Posted by inkstainedhands in , , ,

People spend their whole lives looking for meaning, trying to find something that will justify their existence and give them a reason to continue working and striving, to continue fighting for what they know is right and not to give up even when it seems as if everything is falling down around them. We often have such moments when we are ready to give up because nothing is going right and it looks like all our efforts are worthless and bring no results. As we realize the insignificance of a single human life in the context of the entire world, we despair and make the mistake of thinking that what we do does not matter.

There is an interesting passage about it in Chaim Potok's The Chosen. Chaim Potok is a brilliant writer and I really enjoy his books for their depth and their understand of human (and particularly religious) nature. I love the way he explores issues that relate to our religious community and have meaning for us, and his novels are so easy to get into because we can connect with the characters based on our own experiences.

Reuven, the protagonist of The Chosen, is worried because his father is putting what he feels are unnecessarily long hours into his work and his efforts to support a Zionistic state (this takes place before the establishment of the state of Israel). His father works late every night and barely sleeps, and when Reuven sees that it is taking a toll on his health, he feels the need to protest and to urge his father to see the doctor and to "take it a little easy." This is his father's response:

"Human beings do not live forever, Reuven. We live less than the time it takes to blink an eye, if we measure our lives against eternity. So it may be asked what value is there to a human life. There is so much pain in the world. What does it mean to have to suffer so much if our lives are nothing more than the blink of an eye? ... I learned a long time ago, Reuven, that the blink of an eye in itself is nothing. But the eye that blinks, that is something. A span of life is nothing. But the man who lives that span, he is something. He can fill that tiny span with meaning, so its quality is immeasurable though its quantity may be insignificant. Do you understand what I am saying? A man must fill his life with meaning, meaning is not automatically given to life. It is hard work to fill one's life with meaning. That I do not think you understand yet. A life filled with meaning is worthy of rest. I want to be worthy of rest when I am no longer here."

Stern = Awesome!  

Posted by inkstainedhands in , , , ,

Hello friends, readers, and random people who stumble upon my blog! It has been too long since my last post, and I can only attribute my silence to the busy schedule I've had the past couple of weeks at Stern College. Honestly, I have been meaning to write this post back in August and share my experiences from my first few days of college, but then life caught up with me and there was just too much going on for me to be able to sit down and sort out my thoughts properly.

So! I'm a full-time college student now. I had counted down to the start of college the entire summer, ever since I graduated from high school in June, and to say that I was looking forward to it was an understatement. I thought that after so much anticipation, the reality could hardly live up to my expectations and once I was weighed down by assignments I would be less enthusiastic about this new adventure, but surprisingly, I have managed to retain that happy and upbeat mood that seems to get on some people's nerves when liberally applied. In other words, being at Stern is all that I expected and more. I love it.

Orientation began on August 22nd, and Stern and its students and committees used every opportunity to make us feel welcome and comfortable in what will quickly become like our second home. And since there's nothing like a fun concert to help bring new students together and kick off a great year, YU invited Gad Elbaz to perform for us at the Schottenstein Cultural Center. I had, of course, heard some of his songs before, but hearing them live and feeling the energy in the audience transformed the music into a completely different and uplifting experience.

Classes began on the 25th, and I am taking some really interesting classes this semester, so I am very excited about that! I love learning, and what I appreciate about Stern is that I have the chance to take classes that challenge me and push me to think deeper and explore subjects I never thought of before. I had the brilliant idea of taking a few advanced-level classes during my first year in college, so I ended up being the only freshman in a couple of them, but I'm having a blast.

And of course, college would not be college without the social aspect, which brings me to the awesome new friends I have made over the past few weeks. I spent fourteen years of my life in the same school with the same people, so coming to college and seeing hundreds of new faces was somewhat intimidating. Although I don't dorm, I stayed on campus at my awesome peer mentor's apartment for Orientation Shabbat, where I met so many girls that I hope to become closer friends with over the course of my next few years here. Orientation Shabbat was absolutely beautiful, and just for the record, I have never yet experienced such an uplifting and spiritual Kabbalat Shabbat as I did that Friday in Stern's Beit Midrash. There were only girls present, so we sang and celebrated the day together, closely united even though many of us were there for the first time.

There is an emphasis in Stern on getting involved on campus and being a part of the YU community. There are clubs, societies, committees, and activities with a wide range of focuses, so each student is able to find something interesting to get involved in. I want to really take advantage of that and be a part of all that is going on so I can appreciate Stern to the fullest. I just have a really good feeling about this year... about finding my place in Stern and contributing my piece.

Another thing that delights me about Stern is that it gives me the opportunity to spend more time in the city, observing New York and its inhabitants. It seems that New Yorkers often get a bad reputation and are stereotyped as being cold, uncaring, selfish, pushy, rude, and generally nasty. (I admit that I, too, am guilty of occasionally making jokes about it, despite the fact that I was born and raised here.) Well, commuting and walking through the streets of the city affords me a better glimpse at these infamous New Yorkers. Like the one time the MTA machines weren't working in the 34th Street subway. Half of them were broken, and the other half refused to take dollar bills or credit cards, insisting on coins. I stood there, together with a Muslim woman, unsure of what to do since there was no other way for us to refill our empty Metro cards. A man, noticing our distress, approached us and offered to swipe his card for us at the turnstile for $2 -- less than what a ride actually costs, so we shouldn't have to fumble around with change and miss our trains. Then there was the time a woman forgot a shopping bag on the train, and one man noticed it, yelled for her to come back, and held the doors of the train open while she ran back, grabbed the bag, and ran back out. Another instance happened on Shabbat, which my friend pointed out to me. A homeless man was crossing the street, and one of the taxi drivers honked at him and motioned for him to come over. When the man approached the taxi, the driver handed him some money. It all happened in just a few seconds, and nobody really would have noticed it. But it's those small private deeds that matter. If you keep your eyes open, you will see them and you will recognize the human being inside each New Yorker. But if you refuse to see, you are only left with the stereotype in your head.

And of course, New York wouldn't be New York without the tourists. Throngs of them fill up the street at all times of the day, obstructing or slowing movement as they pause every few seconds and come to a stop to take pictures. Every single day, without fail, as I walk from the train station to Stern College, I see at least a few people standing on street corners, all pointing upwards with their cameras and furiously snapping pictures and pointing something out with deep interest. Human nature is curious and therefore dictates that if you see someone is giving something much attention and acting fascinated, you must look over as well to see what it is. So I looked up to see what they were all photographing. "Oh, the Empire State Building. Yeah, that's the place where I eat lunch.... No big deal." And I moved on, laughing to myself. So that is the sight that greets me every morning -- tourists aiming cameras at the Empire State Building. It's cute when I have plenty of time before class and am in no hurry, but when I am running late, the fact that they are obstructing the sidewalks and slowing me down gets a bit annoying.

So overall, it has been a crazy, amazing couple of weeks here at Stern, and I am so excited for the year ahead of me -- the classes, the events, the friends, and the growth I hope to achieve. So yay for Stern!! :]

Shana tova, dear readers!