These and Those

Musings from Students of the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem

[Alumni Guest Post] Update from Matt Rissien (Year ’08)

Posted on February 21, 2013 by The Director of Digital Media

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561240_10100874449458239_1713764241_nI just found out about the student blog, and I think it’s so great!! I took my Junior year off from the University of Kansas, and studied at Pardes in ’07-’08. Being still partially in the college mindset, I don’t know that I took full advantage of everything Pardes had to teach me; though I did still gain a lot from my year there. While you are at Pardes, soak it all in and take lots of notes, the knowledge one can learn from the faculty and students there is incredible, and I wish I knew that back when I was there. It is one of the most unique communities I’ve been a part of, and I hope one day to be able to come back and study again at some point.

I have now graduated the University of Kansas, and spent last year as a Campus Fellow at the American Hebrew Academy in Greensboro, NC (A Pluralistic Jewish Boarding School-check it out, it’s a really amazing place). I am currently living in Chicago, working as a Youth Director at Congregation Beth Shalom in Northbrook, one of the largest Conservative synagogues around. So that catches you up to where I am in life, but I wanted to share with you – something I wrote on Facebook last week after a funeral was held at the synagogue for a 10 year old girl who passed away after a long hard fought battle with Cancer:

I don’t often write long serious messages and post them for everyone on facebook, but I felt the need to today-please read: Today, I realized just what it means to work and be a part of a synagogue. Lacey Horwitch, a ten year old girl who was diagnosed with HLH, a rare blood disorder that causes the blood cells to attack the body’s cells and organs just passed away this week. She had been in the hospital since August 1, 2011 fighting for her life. Throughout that time, she inspired so many people with her optimism and positive outlook on her short life, which was honored this morning at Congregation Beth Shalom. It is not very often you see so many kids and young adults at a funeral, and it is not so often that you hear of adults being inspired and gaining strength from someone who was only ten years old. I never personally met her or knew her, but just by standing at the back and watching this service, even I left with a greater outlook on life.

A synagogue is a place for fun, a place for worship, a place for inspiration, and sometimes a place for healing and sadness. I started my day at the synagogue witnessing a funeral for a ten year old. As I sat there, looking up on the Bima (stage), I saw the Rabbis and the Cantor that I work with every day. I always enjoy working with them, but its times like this where you kind of sit there in awe. What do you say to someone who has just lost a child? What do you say to a group of 1,000 people who are there to embrace a life that was cut short. They somehow knew exactly how to handle it.

I found myself asking, this is happening at the synagogue I am a part of, and while the Rabbis and Cantor are up there, how can I do my part, even though I work in the youth department. I realized that as the youth director, this could have been a child who could have been coming to my events. I am fortunate to be in a place where I can inspire and work with the youth of an amazing congregation. You never know when something like this could happen, and it’s extremely important to take every day, and try to build as many positive relationships possible. Be nice to someone you might not always get along with. When you find yourself thinking selfishly- flip that and realize that others have troubles too, sometimes far worse than you.

I know it’s not a Jewish holiday, but today is Valentine’s Day. I started my day hearing about all the love that Lacey gave to everyone. Then, I just got on facebook and saw all the statuses about how much people hate this day; or how sick they get from seeing boyfriends and girlfriends posting on one another’s walls. Instead of wasting your statuses on these thoughts, why not just write that you love everyone; realize that whether you realize it or not, you are loved somewhere. I think this world doesn’t need more love; it just needs more people to realize that they ARE loved.

Anyway, it’s not everyday I write from the heart and put my thoughts on facebook, but I really felt the need to express this before I went back to work for the day. We are so lucky to be alive, and please PLEASE: cherish every day everyone. I started the day with a funeral in the synagogue, and I get to end it with a lounge night with 25-30 teens who love coming here every week to spend time with one another, and see the synagogue as a place of life. Though I didn’t know her, today I learned of a girl named Lacey who was so full of life. I saw her funeral here in the synagogue, but from all the amazing things people said, I will think about her every time I see this place full of life. We should all be lucky to be where we are in this world.