My People.

It was just after midnight on a beautiful Friday night, not unlike the one we had just last night. I wasn’t sleeping – I had a paper due that following week for a research class I was required to take, so, naturally, I was watching the X-Files on Netflix. The tapping on my door made me jump – did I imagine that? Was it something that had happened in the show? Was the Cancer Man outside my door, ready to take me out for wanting to believe? – so I carefully tiptoed over to the peephole in my door and peered outside.

It wasn’t the Cancer Man – it was one of my residents staring back at me through the tiny, warped hole. I had been an RA for a few months now, but no one had ever so much as responded to my overly-cheery emails, let alone come by to talk. As I opened the door, the smell of DC spring hit me, along with something else – very, very cheap beer. With a sheepish smile, he looked up at me, and said, “I know it’s late, but do you have a second?” And so I let him in.

We talked for hours, what exactly about, I couldn’t say. I know he was having a rough time with his two roommates, who had once been his closest friends but now chose to rush a fraternity and seemingly, left him behind. I know he was struggling with his parent’s divorce at home, and that the girl next door who I’d seen sneaking out his door late at night was now seeing a senior off campus. It didn’t really matter what the issue was – he had come to me to talk, and I was there to listen. It wasn’t until I found a handwritten note underneath my door the next day, explaining how much it meant to him that I was willing to let him in at such an ungodly hour and just talk for a few hours, did I realize how much my residents meant to me. And slowly but surely, I found that more and more of his friends, my kids, my people, would swing by to say hi, or ask me a question, or talk out their latest freshman-year drama.

The same sentiment rings true for a particular group of young gentlemen I spent the better part of my college experience with. During my sophomore year, my two best friends rushed the same fraternity and (at first) unwillingly dragged me into a foreign world of Greek life – parties, philanthropy, you name it. It took almost a year, but I found myself knowing the name of every single brother in the organization; and beyond that, I found myself calling them friends. These were the boys who taught me showed me that men can still have virtue, and honor, in the way that someone always offered to walk me home from a friend’s apartment without fail. These were the boys whose diligence and devotion to their chapter was evident in the way they held themselves to a consistently higher standard. And these were the boys who taught me that brotherly love extended far beyond their own chapter – they were willing to open their hearts and their arms and share that brotherly love with a couple of lucky ones, just like me.

I went to a barbecue for those graduating seniors last night and couldn’t believe how many intelligent young men I had been so lucky to watch grow up were now ready to cross the stage. I sat and chatted with one of my best friend’s “little,” who I can distinctly remember meeting four years ago as an eager, sarcastic freshman ready to return the sass at any opportunity. I hugged a friend who managed to graduate a year early and had to remind myself that the first night I met him, playing cards in one of the apartments as he got to know the brothers, was over three years ago. I met the parents of a young gentleman who used to keep me company during my late-night desk shifts, writing his papers and joking with me about the failures of our mutually-adored sports teams. I told a younger girl that I met last night that these were the boys I knew I could call no matter the hour or the problem. I told her that they were wonderful, and caring, and I wouldn’t have made it through my four years without them, without my people, and that’s when her boyfriend (a new brother) interrupted me. “It’s funny,” he said, his arm draped effortlessly around her. “Several of the guys, when pointing you out, have said the same thing about you.”

And of course, that’s when I teared up in front of two virtual strangers and quietly excused myself to go bury my face in the back of a friends shirt to stop the flow of feels, but that’s neither here nor there, now, is it?

My people, though – my talking about my people really wouldn’t be complete if it weren’t for the multiple staffs I’ve worked with in my 5+ year stint with my current department. I loved befriending the new kids on staff every semester, teaching them how to best procrastinate on your homework at the desk; the little tricks and shortcuts when it came to patrolling the buildings on duty; the best places to go study when you just couldn’t handle another resident knocking at your door; the best off-campus hideouts where the residents DIDN’T go. I’ll admit, some of these kids I might have groomed for bigger and better things, and I take pride in seeing them accomplish huge things both in-and-out of the residential life aspect of things. I’m going to miss talking to the desk receptionists in my office about the scandalous shows on TV. I can’t imagine certain staffs without certain student leaders taking charge when a crisis hits, whether it be that there’s a fire drill on campus or there’s a potential armed gunman on the loose. They understood what it meant to have Halloweekend duty calls or why it was absolutely imperative that you end up laying upside down on my black futon at least once after a particularly stressful staff meeting, and play with the blue pig until you felt better. These were your staff, but they were your friends, and more importantly, your family – and to see them grow up and move on is more than I could have ever asked for.

A year out from my own graduation, I’ve spent the better part of this weekend in complete denial as I watch these residents, these gentlemen, these staff members, this family I’ve grown to love and loved to watch grow cross the stage and ceremonially turn into real people with real jobs and real futures ahead of them. I couldn’t list all of the people I’m so proud of this weekend, because I could write post after post about every one of you and each individual accomplishment you’d had, every dream I know you’ll succeed in. That’s why I decided to congratulate you all – you know who you are – and remind you how genuinely happy and proud I am that you’ve made it this far. Every single one of you has made such a distinct impact on my life, and I wish you the best in all that you decide to do.

Best of luck, Class of 2014. I love you!

My People.

Ukraine, Jews, And Another Throwback Thursday.

I’ve recently become a fan of the hashtag #throwbackthursday, or #TBT. It’s a cute way to remind people of days past, and moments we might have forgotten otherwise. Last week, I posted a picture from my days at Jewish summer camp – I won’t make excuses for the awkward side ponytails or the spaghetti-strap tank tops because hey, it was 2000 and I don’t really have an excuse to make.

This morning I woke up to several articles explaining how, among all of the chaos in the Ukraine, things can actually get worse. Reports indicate that Jewish individuals, under the new pro-Russian government, are being told they have to pay a “registration fee” and if they don’t, they’ll be ejected from the country and all of their assets and belongings will be seized, too. If this isn’t bad enough, more recent articles say that it’s nothing to worry about, that the government wouldn’t be that dumb to threaten the credibility of the pro-Russians when they’re very much in the world’s headlights, and that it’s just a couple of foolish groups trying to play up a history of anti-Semitism.

Nothing to worry about, they say. Nothing to worry about?

What bothers me is that the second article is titled, “Relax, Ukraine is Not Asking Jews to Register,” and yet it goes on to say that “in conclusion: the Jews of Donetsk and eastern Ukraine may have been asked by a leaflet to register, but it has not been enforced nor are any Ukrainian Jews registering themselves.” So not only is the title of the article blatantly contradictory to the content of the article, but no one’s addressing the fact that THIS STILL MEANS JEWS ARE BEING ASKED TO REGISTER THEMSELVES BY A GOVERNMENT? Jews are still being told by some group of people in charge that they have to declare themselves, upon penalty of expulsion and seizure of property. Maybe it’s not being enforced now, but they didn’t roll out all of the Nuremberg Laws at once, you know.

And maybe you think that’s a huge jump – leaping from registration of Jews to the thought of ghettos and extermination camps and millions killed simply because of what they believe. Maybe it is. But I’m pretty comfortable making that jump, because I spent an entire semester in college researching the importance of teaching Holocaust education, both in and out of schools. An excerpt from part of my paper:

“As my middle school education and religious school education drew to a close at around the same time, I began to notice that the two were seemingly converging on one another. Just as we started reading Night out loud, every Thursday afternoon in a quiet room in the basement of my synagogue, we began the chapter on the Second World War in our history textbooks in the inner-city school that I attended. I was excited to be able to talk about the things I had learned in my religious classes in “real school,” so one day I decided to bring both Night and my religious school textbook, The Holocaust: The World and the Jews, to class. As we turned to the chapter on the Holocaust in our big blue books of American History, I was surprised to see that there were only a handful of pages on the topic before jumping right into the bombing of Hiroshima. I was even more surprised, and hurt, to find that whoever had owned the book before me had attempted to draw their own swastikas in the margins of the old, ratty book. The marks were shoddily erased, but the symbols were still visible on the pages and I quickly closed the book and pushed it to the side. I figured that I would know what the teacher was talking about, anyway, so I didn’t worry too much about following along.

            Unfortunately, class went from bad to worse in a matter of minutes. My teacher spent the majority of the class period talking about America’s lack of involvement in the plight of the Jews and its relationship with England. Several times I tried to raise my hand to point out things that I had learned in religious school, like how reports had been smuggled out of the Warsaw ghetto as early as 1942 and sent to London, or that when the world finally was given proof that same year that the Germans were exterminating Jews that newspapers in Palestine were bordered in black to represent mourning. However, it was clear that my teacher was already crunched for time within a public school syllabus, and was under pressure to not only talk about the Holocaust, but to do so as quickly as possible.

When class ended, I approached my teacher at his desk while everyone else gathered up their books and headed off to lunch. I put my religious textbook down on his desk and waited for him to realize that I was standing there, as he himself packed up his leather briefcase and shrugged on his tweed coat. When he finally noticed me standing there, a look of pure defiance in my eyes, he sighed and sat back down, picking up my book and flipping through it halfheartedly. “This looks like a perfectly acceptable book,” I remember him saying. “See? You’re getting the education that you should. Isn’t that good enough?” I wanted to tell him about the faded swastikas in my other book, erased from the pages but not from my memories. I wanted to tell him about how the kids in class weren’t interested in hearing about the diplomatic relations that prevented the U.S. from entering the war. I wanted him to show us how important it was to learn about this tragedy in the ways it had been presented to me, through firsthand accounts and through books that helped young learners relate. When I opened my mouth to tell him these things, however, he stopped me once more. “You should go to lunch now-it’s a beautiful day, I bet everyone will be eating outside.”With that, he stood back up and sidestepped me on his way out the door.”

 

I could go on and on about how those who fail to learn history are doomed to repeat it, but I think I’ve made my point.

 

And that’s why this Throwback Thursday, I’m posting a photo from my March of the Living trip, nearly six years ago next month. It’s a photo of one of my close friends, Brian, looking over a vast stone structure located in Majdanek, one of the most “dirty” concentration camps on the planet. If it came down to it, the camp could be fully operational as a death camp within 48 hours. And the structure he’s looking out over, it’s full of the ashes they found when the camp was liberated. It’s the ashes of thousands of people who died there. It’s the ashes of people that had to register themselves over sixty years ago, register with their government as Jews, so that they government could start to target them.

 

Maybe it wasn’t enforced right away. Maybe this really isn’t anything to worry about. But maybe, maybe it really is.

 

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