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  • danielle cohen

Finding Joy Among the Shadows

Updated: Jan 24, 2022

You don’t need me to remind you that we’re still on the edge of a pandemic. For the most part, we’re all struggling, at least a little bit more than usual, to find the bright side of our situations. It’s just hard to be as joyful when things have changed (and keep changing) so much in a short time.

But in January, that changed for me. I began to get really excited about a trip I’ve been looking forward to for a long time. I’m talking about genuine joy, the kind that I haven’t experienced in at least a solid few months.

The trip was a celebration of my confirmation class’s graduation, and it was delayed from it’s original date due to Covid travel restrictions. We were all excited when January arrived because to make it extra-special, we got to go to LA instead of the usual New York, and we added on a few extra days. (I know, so cool!!!)

Going into the weekend, I could not have possibly been more excited! But looking back, I had no idea that this weekend would end up being truly one of the best and most eye opening weekends of my life.

I anxiously waited for my negative Covid test to make sure that I could go, and when I got my PCR and rapid tests back, I could hardly contain my excitement. Nothing against Atlanta, but I was excited to go somewhere new and this time with a group of friends who I don’t get to see often.

When the day to go to LA finally came, I walked into the synagogue lobby, saw everyone, and I couldn’t handle my joy. I already knew it was going to be amazing.

As we left for the airport, I took a moment to realize and acknowledge the genuine joy I was feeling. I was with amazing people, going to a new place, and most importantly, getting time to make memories with people I really care about.

Once we got to LA, I already knew that I was feeling like the most genuine and authentic version of myself I had been in a while. It was the kind of situation where nothing in the world matters besides the moment you are in at that very second.

And every single second of that trip was a blast. Of course, the amazing places we went were partly what made the trip so fantastic, but thinking back, it was truly the people and the small moments that meant the most.

The people on this trip were special…you know…the kind of people who you don’t get to see a lot, but when you do, there’s a connection that makes things feel so familiar and fun. Being with this group of amazing people is what truly brought so much joy and life to this trip.

Now, I could spend hours giving you the full rundown on the activities and the moments and everything we did on the trip but frankly, when I think about the trip I just think about the pure joy I was experiencing. I hadn’t felt that kind of excitement since at least July, and this trip made me realize just how special it is when we get to feel it.

Of course that’s not to say that I haven’t been happy. I strive for that, but realistically, you’re not going to feel that every moment of everyday because life is hard.

And am I seriously about to quote Ellen DeGeneres? Yes. Because her words are so right, and it ties into the next part of this so well.

So, as Ellen once said, “life is short. Life is short and it's fragile and we don’t know how many birthdays we have. We don’t have to have a birthday to celebrate, just celebrate life. If you haven’t told someone you love ‘em, do it, now. Tell people you love ‘em.”

It almost feels weird quoting someone in this blog post, but that quote just sticks in my mind all the time.

But back to the weekend…there was a speedbump. A speed bump that we didn’t take much time to acknowledge because it was fresh and uncomfortable, but that is the reality of life.

A group of people were taken hostage in a Texas synagogue. We didn’t talk much about it. Nobody did, but it felt crazy. It shouldn’t be so surprising since anti-Semitism is everywhere, but it was hard to believe this happened while we were on a synagogue trip.

Many of us were having the most fun we’ve had in a few months at least, while just a few states away, others were being held hostage for coming together to share their beliefs and their religion (just like we were doing in LA). It shows how fragile life is. And it shows how easy a life can be taken away. And in so many scenarios, they suffered for something that shouldn’t even matter to anyone else.

And this is the truth with anti-Semitism today. It’s all over the place. It’s also not always a huge event like this one. Sometimes it's a small thing done or said in schools or public places.

No matter how big or how small, it is scary. It’s scary as a young Jewish teen seeing all of this happen around us. It feels like just the other day that there was a shooting in a Pittsburgh synagogue, but there is always stuff like this happening, whether we see it or not.

And now back to the trip…as this is all going down, we are in LA. On a trip with our Rabbi, the director of teen and family learning and engagement at our synagogue, and our friends. It’s so easy to look around and realize that WE could have been those hostages, because anti-Semitism isn’t dying anytime soon.

So, as I overheard the news from someone else and then saw it online, I took a moment to myself to look around. How is it possible to feel so much joy and so much hurt at the same time? How is it possible to be having the best time in one state while also knowing that just a few states over there are Jewish people like us terrified for their life. How is it fair?

Then, I look around at all my friends with smiles from ear to ear (because we are just a group of young teens enjoying a trip). We’re a group who shouldn’t have to worry about people just like us being held hostage for our religion and our beliefs, as we once again, officially became Jewish adults. But adults have to do hard things, so I guess it all comes together in a strangely uncomfortable way. As adults, we have to work with our communities

to change that.

What’s in store for us? When will the anti-Semitism end? When will we, as Jewish people get to feel the genuine joy in practicing our religion without being hated on?

When will it end?

I’m not sure, but for now, I’ve made a commitment to do everything I can to move forward.

I’m also going to hang on tight to that incredible joy, because that’s everything, and wow, I’m grateful that my synagogue leaders and peers helped create that for me.

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