I had never recited the Mourner’s Kaddish before last year. The words came smoothly, the pain flowing past my lips. In my shul, and in shuls of all denominations around Pittsburgh, we recited eleven names every Shabbos. Later that year I added one more to my mental list. The first funerals I ever attended occurred within a few months of each other. The first, a victim of October 27th, the second my grandfather. Two very different types of sadness, experienced for the first time.
While there is a beautiful science in the Jewish mourning process’s understanding of human psychology and the ability to heal, there is no denying that for a year and a half my Jewish experience revolved around mourning. Shabbos dinner conversations never strayed from the topic of Antisemitism and the pain of the Pittsburgh Jewish community, and comfort was found in communal repetitive behaviors. Because I believe at the core of my being I am a ‘Jewish girl,’ my sense of self was attached to this community wide grief.
Even while I was overwhelmingly excited to leave for the Bronfman summer, I was apprehensive to leave my community. At the time I didn’t know that a complete and total lack of knowledge or understanding about what ‘Bronfman’ is was a Fellowship wide experience. Instead of finding the rows of studious teenagers ready to discuss some Talmud I had expected, I was exposed to a group of curious students that reintroduced me to the joy of Judaism.
Getting lost in Jerusalem on shabbos, laughing at parsha players (and then arguing over who won), watching people putting all their effort into not falling asleep during a speaker session after a long night, feeling the cathartic effect of having an intense discussion that leads to nowhere, exploring my identity through text, and learning so much about my new-found community in the surprisingly short period of five weeks, are all moments I treasure. Reminiscing about these times reminds me of a poem Evan introduced me to: Yom Kippur of 1984 by Adrienne Rich, which explores how one can find a sense of comfort by being able tohold both a strong sense of community and individuality. I found this on Bronfman.
I was able to explore my beliefs, my Jewish identity, find a sense of individuality, of self, that I hadn’t been emotionally able to have the year prior. At the same time, I had a community that I felt I truly understood as a whole. I could trust everyone there to listen and respond, each of us using each other as a bouncing board of ideas. I took and molded what I heard from others to understand my own beliefs. I made for myself teachers, and in this I found joy.