Welcoming Hannah Elbaum
Today I'm thrilled to officially welcome Hannah Elbaum to the Advah team! Hannah is joining us this summer as our Communications and Media Intern, and she will be spending the next 10 weeks exploring Jewish ritual on our blog. Hannah is an alum of the Rising Voices Fellowship, and has written for the Jewish Women’s Archive blog, and she is an incoming freshman at Smith College. We spent an exciting afternoon yesterday planning the stories she is going to write about, and I can't wait to share her work with all of you.
Below is Hannah's first post, about embracing the fluidity in her Jewish identity. Welcome, Hannah!
For English class this year, I wrote an essay about the poem “Advice to a Prophet” by Richard Wilbur. The poet is not Jewish, and the poem contains no direct allusions to Judaism, and yet, that is immediately where my mind went. When the poem spoke of “that glass obscured and broken,” my mind’s eye saw the midrash of the vessel, which held all the light of G-d that had shattered, spreading shards of the Divine to all corners of the Earth. I heard a little whisper of the song “Lo Alecha:” “you do not have to finish the work, nor are you free to desist from it.” In so many words, this poem discusses Tikkun Olam, how we must see that the world is broken. How it is our job to fix it.
I never liked “neighborhood clean-up day” or felt a strong passion for recycling. Nature is out there, and to be honest, I prefer my insect-free, air-conditioned or heated (depending on the season) world inside a house. There is more to Tikkun Olam than recycling and picking up litter. While I am in no way denouncing the importance of those activities, I have found my passion comes in the realm of people.
A very wise teacher I had at Temple Beth Elohim taught that the world has become a place of transactions. We interact with people to reach an end; the talk with the cashier at the grocery store, a conversation with the teacher about raising a grade in your science class. The great philosopher Martin Buber calls these the I-It relationships, where the “I” uses the “It” as means to an end. When I am in my Jewish world, however, I find my interactions are more often deeper, filled with compassion and genuine caring for each other. Martin Buber would say these are the I-Thou relationships, where the boundaries between people become less pronounced. Some say this is where G-d exists.
My Jewish journey has been filled with small pockets of these wonderful I-Thou relationships. Throughout my time in high school, I have participated in a number of Jewish programs; URJ Kutz Camp, Diller Teen Fellowship, Rising Voices Fellowship, Great Jewish Books at the Yiddish Book Center, and an array of Havayah programs here, as well. While each experience focused on different areas, they were inherently the same in the type of community they cultivated. G-d exists in each of those communities, not only in one place or another, but also when all of us come together.
It is difficult to sum up the past eighteen years into one lesson that I have learned, or why I continue to choose Judaism. I highly doubt my Jewish identity will ever be truly set in stone, but I choose the fluidity, the ability to change my practice based on new knowledge or experience. I do know, that wherever I go, or whatever I do in my life, I will continue to return to my Jewish community. A feeling of respect, nurturing, and home permeates each Jewish community I have entered. As I go out into the world, I hope to bring with me that same feeling and continue to find it in each new community that I find. I hope to treat each person I encounter with respect, compassion, and integrity so that I can facilitate I-Thou relationships. By bringing G-d into my communities, I can take responsibility for my part in the work of Tikkun Olam, repairing the world.