Monday, June 29, 2009

A Tale of Two Cities

As the days become fewer and fewer until my departure, I find myself constantly conflicted. I find myself torn between my excitement to return to the Big Apple and my sadness to leave my beloved Smelly Onion. While my East Coast friends continue to tell me they cannot wait for my arrival and my Midwestern friends have already booked visits to New York, I still begin to feel sentimentality for my hometown unlike ever before.

In all the years I wanted to leave, to escape to New York, my be all and end all dream location, I never spent enough time appreciating my own city. I walked by Sky Gate as if it were just another piece of metal, pranced by the giant Ferris wheel in Navy Pier as if it were a small carnival decoration, shopped on the Magnificent Mile all the while thinking it was nothing like my darling Fifth Avenue, and scorned our Art Institute for not being The Met. And while I have become immune to the treasures of my city in my eighteen years, I have suddenly regained a new appreciation, a new excitement about enjoying my surroundings, because I know my days are limited.

During the ready-for-college? Small talk with neighbors/relatives/acquaintances, I’m often reminded not to forget my roots; and I think: How could I? Because as great as New York is, as excited as I am to live there once again (if you count last summer, which I absolutely do), Manhattan is not Chicago, Manhattan is not my hometown, nor will it ever be.

I grew up taking boat tours down the Chicago River, going on school trips to the Shedd Aquarium, Lincoln Park Zoo, and the Sears Tower. I’ve watched the Cows on Parade, attended countless concerts at Ravinia, spent every Black Friday on State Street, swam in Lake Michigan, walked through the Botanic Gardens, skated in Millennium Park, laughed at Second City, the list continues endlessly. Almost all of my childhood memories take place somewhere between the North Shore and the South Loop.

Early in the school year, we had to write a compare-contrast essay for English Lit and I wrote about my split love for New York and Chicago. I explained my inaptitude at the CTA system but my skills with the MTA, I compared Millennium Park to Central Park, never reaching any conclusion as to which Great Lawn is superior, I contrasted New Yorkers to Chicagoans, realizing that my side absolutely reigns superior.

Because I will forever be a Chicagoan, regardless if I live in New York for four or forty years. I will forever hum “Go Cubs Go!”, always make time to return to my favorite places, and never stop sharing stories about the greatness of my city.

For as long as I can remember, I have wanted to move to New York. To live closer to Times Square, to be immersed in culture and art, to always wake up in the city that never sleeps. There are many elements New York has that Chicago will never possess yet there are so many things about Chicago that will never be matched: I can’t walk down the streets in New York and remember good times growing up with my old friends (MJP popcorn incident aside). And, more importantly, New York only has Z100, Chicago has both Kiss FM and B96. What will I do when there is a commercial on my favorite radio station? Listen to it?

I’ve been told time and time again that once you leave for college, returning home is like being a guest. I somewhat envy my friends staying in Chicago for school, having that comfort of home while still enveloping themselves in new experience.

While I may know Manhattan like the back of my hand, it is still not my city. My city is the Cubs, the Sox, the L, the Loop, the Lake. I will never say “pocketbook” nor do I plan to switch from “gym shoes” to “sneakers.” While my love affair with New York is always strong, I cannot let myself deny my love for Chicago. The kind of love that comes from scraped knees on pavements, thunderstorms destroying anticipated plans, hours spent waiting for the free trolley because we were too lazy to walk. I may have watched seven hours worth of historical New York documentaries on PBS yet the history I have with Chicago is undeniable. I can tell you Fredrick Law Olmsted designed Central Park, that the Brooklyn Bridge took thirteen years to build, but that does not compare to explaining the Great Chicago Fire to an outsider, showing her the remaining structures, telling her stories of yearly field trips to historical sites, living the memories and the stories.

So Chicago, as I prepare to leave you in a couple months, to officially become Issa On Broadway, I promise to love you more than ever. To take advantage of your best assets, your unique qualities, and enjoy you to my utmost ability. I will not compare you to my dream city, as you are truly it. While I may never fully reside in you again, or maybe I will, I want to thank you for the good times, for making every moment special, never letting me take you for granted, and for never disappointing me. As we prepare to part ways, I want you to know you will always be in my heart, that through photographs and memories you will never leave me, as I hope to have made a lasting impression on you.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Veggie Lovin'

“Are you sure you don’t want any?” This question is posed to me countless times per day, over cold turkey sandwiches, greasy chicken McNuggets, fresh hot dogs, and, believe me, the inquiry ages quicker than a piece of steak.

“Yes, I’m sure…” I answer begrudgingly, as I politely nudge away the fresh piece of flesh forced in front of me and replace it with a soy-tofu-seitan Creation.

And then of course, comes: “Why are you a vegetarian anyways?”

Because I don’t like eating death? When was the last time you went out and slaughtered a cow?

Because animals are treated completely, unjustly cruelly? Have you read lately?

Because it’s degrading to women? How often do you eat bull steak or rooster nuggets?

The truth is, while each of these responses is more or less a legitimate reason for vegetarianism, I find none of them personally imperative. Yes, answering with any one of these responses creates wonderful dinner table conversation, but the pre-programmed answers have almost nothing to do with my leafy green diet.

I’ve always been a picky eater (I know refer to it as a delicate palate), separating the peas from the potatoes, the salad from the dressing, the milk from the cereal. I can taste an onion from a mile away, and if my food has been within that mile, it will not be consumed.

However, despite these miniscule inconveniences, I’ve found that my vegetarianism has shaped me throughout the years. I’ve discovered that I do not need to sacrifice other lives in order to live my own. I’ve found that I actually possess some self control, realizing that when the sitting girl next to me in Spanish Lit eats popcorn chicken, resulting in some extra drool landing on page 45 of a Lorca drama, I don’t actually want the deep fried carcass, it’s just that fast food smell we all love…

I’ve realized that I don’t always need to answer people’s questions. I’ve also realized that “Because I am,” is never, never, an acceptable response. I emphasize that it was a choice I made many years ago: a conscious decision to live my life a little less morbidly, not eating things with visible veins and bones and tendons. I repeat time after time that if I actually wanted the steaming chicken soup placed in front of me, the bagel with lox kindly offered at Sunday brunch, the hamburger grilled in a backyard barbeque, I could eat it. I am fully capable of consuming meat, yet, I have no desire. If I ever did, I would. I don’t.

Will I be a vegetarian forever? Who knows. I do know, however, that I like being healthy, feeling good, and doing what I’m doing has gotten me there. I realized that when I fully dedicated myself to vegetarianism (there were a few shaky points in between) I became more aware of myself and my body. More conscious as to what I let myself indulge in, what harm I prevented my body from, and what I did to improve myself. I started thinking of salad as more of a necessity than a burden, as working out as a desirable, fun activity, filling myself with endorphins to lead me to a better day.

In my thousands of days as a vegetarian, not one has passed where I do not truly consider what enters my body. Whether it’s hydrogenated oil, chocolate, or something worse, I found a new pride and responsibility towards the caring of myself and my ability to make myself happy.

I also found a new passion for food. An addiction to the Food Network shortly followed my vegetarian lifestyle change. An obsession with Rachael Ray and Giada De Laurentiis somehow ensued. I found my kitchen to be a new magical place, where I could create something from nothing, where I could make my own variations or original creations to please myself and others. I found myself plating basil in our kitchen or trying new techniques for cooking a once-favorite chicken, currently-favorite tofu recipe.

And best of all, my lunches were the talk of the town. (If high school is a town, which it most certainly is). I spent hours each night putting together lentil salads, portabella sandwiches, quinoa stews, mixing together carbs and proteins, sweet and savory, packaging everything in my Scooby Doo lunch bag for the coming day. I would sit down at my desk (I took too many classes for an actual lunch period) and modestly chomp down on my lunch while other students would question my recipes with envy, offer money for me to pack their lunches, and beg for a taste.

I didn’t choose to become a vegetarian for anyone but myself. I never wanted to impress/stun/confuse anyone. Sometimes we can improve our lives, sometimes we just have to go with the flow. There are fates we cannot change and others that we absolutely have power over. Was I destined to become a vegetarian? Who knows. Can it change? Certainly. We can change the color of our hair but not the color of our skin, we can wear high heels but never necessarily achieve a certain height, we can decide who we date but never pick out a sexual orientation.

Our diets, along with our fashion sense, our language, our relationships, are always changing. And while we may not always make mainstream decisions for these lifestyle choices, we have to understand and respect why people decide what they decide, what they control and what they do not, that people are who they are, and while change is inevitable, some things will always stay the same. Why everyone always wants to know why you’re different, as if you have a good answer, is the part I cannot quite grasp. I do what makes me happy, and if that changes it changes. But for now, I truly would not like a bite of your brisket, a sip of your tortilla soup, or even a taste of your super-delicious, world famous, critically acclaimed slab of ribs.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009


Last weekend, I found myself lost in Neiman Marcus. Similar to those little girl ventures out into the big world when you turn around and realize your mommy’s hand isn’t right next to you, I swiveled my head around in the shoe department only to be awakened to the absence of my grandmother. Easily enough, I could find my friends Marc (Jacobs), Diane (von Furstenburg), Elie (Tahari), but my dear grandma was nowhere to be seen. I plopped myself down on a plush green couch to optimistically wait for her to return, and I whipped out my phone to alleviate the anxiety of being left alone. (And I am not someone to feel anxious at all when surrounded by Manolos to my left and Louboutins to my right).

“@ Neimans. Lost abuela,” My thumbs typed out to my friend with whom I had been texting earlier. While we carried on a somewhat mundane, blandly comical “conversation,” I glanced up from the four inch screen that captured nearly 100% of my attention to see a Salmon sweater and red lipstick approaching my new home on the lime sofa.

“Grandma!” I said, immediately relieved.

Even though I have been to the store millions of times completely on my own, when I planned to spend the afternoon with my grandmother, a certain uncertainty was immediately alleviated once she returned to my side. I gave her a hug and realized a small silver object clutched in her hand. “My cell phone is always on,” she reminded me.

And that’s when I realized it: we are so dependent on these little pocketable devices that we totally forget how to live our lives. We forget to actually get up off the couch, to take initiatives to find what we want, to achieve things independently. Did I have a cell phone when I found myself alone in the Dunakaroos aisle at age five? Absolutely not. Did I stay and cry and front of the frozen peas for ten minutes? Maybe. Did I wander through every aisle in attempts to find my parents? Did I promise myself to never leave their sides again? Yes yes yes.

We’re never alone. We always have a friend at our fingertips and a hand (phone) to hold. At the bus stop, on a jog, while reading a literary classic. We never have any time to merely sit and think. If we’re not texting, we’re thinking of a new Facebook status or Twitter update. I make plans via text, never once discussing the actual activities. I no longer need to talk to my cousins because I can see their vacation pictures via Facebook. I never even have to leave my bed to learn what my international friends had for breakfast last Tuesday. And best of all, I never have to speak a word. I could have laryngitis for the rest of my life and still let the entire world know what I am thinking every second of my life.

Have we totally lost our communication skills? Do we no longer know how to relate to people? Has technology literally become our new best friend?

It’s true that we are more apt to be more risky in our technological conversations. We lack the eye to eye contact; we can easily click the X and escape anything we may have mistakenly said; we can always feign sarcasm/foolery/little-sibling-typing-syndrome. But is this necessarily a bad thing? Do these methods of easier communication enhance our relationships or only weaken them due to a necessary crutch of hiding behind a screen?

Personally, when I find myself too reliant on pressing my thumbs on my touch screen to tell my friends the most unnecessary of information: “I just had the best lemonade!” “I’m sooooo bored.” “I’m wearing my new shirt!” I try and beg myself to step back a little. But I also wonder if my life would be the same without the luxuries of Instant Messaging and all its little pleasures.

Freshman year, I found myself awake until dawn typing away at my computer to an intense game of truth or dare in a group chat with my best friends. While the demands and questions became sillier/weirder/altogether inappropriate as the night went on, I think that through those weekly confessions we became closer than we ever would have. If AIM never existed and we were forced to spend more time together face to face would we have discussed all these topics? Probably not. Would we have owned up to our deep secrets if we looked each other right in the eye? I’m going to guess not.

The reality is, while technology easily becomes an obsession and even sometimes a burden in our lives, we need to find a balance between helpful and excessive. I’m thankful to my buddy list for bringing me closer to my friends, for helping me initiate hard-to-discuss topics that were later re-discussed in person. I’m thankful to my phone for being a most loyal friend, for allowing me to contact anyone at anytime, allowing my friends to console me at 1:00, 2:00. 3:00 in the morning when I thought my life would end if I couldn’t communicate with someone (and vice versa).

I envision myself sixty years from now, texting my granddaughter to tell her exactly where I’m waiting inside of Neiman Marcus, posting Facebook pictures from my latest Scrabble tournament (Okay I do that now…), book club meeting, or early bird special dinner, or even twittering from the hearing-aid doctor’s office. I wonder what we will look like, balancing our canes in one hand and hundredth generation iPhones in the other.

Friday, June 12, 2009


I realize that in the blur of day to day life, in the remolino of college applications, social activities, school, drama, everything, we forget to thank our parents. We take for granted that they pay ten $70 application fees to schools we will never really attend; we never acknowledge their time wasted watching try on similar prom dress after prom dress only to shell out their own money for an item they will never use; we never even usually thank them for waking us up in the morning, feeding us dinner, or letting us use their televisions.

We all get mad at our parents. It’s natural, it’s expected, it kind of sucks. I realize that in the past some of my entries may not have shown flattering examples of my parental upbringing, but they were written out of anger, as when you are angry with the ones who you love the most, it is sometimes hard to find someone to tell. I used a computer as my vent, ignoring its greater-world implications. I would like to reiterate that these few emotional pieces were written in the deepest of anger, when judgment was all too distant and all my words seemed proper. I want to wholeheartedly apologize for any further hard feelings this may have caused. I never intend to hurt anyone, and I will be more cognizant in the future.

Additionally, I want to take this week’s entry to thank my parents. For their amazing upbringing, their love and support. Their way of pushing me through piano, viola, flute, oboe, and voice lessons, always begging me to practice more yet continuing to sacrifice time and money from their lives to indulge my wishes. I want to thank my mom for driving me for hours to go see Kristy Cates (Elphaba in Wicked cerca 2006) to have her evaluate my singing for ten minutes, and then driving me hours back home. I want to thank my dad for spending hours of his life behind a lens, when he may rather be photographing architecture or nature, to focus on me or my friends and make me feel like a star.

Even though we set aside Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, that never really seems to be enough. As long as a spend picking out gifts for each respective holiday, it is never appropriate for the amount of gratitude I should show to my parents. I want to thank them for every gift they’ve given me, because although they are not usually wrapped in flashy paper and a bow, I know that everything I have—from my abundant wardrobe to my spunky attitude—I am forever indebted to my parents for.

I understand that parental criticism comes from love. That our parents want us to be the best they can be and will stop at nothing until that happens.

My parents like to repeat a phrase from a babysitter I had growing up, “The boy is ok but the girl’s a problem.” I know they’re teasing, but I would never wish to be a problem, an obstacle, or anything negative in their lives. I only wish to try and reward them for the wonderful life they’ve given me. To bring more happiness to their lives and smiles to their faces. To make them proud and joyful, because without their upbringing I would never be able to accomplish anything at all.

To conclude, Mommy and Daddy, I know you’re reading this. I just wanted to say I love you, and that I always will, and although it is not always evident, it is always true. Thanks for slicing my bake sale brownies before school in the morning when I was to lazy to get up, thanks for editing my twenty page analytic papers as boring as they may be, thanks for trekking out in the rain on both days of the Avon Walk, thanks for indulging me. There was never a vacation, performance, or moment wasted on me; they have all had a huge impact and I want to thank you immensely for all the experiences I was privileged enough to enjoy.

Thank you for letting me be myself and for loving me unconditionally as I love you.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Because Blisters are Better Than Chemo

It seems a completely unfortunate paradox that such a horrible thing can unite so many people together, forging a bond and understanding never to be broken even under the most daunting of conditions. I speak of course, of the Avon Walk for Breast Cancer.

Days after I walked across the stage (need I add it was the same stage the Backstreet Boys performed on last summer…) to receive my High School diploma, I found myself crossing an entirely different finish line: the 39.3 mile mark at the end of the Avon Walk for Breast Cancer. My team screamed and cheered as our aching feet landed under the inflatable pink archway that marked our accomplishment.

For months leading up to the event, my entire life seemed to be dedicated the Avon Chicago 2009. I stayed awake extra hours each night, putting finishing touches on confetti cupcakes with glittery pink ribbon frosting or slicing brownies to put into individual papers. I sent out envelope after envelope, had a never-ending list of phone calls to make, and traveled across the city in search of donations from businesses. My last months of school were filled with baked goods and secret money exchanges during class, only to be busted by teachers trying to “teach” (second semester seniors, people, seriously…) who would subsequently enjoy a mini-monologue about how one in ten women will get breast cancer, every three minutes a woman is diagnosed, et cetera et cetera until they finally ignored the deliberate rule-breaking. My team hosted a local dinner event at a restaurant, a silent auction, a weekend garage sale, and more events which brought us closer to our fundraising goals. When I wasn’t trying to raise money, I found myself lacing up my sneakers and trekking out to the Botanic Gardens/ Country Club/ Lincoln Park Zoo on 5, 8, 15+ mile training walks.

Through all the efforts and strains, I knew the importance of my cause, and wholly dedicated myself to it, yet had no idea what the Avon Walk actually entailed.

After not sleeping all night due to an irresolute combination of nerves and excitement, on the morning of June 6th, I woke up at the crack of dawn, dressed head to toe in sweatproof clothing, and walked to Soldier Field. There, my team met up (near a dog) by the breakfast tent, indulging in multiple granola bars and bananas. We lethargically marched towards the enormous inflatable pink Avon pillars; we stretched as a group to a warm-up powered by remixed 90’s workout music; we listened to disheartening facts about Breast Cancer, reminding us why the walk was important and what we hoped to accomplish.

The first moment that made me realize how outstanding this weekend would be was when the coordinator asked to the 3200 walkers, how many of us had come alone? A large faction of hands shot up into the air and I was shocked that anybody would decide to do this independently. I was impressed, inspired, and motivated, common sentiments through my entire weekend.

As we starting walking down Lake Michigan, cars on Lake Shore Drive constantly honked and shouted at us, strangers smiled, and I met interesting walking companions while each step I took lead to the stamping out of breast cancer. As we walked through the various Chicago neighborhoods: Hispanic, Polish, WASPs, Jewish, Black, cutesy, rundown, touristy—everything—, I was astonished at how people reacted, emerging from homes and storefronts cheering loudly, offering high-fives and candy, providing us with endless “Thank yous” and making the walk ever more important to me.

One of the Avon mottos is “For 2 days, we walk as 1.” I always thought it was some type of cheesy t-shirt slogan, a cute tagline to get people involved in the cause, yet I never really considered the possibilities. This weekend, I realized how even the most diverse group of people manage to unite completely, work together, to accomplish a universally meaningful goal. I was blown away at the thought that went into the event, from the themed rest stops complete with Porta Potty trivia to the cheering squads constantly circling in vans, blasting music, and never losing any enthusiasm. I smiled when a random man off the street shouted a sincere “God bless you all!” when a pimply teenager held up a sign reading, “Big or small, save them all,” and especially when my friends came out at the end of the walk to cheer on the team. Because that’s what the Walk was all about—teamwork. It had nothing to do with my five other teammates but rather everybody else, everybody who was, is, or could be affected by such a terrible fate and the hope for the future. When people of all ethnicities, backgrounds, ages (17-76!), and experience join together as one, you know you really have something special.

Avon’s other charming phrase, “Ready. Set. Hope,” left a lasting impression on me this weekend. Every step of the walk was empowering—I was truly making a different, along with thousands of other people who cared deeply about the cause; I was making people’s lives better; I was taking action. Upon entering the campsite at 26.2 miles on the first night, I could barely move. I begged my legs not to crumble as I showered in a truck, begged my back not to break as I slept on the floor, and begged my feet to support me as I miraculously woke up in one piece the next day. Upon crossing the finish line, I found myself almost stunned by my abilities. As my team linked arms and walked our last steps under the pink arch, I questioned myself, unsure that I had really accomplished what I seemed to have accomplished.

There are some “life-changing” events that barely make an impact on your future. This was as far from that as possible. Every second of the Avon Walk made me want to be a better person, to try harder, to strive further for my goals. The Walk showed me how lucky I am, how grateful I should be, and how much I can give back to my community. I heard tales of women who walked the 40 miles only weeks after a mastectomy, of men who lost fiancés days before their wedding and formed teams to remember their lost loves, of pregnant women finding lumps and of women who walked for years during chemotherapy only to die a terribly unjust death. The tragedies continue on and on, bring us to tears, yet we must remember that there is so much change possible, so much improvement we can all bring to the world, if we literally all step up.

The entire weekend was astoundingly strenuous—both physically and emotionally. My physical pain felt temporarily alleviated and my emotional pain completely displayed when the Survivors paraded in for the closing ceremony. Tears flew from my neighbors as we watched these incredibly strong women march between us, some perfectly healthy looking and others unfortunately struggling. As stunned as I was with my 40 mile accomplishment, I could not even begin to process the challenges this weekend brought to these valiant women. It brought me a new hope to see so many survivors, smiling and proud, and ready for the challenges ahead.

In the words of Eleanor Roosevelt, “Happiness is not a goal, it is a by-product.” I did not embark on the Avon Walk in order to feel happy or even accomplished. I felt it almost an obligation, a challenge I was capable of conquering. And beyond any of my doubts, I did. I learned so much about myself and the world in these two short days that I know I am forever changed. I will wear my Avon shirts with pride, share a sisterhood with my fellow thousands of Avon walkers, and hopefully continue to participate in the event. I never intended to love the walk as much as I did, yet I truly fell in love with the cause, the people, the opportunity.

After going all the way to save second base, I can assure you that the inevitable pressures of training to walk 40 miles and raise $1800 were undoubtedly worth the effort.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Silence, please!

It all started with sink vomit. On Thursday night, our pipes threw up partially disintegrated coffee grounds, banana peels, and tofu chunks, leaving us barely any dining options.

I kind of love Marlee Matlin. A deaf redheaded Academy Award winning actress turned ballroom dancer who also happens to be a Jew—what’s not to love?

For months, I’ve wanted to attend the synagogue at which Marlee had her Bat Mitzvah yet the timing, eating, and traveling never quite matched up. However, when our sink refused to provide us with means to boil a good Shabbat rice pilaf or rinse potatoes for Mom’s delicious roasted fries, the choice seemed obvious: tonight, we would venture out to the deaf synagogue.

After calling each of my parents separately and arranging a 7:00 departure, I found myself riding in the backseat of our minivan, dressed in lovely synagogue attire, ignoring my parents chatter in the front seats while I wondered what a thirteen year old Marlee Matlin would have looked like.

Upon finding a parking space wide open on the street right in front of the Shul (this oddity should have been a predictor of the next hours…) we entered large double doors, on which hung a sign: Silence During Worship. I found this amusing.

We walked a few more feet and found a spot comfortably in the third row of the chapel; I sat comfortable sandwiched between my two parents, just like a child at the movies, and the protection felt reassuring.

The twelve or so congregants surrounding us all seemed engaged in chatter except for one middle aged woman and who appeared to be her mother who conversed in a sign language much too rapid for my comprehension. I felt a little confused: Wasn’t this a deaf shul? Who were all these hearing people?

A good while after the service was actually called to start, three choir members in white robes, a woman with fiery red hair, and a tan man with long curly blonde hair and dark classes proceed onto the Bimah. The man carried a red Coca Cola can and my father suggested he looked more like a surfer than a rabbi. But indeed, he welcomed the congregation to the Shabbat services and confirmed his role as a spiritual leader.

And a spiritual leader indeed he was. Throughout our two hour service, he paused many times to thank the Lord, clap his hands or throw his head up towards the clouds. He addressed each of the few congregants by name as he called each of them up to participate in the service. As prayers were recited, the choir would take turns signing out the translations, which was truly beautiful and honestly, more of what I expected in my Deaf Shul Adventure.

At one point, the microphone broke, toppled over and became useless. (Again, I find this ironic for a synagogue designed for the deaf.) A man standing in the back proceeded to the front with a cordless electric drill and re-installed the device. The shock of the act was almost intolerable—never had I seen such a blatant disruption, a breaking of Shabbat rules in order to better observe Shabbat! The oddity was too much to handle and I stifled my laughter in my, as the rabbi called it, Prayer Book/Siddur.
The evening was nothing short of arduous. I found myself puzzled more than a couple times at the customs and behaviors I witnessed. The Cantor would randomly shout out for people to sing louder: “I can’t hear you!” (By this point, all the hearing references lost their irony and seemed almost cruel.) The rabbi feverously read the Ten Commandments from the Torah while the only deaf woman used both of her hands to support the scrolls in the air. We prayed half an hour for each individual with an illness or ailment, envisioning their healing process, and thanking God for the future.

I do truly love sign language. The way your entire body is involved in expressing your thoughts seems so complete and beautiful. Signed prayers add a sense of spirituality, a boost of devotion, to the finger-spelling and symbols, which I think actually elevates some of the holiness of the service. Everything was current. Everything was happening. Everyone was involved, completely committed to the prayers in both mind and body, in a manner most of us hearing people never experience. While this Shabbat certainly had its quirks and mysteries, I found a new admiration for both signing and praying, for a person’s ability to discover credence in the unknown and commit to her faith.

By the time the service ended, exhaustion nearly consumed me. The peculiarity almost appeared normal as we exited into the dark night, wishing a “Shabbat Shalom” to the man holding the door open for us, and as we watched a fellow Shul-attendee standing outside smoking a cigarette to truly welcome in the Sabbath.