Who We Are
1. When were you at Hadar?
Summer & Fall, 2016.
2. Where are you now (physically)?
NYC...the surreal, socially distanced version of NYC, that is.
3. What are you up to now?
Oh, I’m worrying quite a bit, laughing a good amount, crying not nearly enough. Since social distancing started things have slowed down, and I’ve had time to start mishnah and gemora chevrusahs with Amit Schwalb and Allen Lipson (respectively), both fellow alumni. For work, I am the Jewish Communities Liaison for the New York City Commission on Human Rights (a city agency). In that role, I use relationship-building, leadership development, education workshops, and communal programs to foster solidarity between various Jewish NY communities with one another, and between Jewish and non-Jewish New Yorkers. For pleasure, I am translating a Yiddish book with my father, into English. It is a collection of quick, sharp, deep folk stories about famous historical Jewish figures and their cultural milieus. I like the feeling of both piety and intimacy in these stories with the Rambam, the Gra and others--they are our teachers, uncles, zeydes and sabas, after all (and may we be zoche to unearth the buried teachings and lives of our aunts, bubbes, and savtas as well, and to remember them just as readily and powerfully). My father and I are grateful to the National Yiddish Book Center’s Yiddish Translation Fellowship for supporting this project. For love (that is, so I and other men can learn how to love better), I co-facilitate a monthly men’s feminist group with fellow alum Avi Garelick. A number of the participant-leaders are also Hadar alumni.
4. Is there a beautiful piece of Torah from your Hadar days that you keep close to your heart?
Dena gave a shiur at an alumni shabbaton on how best to break bad news to people we love. She gave over a medrash from Yalkut Shimoyni (764), about how Moyshe Rabeynu, towards the end of the sojourn in the desert, invited his brother early one morning to sit and learn with him. He had a kashe, he explained, but he couldn’t remember exactly on what, except that it was in Breyshis. So fun Breyshis on (from the very beginning), they started learning one sedrah after another, extolling Hashem’s various acts of creation, until they got to Adam haRishon, and Moshe asked what was the problem with Adam, that Hashem gave Adam death. Aron, through delivering a teyrutz (resolution) and the ensuing back and forth, grasps the tragic news that Moyshe has been made to deliver to him. There is a seed of eternity in this exchange that makes my own mortality a little more bearable. We may see ourselves, lehavdil, in our teachers, the ba’aley midrash; who imagined themselves, lehavdil, into this pilpul between Aron and Moyshe Rabeynu; who, in this midrash, see themselves in Adam HaRishon. All of these relationships are mediated by the Torah. And my own relationship to Torah has in no small part been mediated by Dena.
5. If you could describe your experience at Hadar in one word what would it be (feel free to elaborate beyond a single word)?
I felt like I found my people.
6. How have Torah and mitzvot changed your life (post-Hadar)?
I was flying back from California a few months ago, after a week hanging out with and caring for my aunt, who is terminally with cancer. We spent my final night there together in the ER, through the wee hours of the morning. I proposed extending my visit; she urged me to go. Both of us scared and drained, we quarreled over something inconsequential as I made my goodbye. I texted her my apology on the way to the airport, which she generously accepted. I remember sitting in that plane ride back, gazing vacantly at the back of the seat in front of me, exhausted and mute. I noticed my pocket siddur, which I’d bought at the end of my summer zman, and had placed into the netted seat pocket. I thought to myself, I have absolutely no idea what I could say to God right now. And then: well, I suppose that right there is what I have to say--God, I have absolutely no idea what to say to You. And my way to say anything at all to Hashem, is to start davening. So I did. The chizuk Hadar gave me means, no matter what, I have something to say (tefillah), someone to say it to (the Eybishter), and someone to say it with (other Jews). And I know how to come to Hashem correct, by taking care of my mitzves.
7. Is there a time this past year when Hadar specifically came to mind?
I felt so glad to hear that Rav Aviva will be stepping up into the role of Rosh Yeshiva; she has been one of my most important Torah teachers and moral examples.