes and revitalizing neighborhoods throughout the District of Columbia and the greater metropolitan area.

There are 23 corps members in DC this year and we live in one of two big, old houses. I am living in a house with 12 other women. We do not simply live together, but we strive to create intentional community and support one another.  To facilitate this community, AVODAH runs programming for their corps members including Limmud (learning) sessions, Kehila (community) nights, Retreats, Issue Salons, and Shabatons.

It's going to be a really fun year and I hope this answers some of the basic questions. More information coming soon!