Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Tzedakah: Live to Give

Life is unpredictable. Some days, we experience the blessings that life has to offer, varying from successes, new opportunities, and happiness.  For most days, we can consider ourselves quite lucky when reflecting on the positive gifts that we receive, such as good health, fortune, shelter, and family. Despite the fluctuating economy, many of us are still able to return home each day with a guaranteed hot meal on the table and a stable roof over our heads. Dining at elegant restaurants is not a financial sacrifice for many, and being surrounded by family and friends is just another aspect of life. On those days, we can afford a perfect world.
Other days, however, are not as fantastic. Economic failures, destructive hurricanes, divorces, and illnesses can enter our lives unexpectedly. The misfortunes in life can easily override the blessings we often take for granted. Life’s unpredictability can disrupt stable relationships, families, and communities, and suddenly, that hot meal waiting on our table could be the most vital part of our day.
From previous experiences, however, it has been proven that there is hope. Whenever there is a life-threatening action brought forth in an entire community, there is a life-altering reaction from the world. For example, the destruction from Irene, the turbulent hurricane, gathered all of the suffering communities in the East Coast together. People immediately extended support and guidance to their neighbors whose homes were severely damaged by the storm. Only ten years ago, our national security was threatened after the horrifying 9/11 terrorist attack in New York City. Families of the victims in the World Trade Center united across the globe to share words of comfort, healing, and hope. Our nation was traumatized in unimaginable ways just ten years ago, but with the volunteerism and support from our fellow neighbors, our country was also strengthened.
It is the galvanizing events like these that unite our community and ignite immediate action from people. What we do not realize, however, is that people’s lives are threatened on a daily basis. The small blessings that we consider mundane are vital privileges for others. In our country, poverty and starvation is a constant fear for most, but a devastating reality for others that we do not see. Unfortunately, unless this problem affects communities at large, it will go unnoticed and unattended. Why is it that we can all gather and create a support system during these national, life-threatening events, but not for the daily struggles that exist right in front of us?
By taking action during times of need, we are actually fulfilling our Jewish obligation of Tzedakah or justice.  Leaving an impact on someone in need of genuine comfort truly embodies the biblical saying of “tzedek, tzedek, tirdof,” or “justice, justice you shall pursue.” In order to sustain and reaffirm our faith, we are obligated to instill faith, or hope, in others. The pursuit of faith is not individualistic; people are meant to share faith together. It is not only an obligation, but also a revered value to uphold a support system for those in need. But there are people in need of hope each and every day. Even in our Jewish religion and heritage, we are not told to wait until a catastrophic event affects us before taking action.
Today, there are ways in which to pursue justice in less time consuming ways. Making a life-changing impact could ensue simply from initializing a conversation with someone. Holding the door for a person behind you, regardless of that person’s background, is an act of true righteousness. We are living in a new world where social philanthropy, or the love of mankind, takes precedence over tithes or financial donations. In fact, those who choose to love mankind will be the next Nobel Peace prize winners, presidents, and inspirational figures of our time. While tzedakah may be an affirmation of our obligations as Jews, it is the acts of righteousness performed by choice that set the standards for ideal Jewish living.
To live a life of faith requires taking obligations to a new level. To be an inspirational leader requires caring for others not only during global disasters, but also every other day. As Jews, we are commanded in our faith to give during the times of communal need. However, by choosing to improve the struggles that appear right in front of us, we will truly be able to be living examples of genuine faith.  Tzedakah is not limited to any certain format or time; this obligation can be fulfilled by merely loving humanity and taking action by choice. While life may be unpredictable, it is the consistent support and awareness that can stabilize a threatened community. By choosing to live a life of giving whole heartedly, or tzedakah, we can overcome the daily struggles that engulf our Jewish community at large. 

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Prayer: A Faithful Community

On a typical Saturday morning anywhere around the world, you will be able to find a congregation of Jewish people inside of any synagogue. You will enter a sanctuary of any size or style and experience a unique service filled with Torah reading, d’vrei Torah, or sermons, and chanting. Depending which community you choose to spend Shabbat with, you may see modestly dressed families walking to synagogues, and the local kosher supermarket will be closed. You’ll find yourself surrounded with tallitot, or prayer shawls, and ardent Jews gathering to learn all afternoon. No matter where you choose to go, you will be immersed in a faithful community.
The following morning, you’ll see a somewhat different experience. Sunday mornings across the globe affect Christians of all denominations. All church doors are unlocked in order to welcome large communities that gather for worship services, masses, or bible studies. You will enter a spirited sanctuary of any size or style and be enlightened by the sense of both devotion and passion felt all around you. Depending on which Christian community you choose to experience this day with, you may see a contemporary band on stage or a white-collard priest standing before you. You may see a Gospel choir singing harmoniously or hear an organ echoing throughout gothic cathedrals.  All the local “Chik-Fil-A’s” will be closed, but inside every church community, there is overflowing energy that can satisfy any hunger for spirituality.
No matter which day you choose, which community you choose, or which service you choose to attend, these two dominant religions share a common practice: prayer.  
Prayer, derived from the Latin term meaning “to beg,” is a universal idea that unites people of all faiths. For thousands of years, prayer has been expressed through various styles and practices. Though styles of prayer have certainly evolved since the biblical days of our patriarchs, the significance of prayer has remained enduring nonetheless.
In Judaism, most of our daily prayers have already been written. Jewish congregants form daily minyanim , or quorums of at least ten Jewish adults, and chant Hebrew prayers in an organized service. There are set times at which we pray (Berachos 4:1) along with formulated tunes (nusachim) and movements. Covering every spectrum of life, the average prayer book (siddur) contains various psalms and prayers that are recited three times a day. While tunes and selected prayers are subject to change every so often, the core aspects of this prayer service have been preserved since the formation of Rabbinic Judaism. During each Shabbat service, there is a general feeling of holiness that engulfs a Jewish community; the unwavering commitment that Jews have in Shabbat is exuded through these weekly gatherings.
Within the more liberal sects of Christianity, prayer is explored in more of a contemporary style. During church services, (Evangelical, Baptist, Methodist, etc.) prayers are recited entirely on impulse. Pastors lead congregations in communal prayer and speak the first things that come to mind. Preaching to crowds ranging from ten congregants to thousands of congregants, church leaders speak eloquently and passionately, igniting their inner faiths to shine. Praise bands lead hundreds in impactful worship services, filled with religious music, singing, and even dancing. (Hebrews 10:25) Every Sunday morning seems as though a new element of spirit is being added to the Christian faith; one cannot help but smile when watching a room filled with faithful people spring into life. During the jovial moments in life, we can rely on our faiths for a dependable and inspiring service each week.
 Some weeks, however, are not as incredible. All religions in life face the tragedies and horrifying circumstances that deter the average person from praying. All clergymen are approached with life-altering events that threaten the faiths of their congregants. The religious institutions that we consider to be spiritual havens have always opened their doors during the times of dire need and despair; they even remain open as we grieve for reasons that are sometimes beyond our understanding. During these times of pain and suffering, every religious group is posed with the ultimate question that can sustain or eradicate one’s faith: Why do we pray?
Some people take prayer as an opportunity to praise God without any justification. Others use this outlet of faith as a chance to yell and be angered with theology. Some take the concept of prayer and modernize it; the organized time during weekly services to pray is merely for having “catch up” conversations with God. I realized, however, that no matter how people choose to pray, they are still committed to organized prayer at their respective religious services. Perhaps there is truly one, unbreakable aspect of organized prayer—one that we cannot circumvent even if we tried: community.
Through both the positive moments in life and the heartbreaking, there has always been a faithful community to support us. When we jubilantly celebrate our blessings, we have always been surrounded by a smiling community, one for which to be unconditionally grateful. We may not realize this until today, but that same tight- knit family stands behind us during times of personal struggle. We have always been supported and comforted during the moments in life that shake us and leave us feeling emptier than words can describe. Our loved ones in that community may not necessarily offer theological advice, but have always guaranteed a shoulder on which to lean through the rough patches in life. Through both our smiling and tear-filled eyes, we have seen our communities beside us and continue to stand beside us in our faith journeys. This is the same community that takes part in our organized prayer. So, despite the theological struggles and phases of doubt, why not immerse yourself in a providing community for as long as you possibly can?   
Prayer helps us find an everlasting community. Faith may be a personal journey, but certainly not one to experience alone. Perhaps that is why Jewish minyanim require at least ten congregants in order to begin praying together. Perhaps that is why Sunday morning church services will not commence without at least one family present. While prayer may be one of the fundamental values of religion, it is a strong community that is the ultimate backbone of faith. Faithful people are meant to share faith together.
To one struggling person, your faith could mean the world. Your presence could begin a long healing process for a grieving family. Your religious group’s service that one week could impact another’s life forever. By praying beside someone, however, you will be ensuring that person that no one in life must face faith alone. You will be alleviating the fears and doubts people may have, and replacing those feelings with inner peace of mind.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Faith is Certain



I know that the sun will rise tomorrow. With all of the scientific facts and astronomical data we are blessed with today, I can expect to wake up tomorrow and see rays of light emitting through my window. There is also no debating time. Our clocks, both digital and internal, will continue to function in their typical cycles under any given circumstance. These are only two of the many inexorable certainties that we experience in life. These proven facts in our daily lives, however, are limited.
There are things in life that we cannot physically see or explain, but choose to believe anyway. When our little siblings place their fallen teeth underneath their pillows, hoping to see a winged fairy deliver gifts in return, they are relying entirely on an unproven belief. When students choose universities to attend, they do not know what the outcomes of their decisions will be, nor can they predetermine their futures after school, but continue to grow and experiment with life anyway. Even the wisest of theologians and clergymen have very few answers to the questions pertaining to God’s existence that enter our minds on a daily basis. All of these situations represent a feeling that we all hold onto so dearly: faith.
Faith alone offers no guarantees. Faith is not the proof of our beliefs, but rather the hope that what we choose to believe in is right. While the proven theories in life can only extend to a given limit, the world of faith is truly endless. This sense of hope is also the foundation of most religions; it brings people comfort to believe in some greater force in the world, even if it will remain unseen forever. When a religious institution is filled with people who are gathering to believe in something greater than themselves, there is a sense of unity and humility felt in that environment. And with that unity, there is a reliable community, built and sustained through a common faith.
Unlike the established certainties, faith can be expanded, tested, or even demolished. Circumstances in life shake people; those victims then only want physical answers or just comfort—two factors that faith alone cannot always supply. It is not easy for a family of three, twelve, or even seventy-two to continue believing in an ominous theological being after experiencing a loss deeper than words. It is not easy for anyone to attend a synagogue, church, mosque, or any community of faith after having his/her own faith threatened. The moments in life where we struggle, doubt, and search for deeper meanings in our respective religions, however, is when our faith shines through the strongest.
 During the times of hardship and grief, many refer to the book of Tehillim (Psalms) in order to reconstruct their connections to God. Psalm 25 encourages us to believe in something greater than ourselves, or God, at all times. This verse inspires us to preserve hope, or faith, in a greater power and in a brighter future. By putting our trust in theology, or by keeping faith, we are opening ourselves to a world of fatality, community, and most importantly—strength.
In some cases, faith has been taken to the wildest extremes. Radical thinkers have disgraced their respective religions through their actions or words. There are faithful people who choose to jeopardize others in the name of their own faith. As a socially progressive society, it is truly devastating to witness an abnormal number of deaths pertaining to religion. Fortunately, faith is not limited to those mindsets.
In most of the other cases in life, faith has inspired the skeptics and the spiritually weak. For many, maintaining a faithful lifestyle and mindset has ignited the utmost mental strength and optimism. While adapting such an outlook on life does not limit its endeavors or accidents by any means, keeping and sharing faith only alleviates the intensity of those given situations. With a solid faith and an open mind, we can change the world.
 It takes true faith, or hope, to continue praying at the times when we have lost everything. It takes undeniable strength to not only recognize the proven facts in life, but to believe in them as well. It takes a community of faith to believe that the sun is still shining, even when it is not seen in the sky. It is also our obligation to take those unseen rays of light and spread them to communities that mourn in darkness. There is no doubt that time will continue to pass before us; that is a certainty that will never fail. It is what we do with that time, however, that defines where we stand in our faith. By living with a sense of hope, we can encourage others to approach the highest and lowest points of life with trust in both God and the importance of a community.
So from now on, I will continue to wake up each morning with not only the awareness that the sun has risen in the sky, but also with the faith that it will continue to shine through any storm.
“Oh Lord, I set my hope in You; my God, in You I trust,” – Psalm 25:1-2

Friday, May 6, 2011

Living Faithfully

I’ve always wondered what high school would have been like thousands of years ago. If my friends and I had just witnessed the powerful revelation on Mount Sinai, would we be inspired? Would we immediately remove every kid from its mother’s milk? Would we immediately bind the words of Shema to our doorposts and wrap them around our left arms? Would we still have to take our assigned Chemistry test that week or could the national revelation get us off the hook? While I cannot answer any of these questions on behalf of my 21st century generation, I know for a fact that thousands of years ago, we’d all be a bit more pure. Since the first group of teens in the Bible to the ones living today, there has been a drastic decrease of not only biblical orthodoxy, but also genuine purity.
Obviously, as humans, we are expected to sin. Perfection has never truly existed among anyone on earth; promoting a flawless generation would be slightly unrealistic. I do believe, however, that the kind of purity described in Scripture thousands of years ago is not out of reach today. Our forefathers, too, suffered from extreme temptations, but did they really have more self-control than we do? Of course, they first-handedly experienced the receiving of the Torah, but as united 21st century Israelites, couldn’t we try a little harder to connect to the biblical purity that is expected of us?
Genuine purity does not have to be as extreme as that of the sheep-herding days. We, as the most evolving generation in the world so far, could preserve the simple forms of innocence through something as basic as our attire. Every influential woman in the Bible dressed comfortably and colorfully, but traditionally abided by the “modest is hottest” standards. No one told those women that exposing more skin would help them be better people. No one teased them for being naturally innocent, and virginity was not borrowed or traded for a higher social status. Unfortunately, things have changed throughout the last thousand years. Today, quite a few teenaged females confuse underwear as shorts and shirts as dresses, with virginity and innocence as exchangeable side accessories. Perhaps if we all dressed with some degree of modesty, we’d realize that we can still ameliorate the world-- without exposing one too many inches of our sacred bodies.
 In the days of the Bible, young female virgins, though considered beautiful, were fairly common.  They were not pressured by any means to lose their purities until their respective marriages. Today, to find young women with an innocent mind is rare. Whether she chooses to wait until her second date or just succumbs to the first, the average female student gives up her internal purity far too easily. I’ve been told more and more stories of high school couples “going all the way” during their prom nights, if not before. Losing something as valuable as God-given innocence is more than just exposing yourself to pleasure, exhilaration, and whatever else your friends describe. Risks are taken, mistakes happen, and the consequences unexpectedly appear. Statistics present us with the inexorable reality: Since the Bible’s formation, there have been a few more teen pregnancies than suspected. Thankfully, MTV took note of that and created one of the most popular television shows, “Teen Mom.” There are now television shows to view the dangerous potential outcomes of losing a beautiful purity that can never be replaced.    
As a faithful Jewish teen, I still believe that our generation has hope. While we obviously cannot give up our skinny jeans and return to the trends of long robes and sandals, we can at least become aware. We can become aware that wearing a little more clothing is not only expected of us from our faith, but also the professional world. If we just tried a little harder to cover the parts of our bodies that are meant to be covered, it would be much easier for the world to focus merely on our words and actions. By dressing both fashionably and modestly, we could still look good while staying true and pure to our faith.
I don’t pray for our generation to return to the original traditions of the Bible; I just hope that one day we can value the ideals of purity written in the texts of our faith. Through awareness of our potential to be as pure as our forefathers once were, we could reexamine our own lives. We can think twice before exposing ourselves to negative social experiences. While it is encouraged to become aware of the risks that can change our lives, there is absolutely nothing wrong with facing social pressure with a biblical attitude; it’s ok to step away from the things that feel uncomfortable.
I’ve realized that it’s ok to be innocent among the high school students of this generation. I’ve accepted that I will never be a walking “Urban Dictionary” and my body will never be exposed through sheer, mismatched clothing. I respect the eras in life where both men and women were expected to dress modestly and live conservatively, but I truly admire the people today who choose to live that way. Obtaining the rare innocence that is lost in our generation is never easy, but I will strive to accomplish this challenge.
I pray that our generation will only grow closer to the roots of our faith by valuing the innocence we’ve been given since birth. I pray for the high school students of this generation to one day learn the joys of being new and innocent in life, rather than pressure to be the most experienced at living. I pray that there will soon be more conversations that do not revolve around the impurities that surround us, but rather the optimism we’ve created by living closer to our faith.
I still do not know how my friends would handle the life-changing revelation at Mt. Sinai, but I do know that we could connect to our ancestors and live like they did. We can be the leaders of today’s Mt. Sinai, or high school, without deviating from the foundations of our beliefs.
Through awareness, I can prevent my purity from being lost at far too young of an age. Through faith, I can live innocently and purely—alongside my forefathers and mothers. I invite you to join me.   

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Faith in Every Ladle

People feel spiritual in various ways these days. Some feel their holiest while standing in the luxurious sanctuaries of worship centers. Others reach their highest spiritual potentials while staring at breathtaking views in exquisite locations. I, like many, originally thought that true faith was limited to those factors. That, however, quickly changed for me during my spring break.
Throughout one week, I noticed that God’s presence is not only felt in temples and churches, but also in the heart of South Broward County. Upon my arrival at the Jubilee Center’s soup kitchen, I was not expecting this one week of community service to significantly alter my outlook on a cup of soup, a smile on someone’s face, or even the boundaries of my own faith. Of course, it only took an hour to exceed those expectations by a landslide.  
The Jubilee Center, based off of the biblical concept of jubilee, or festivity, changes lives each and every day. This small facility is filled with both experienced social service workers and selfless volunteers, all who cater to the needs of the Jubilee benefactors. Every morning, the Jubilee Center serves over one hundred hot meals, ensuring that no one is left hungry. Families of any size and economical state are guaranteed undivided attention and nourishment during their daily visits, and even some of the most close minded people leave this soup kitchen and center smiling. Despite the recession and all the ignorance in the world, I take comfort in knowing that inside the doors of the Jubilee soup kitchen, the potentials to create our own jubilee are endless.
Every day at the Jubilee center is a miracle that is never taken for granted. Each bowl of soup is ladled and received with the upmost gratitude. The volunteers, varying from students, parents, and a seventy-eight year old former military officer, smile voluntarily and serve with not only with spoons and tongs, but also with their hearts. Without the chefs, social workers, and the committed, altruistic volunteers who never fail to smile each day, this thriving community haven would be lifeless.
Perhaps the most inspirational aspect of the Jubilee center is the receiving, grateful community. As over one hundred meals are served daily with no prior menu, each tray of food is returned with a thankful response. The people, varying in age, race, and gender, not only respect the food they are given, but also each other. Frequently, I noticed men standing courteously behind women, and the singles would create seating room for families. Prior to each meal, the entire community, including the Jubilee staff and volunteers, gathers in a circle just outside the front door, bows their heads, and prays in unity. At that very moment, all the gloves, hairnets, and differences in religion and race are put aside. During that powerful moment of prayer, I was holding hands with a man who did not know where his next meal would be, but praised God anyway. At that moment, with our eyes closed, we gratefully blessed the things we have in life today, rather than what we didn’t have. Each day of my spring break, I watched our united faith override hunger.
While the world is still far from arriving at universal and eternal peace, the places like the Jubilee Center only bring us closer to that goal. Synagogues, churches, and breathtaking views will still be open after we make a difference in our local communities. While there is still a sense of spirituality at those locations, it is the places like the Jubilee Center that expand our boundaries of faith and put our lives in perspective.  
This past week, I gained an understanding that God is not only available through prayer, rituals, or studying. Faith can be as beautiful and as simple as ladling soup into a bowl. The love and faith shared in each bowl of soup at the Jubilee Center proved that God really is working all around us; He dwells among us through both the brightest and dimmest times.
Since my eye-opening spring break, I wake up every morning thanking God for giving me faith, and the Jubilee Center for sustaining it.   

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Genesis 2:18







 
It is not good that man be alone; I will make him a helper corresponding to him.  Genesis 2:18
Since the Bible began, it has been proven that everyone needs a life-long partner. Through the good times and bad, we have always needed people to bring out the best in ourselves. While it may not be admitted today, people see the better parts of themselves through their loved ones; we are truly driven to inspire those who inspire us.
Biblically, it’s stated that the first created man, Adam, could not lead a future alone; he needed a life-long spiritual partner. Today, statistics present the inexorable truth: people are evidently happier when they’re with others. I can relate, as I have been blessed with someone who can bring out the upmost happiness in any person, including me, for the past sixteen years of my life. While I may not have been alive to experience the formation of the first Bible or man, I live each and every day of my life carrying the sense of happiness that accompanied Adam in his early stages of life: I have a life-long friend who corresponds to me. And just like Eve, the first created woman, my spiritual other half is beautiful.
To say that my twin sister, Carly, was a gift I had been searching for since birth would be a little far-fetched. I was never offered the opportunity to be an only child in my family. Technically, I was only granted thirteen minutes to bask in the independence and honor of being the first-born daughter, and ever since those short minutes, I have never been alone. Looking back, however, I really didn’t even need those thirteen minutes of “freedom.”
As a twin and sister, Carly is my friend by blood. We live and get along under the same roof, look fairly similar, and respect each other in the ways that good siblings should. Between the ages of six through twelve, our hobbies remained relatable and our passions had yet to be discovered. Throughout those years, people naturally assumed we were the best of friends, and I naturally agreed. At the time, it had never occurred to me that our hobbies would later evolve along with our similar friends and undiscovered passions. I had never realized that my twin sister would only grow more and more integral in my life, my social status, and my spiritual perspective.
Since Adam and Eve were originally the only human begins placed on earth, they learned to bond with each other. Later, however, they grew together as siblings and began to form a life-long friendship which then inspired the further creations of humanity. Though the two were created with God’s essence in order to inspire the world, they did so by choice. I am proud to say that under any circumstance, Carly is my beautiful best friend—by choice.
Once we entered a new chapter of our lives, or high school, Carly and I grew closer while our choices and preferences differed. My sister discovered her light on stage, performing and mesmerizing audiences of any size. She sings, dances, acts, and writes and has been a pivotal addition to our school’s theatre department. I, on the contrary, have chosen to delve into spirituality and religion, taking comfort in Judaism and the studies of other faiths. While we each have chosen unique life paths for us, our common decision was our choice to remain trustworthy friends both inside and outside our home. Usually, the polarizing hobbies and ideas of entertainment would typically deter sisters from voluntarily becoming friends, but Carly and I have experienced the opposite. While our separate passions began to unfold, Carly and I have united together.
Siblings who see their friendships as “mandatory” do not recognize all the potential joys of living with a best friend. I understand that I need to respect, defend, and comfort my sister during rough times, but those acts of siblinghood are the bare minimums. I’ve realized that Carly is the kind of person and friend that I want to respect, defend, comfort, and love.
Like Adam and Eve, I pray that my sister and I will only grow closer as we enter new chapters of our lives. I pray that we will continue to embark upon days that bring us joy with gusto, (days filled with successful auditions and performances) and speedily overcome any obstacles (such as the rare rejections and heartbreaks, perhaps a little less rare for me) with strength. I pray that Carly will continue to honor God in everything she does, inspiring me to do the same. Like the first bond created on earth, we have the potential to inspire humanity for generations to come. We can change the world simply by respecting each other with our natural morals and most importantly- by choice.
To say that I am blessed is an understatement. I have a sister who chooses to be my friend and even includes me in her busy social life. I am fortunate to have a twin who not only is a loyal sister, but also my closest friend. With our different passions and interests, it’s almost just a coincidence that we look alike, but I’ve accepted that we’re different. While looking back, I would not trade in a single day with Carly for all the materialistic happiness in the world.  
Only sixteen years ago, my sister became my instant best friend by blood, but today, like the most intricate biblical creation, she is my eternal best friend by choice.
To Carly, my greatest friend; I hope your first of many prom dresses is only half as beautiful as you.  
 



Thursday, March 24, 2011

Missionaries of Faith


Recently, a group of my friends were discussing their upcoming summer plans. I overheard many of my Jewish friends making plans to travel to various summer camps and beaches for the hot summer months and could easily relate, as I am preparing to do the same. The responses from my Christian friends, however, really caught my attention.
“I’m spending one month in Tanzania and spreading the gospel to the hapless villages there,” said one of my friends.
“I’m traveling to Russia and volunteering with the Vocational Bible School to repair one of the orphanages there,” added another devout Christian.
“I’m flying to Haiti with a church group to rebuild the fallen communities and teach the Bible,” mentioned another friend.
While my religious friends have the same opportunities to explore summer camps and shopping centers over their summer breaks, they have chosen to represent their faith internationally and overseas. Rather than spending their money on new summer fashion trends, they have spent their entire year hosting fundraisers and awareness projects in hopes of buying plane tickets to volunteer at their particular locations. Some of them travel with church groups or their families, and others are solely by themselves in devastated countries. Whether their journeys are organized or spontaneous, my friends have been enthusiastically anticipating the mission’s trips that they will remember for the rest of their lives.
Considering that the primary purpose of mission’s trips is to spread the gospel in order to spiritually save the souls of others, I wasn’t surprised that my synagogue doesn’t offer such experiences. Judaism does not emphasize the idea of sharing texts in the Bible to surrounding third-world countries, nor arranges volunteering opportunities in Tanzania or Russia to promote G-d. I know this because I’ve tried looking for an experience like that of a mission’s trips. I’ve researched every Jewish and Interfaith program for opportunities to share my faith with those in need of spiritual healing. I’ve called numerous faith groups, varying from student cultural programs to the Jewish federation, but have yet to find the ideal mission’s trip for me.
I am truly in awe of the numerous churches and Christian centers that offer students with the opportunities to travel world-wide to promote their faith. Pastors and administrators spend endless hours and effort organizing successful journeys in order for their congregants to step outside of their comfort levels and see their faith shine through in every country. Since the concept of mission’s trips has been created and pursued, Evangelical Christianity seems like the fastest growing religion today. Even after all the flights are booked and the money is raised to travel, the foundation of mission’s trips still remains clear: faith is needed all around the world.
There must be some aspect of volunteering internationally that bothers Judaism, but I have yet to see any problems with putting a little fundraising effort into a life-altering idea. Along with churches, there are Jewish communities all over the world that could use some spiritual healing. Synagogues promote the concept of “Tikkun Olam,” or preparing the world, by placing a few recycling bins in their front lobbies or hosting a canned food drive. While I applaud these local efforts, I have yet to ever leave my comfort level in regards to representing my faith. The idea of “Tikkun Olam” has no given boundaries, and we can create the impactful experiences that not only sustain our faith, but take it to an even greater level. Like Evangelical Christianity, promoting our faith is not limited to any one zip code. We can begin slowly, first sharing our faith to local communities, then stepping outside the comfort and boundaries of our current cities to spread our morals all over the world. Judaism can reach every corner of the earth if there are enough faithful people to travel beyond their comfort levels and cover those distances. Any Christian missionary could tell you that the goal of spiritually enlightening people has a far greater effect than the unfamiliarity of the particular country. Nothing stands in the way of a motivated, faithful Christian missionary who wants to cater to a community in need of spiritual healing. I can only pray that Judaism will have the same mindset one day. Along with Evangelical Christians, we all have the ability to be missionaries of our faiths.
Though my synagogue does not spread Judaism to Tanzanian communities, I only hope that one day, we will reach that destination. We have every opportunity to promote our faith in every community, nationally or overseas, but must have the same motivation and courage to take our faith to that level. We cannot allow financial and mental issues hinder us from sharing our faith to the world. We can either choose to remain active in our local communities or be inspired to take our faith to the next level, but until we make that choice, the world will continue to be in need of spiritual healing. Communities could always use a few more missionaries of every religion, and we have the ability to represent our faiths everywhere. Only then will the world truly be a brighter and more faithful place in which to live.   

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Eternal Faith

Today, life can change in the blink of an eye. One day, you could be content and overjoyed with what you own and the next day be left with absolutely nothing. While there are no distinct reasons for the changes in life, it is up to us to make the best of those situations.
Just two weeks ago, my good friends had everything they needed and appreciated the blessings brought in their lives. They had lived happily with two loving parents and a firm relationship in G-d just two weeks ago. This family was optimistic and kind hearted, with no reason to feel empty or doubtful of theology. Then suddenly, with no preparation or sign, life changed for this family in the blink of an eye. Just one week ago, a sense of emptiness fell over my friends’ home, and due to various health issues, my friends lost their mother and are now counted among the other “mourners of Zion.”
Since the funeral, one, reoccurring thought has crossed my mind every time I see them: Where was G-d during all of this? What did my friends do to deserve the sadness brought into their home? Why must they feel this sudden suffering in just one week? How do we, as the friends and family, sustain enough faith in order to encourage mourners to keep faith?
While I usually turn to the book of Job for comfort, the verses just seemed so nonchalant in regards to this particular tragic situation. Usually after a loss of something minor, I would think of the famous verse in the first chapter, “Adonai natan v’Adonai lakach, y’hi shem Adoni y’vorach,” or “The Lord gives and the Lord takes away, blessed be the name of the Lord,” but G-d couldn’t have just “taken away” the beautiful mother of my friends so causally. It’s safe to say that though I am na├»ve, I do not understand the thoughts that must run through G-d’s mind before giving and taking.
While I struggled with my faith under these circumstances, my two friends remained unusually optimistic. I’ve seen more smiles than tears, more memories shared than silence, and more laughter than fits of anger. Of course there was initial sadness that a wonderful life was lost, but now, there is more happiness when thinking about the wonderful life that has lived, and will continue to live through the optimism inside my friends.
Rather than turning to atheism, my friend taught me a valuable lesson from this tragedy. She encouraged me to never feel regretful in life and to never take anyone for granted. Life can change in the blink of an eye, but the memories and love you feel with people are everlasting. She even trusts G-d to help her carry her mother’s legacy forward, while others would usually turn to doubt. Just one week ago, I was inspired by someone who appreciates life even after the shock she experienced. Today, I feel blessed.
Since then, I have yet to find any theological answers about the mysteries of life. I have yet to find the cures for cancers, illnesses, and other medical procedures that change lives so quickly. I have yet to miraculously relieve the state of shock that was suddenly brought into my friends’ home. I have, however, formed a new respect for the optimism expressed by the friends and family of these mourners. I have felt a new level of pride for my local Jewish community that gathered every night of the week to form a minyan, or a stable support system, for this family. While we all grieve for this loss, we all still carry a sense of hope that our optimism can assuage the shock and sadness that entered our lives just one week ago. Perhaps rather than relating the verse in Job to one person, we can relate it to the feeling of happiness that affects us every day. Perhaps G-d gives us instant and evident happiness on some days, and happiness that we must delve into further on other days. I realize that this past week, the happiness wasn’t as evident as a materialistic pleasure or the joy of having everything we needed two weeks ago, but the indirect happiness was found through the strong community formed around this family, and the sense of optimism and hope discovered within it. Never again will I take anyone in my community for granted.
From this moment forward, I can only pray for more comfort and love to be sent to my friends’ home. I pray that G-d will send clarity and reason to this family, as to why such shock entered their lives and continue to remain present in their lives. I pray that we will take the wise words of my optimistic friend and never take anyone for granted. Lastly, I pray that we, the Jewish community, will be able to find happiness even in the darkest of times, creating optimism and hope for the future. As I take comfort in knowing that there is not only a reason for every event that happens in life, but also a community that will support each other during those events. Life can change in the blink of an eye, but faith, hope, and optimism found within a community are everlasting.           

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Song of Songs 6:10



Who is she that shines through like the dawn, beautiful as the moon, radiant as the sun? -   Song of Songs 6:10
Song of Songs, or “Shir Hashirim” is a love story with a variety of interpretations.  Some say it’s a passionate poem between a man and woman that marks the standards of every unbreakable relationship today. Other spiritual scholars describe this book as a detailed relationship between G-d and Israel or Jesus and his church. For me, however, this book can be brought much closer to home.
Chapter 6 revolves around the concept of beauty. Today, in our generation, it is rare to find beauty as raw and pure as described in this verse.  There’s the external beauty displayed on reality shows and pageants that some consider the ultimate and only form beauty, but Song of Songs dives into every perspective of this physical and spiritual trait.
Who is she that shines through like the dawn…
I truly once believed that every person was created to be beautiful in his/her own way. Today, however, that statement is just a far-fetched idea. Our generation has embarked upon so many undesirable situations and has been persuaded by the negative approaches to them. I’ve watched so many innocent girls lose their beauty and grace merely because of their actions and choices. Sadly, it is rare to walk into a room filled with women and find one who “shines through” in regards to pure beauty in its every existing form. This feat, however, is not impossible.
In history, there are women that were depicted for their external and internal beauty and shined through the flawed people that surrounded them. I remember learning about exceptional women such as Princess Diana of Whales, whose actions benefited those in need and created her incredible, unbreakable reputation even after her tragic death. Her external beauty barely compared to her selfless heart that lived for healing others. It has been a challenge for women to shine through in life the way she did, but there are still other women in both history and modern day that strive and succeed to illuminate every dark situation. Only eleven years ago, my aunt Ruth Shapiro devoted endless hours and effort to ameliorating the world, inspiring a new generation of young leaders to be involved with their communities as well. Women like the royal British princess and my benevolent relative have shone through the moments in life where we lived in darkness, and created the bright “dawn” that reminds us all that life is beautiful and worth living. 
Beautiful as the moon…
Naturally, women have the tendencies to worry about their outer appearances. First impressions today are no longer about personality and internal kindness, but rather external traits that will most likely fluctuate within the upcoming years. Make-up, varying in colors for the consumers’ conveniences, has become the latest “nutrient” for women’s bodies and the mandatory purchase before walking in public. I, along with King Solomon, the author of Song of Songs, don’t view make-up as beautiful, but rather a crutch that only prevents women’s G-d-given beauty from shining through them. Nowhere in this precious biblical love story does it mention the need for concealers and hair mousse. Nowhere in this romantic poem does it require women to cake make-up onto their faces, but rather, accept themselves as beautiful exactly the way they are. Unfortunately, women have relied upon these expensive crutches to the point where any natural beauty has already been permanently hidden. Every woman was created with the potential to grow as “beautiful as the moon,” but many lack the confidence to even hobble, let alone walk, without the faux beauty crutch.
Some women, though, still wear their natural beauty with pride. They are able to walk outside not only without makeup, but with the realization that they do not need it to be beautiful. Those particular women, though shrinking in number, possess an inner purity that reflects their outer beauty. I’ve been quite fortunate enough to meet and grow to love some of these women, whose hearts are priceless and eternal, unlike makeup. These women are naturally as beautiful as the moon, one of G-d’s first creations. While it seems as though women were designed more intricately than astronomy, G-d’s intentions of creating both human beings and the moon were identical: to enhance the world with natural beauty and grace. By accepting exactly who you are without adding unnatural details, you are glorifying G-d’s sole purpose for creating the world. I am inspired everyday by the women with the confidence and the awareness of the truth: they are beautiful just the way they are.
Radiant as the sun… 
While it is common to come across women with accentuating features and external magnificence, it is rare to find a woman with a graceful internal essence. Along with a caring heart and pure modesty, the most influential women I know are the women who are able to smile even in the darkest of times. Today, it is not the large issues that prevent optimism, but rather the petty, worthless inconveniences that can easily be disregarded. It is rare to come across a woman who can light up a room with her positive outlook on life and smile at those who cannot access that kind of internal electricity. Moreover, it is the optimistic women who undergo the most inconveniences in their lives, but know how to put their lives in perspective and count their blessings. I am grateful to know such women personally, and I’m inspired everyday by their optimism. Every woman has the potential to be as “radiant as the sun,” they just need to smile first. The petty, temporary inconveniences in life do not override the infinite blessings that surround us. Every woman has the potential to live with a “positive jooka,” or a radiance that not only illuminates a room, but inspires other people to smile as well. Perhaps if we were exposed to more “positive jookas,” or radiant people, the world would indeed be a brighter place in which to live.
While I can think of a various women who meet every aspect of this verse, the first and most personal woman who instantly comes to mind is my incredible mother, Barbara Goldberg. As mentioned before, beauty has become rare and precious today, and I am so grateful that I am exposed to the innermost purity and radiance every single day. My mother has the ability to illuminate every situation, varying from business meetings, family outings, first impressions, and even my occasional “worst days ever.” My mother has the “positive jooka” that everyone admires, and her optimism inspires me to reconsider my own outlook on life and recount my blessings. With gorgeous features that do not require any makeup to enhance, my mother is naturally stunning, but unlike other stunning women, she has enough confidence to walk outside exactly the way she looks, without changing any aspect of herself. While many people have the natural instinct to gossip or complain at any time of the day, my mother has a naturally pure mind, which not only prevents negativity from leaving her mouth, but also prevents pessimistic thoughts from forming altogether. Her pure mind is truly incapable of devaluating life and only focuses on beautifying it, and her pure heart is an “open door policy,” to tend to those who need the warmth.  While none of G-d’s creations were intended to be perfect, my loyal and faithful mother, Barbara Goldberg, is as close as they get. She meets the standards for standing in “tzelem Elokim,” or in G-d’s image, just as the Creator intended for his creations to stand. Just with her personality alone, my mother has the ability to ameliorate the world, inspiring one heart at a time. With a natural beauty like the moon and radiance as recognizable as the sun, my mother has the potential to make this world an even better and brighter place. Just by waking up every morning and smiling every day, my mother fulfills this biblical verse in Song of Songs. While King Solomon was probably unaware of the remarkable women that could meet the standards of his devotional writing, I am fully aware and constantly inspired by the particularly beautiful woman that lives within the four walls of my home. I know that the historical Princess Diana would have been thrilled to meet a Floridian version of herself, and I know that Ruth Wagner Shapiro was and is proud to have a sister as benevolent and as beautiful as my mother. Today, I represent the benefactors of my mother’s internal and external beauty, and have been honored to call her my mother for the past sixteen years of my life. Happy Birthday, Mom, you are truly beautiful and loved.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

The Future of the Conservative Movement

Lately, I have come across many articles and lectures regarding the future of the Jewish Conservative movement. Rabbis in the community have recently felt the need to address the issues of tradition vs. change in our religion, how to maintain our and preserve our faith while staying aware of the many faiths around us, and how to gather all the generations to their synagogues. While these issues are evident in the Orthodox, Reform, and Reconstructionist communities, they appear the most problematic in the Conservative movement. Among all the branches of Judaism, the Conservative denomination is definitely one of the weakest in regards to membership enrollment, financial stability, and assertive decisions on the future of faith.
I am not here to denounce my own denomination of Judaism, but rather to focus on the roots of the main issues of the Conservative movement. I am an active member at my synagogue where I experience the modern issues brought before my congregation and watch my rabbi handle and address them. The ritualistic peeves, or in my opinion, the positive changes such as musical Shabbat services and triennial Torah readings do not determine the future of Conservative Judaism, but merely benefit the goals and intentions of these changes.
For the typical synagogue president, the main, unavoidable problem in the Conservative movement is the lack of young, active members. Once students enter college, they are exposed to the various spiritual and ethnic groups on campus and visit their synagogues at home less and less frequently. By the time they graduate college and start working lives of their own where financial stability is the largest concern, paying synagogue dues does not override meals and apartment bills. In fact, even if there was enough money for a young single to pay for synagogue membership, would the thought of paying so much money toward a facility where s/he feels no connection whatsoever motivate that person to belong to a Conservative synagogue? You’ll sooner find that single at the local thriving Chabad house instead, where s/he can feel a connection to Judaism while enjoying the meals (and liquor) that are free of charge.
Another aspect that prevents young members from committing to synagogues is the lack of warmth and spirituality. While unaffiliated Jews understand that the Orthodox movement is religious and definite in the unbreakable ritual laws and the Reform movement is far more liberal, the Conservative movement is left somewhere in the middle. The average Conservative commentators and rabbis have grown indecisive over the years in regards to what laws we can and cannot abide by, what ritual practices to emphasize and which changes to succumb to, and how to make synagogue services more enjoyable without losing the traditions of Shabbat. For the average unaffiliated Jew, the atmosphere of a Saturday morning service is rather cold and filled with “No, your non-Jewish boyfriend cannot step onto the bimah,” or “Sorry, here we do not host interfaith music ceremonies.” While no two conservative synagogues are identical, both exude the vibe that the Conservative movement may be open to new ideas, but the answer to any severe changes is “no”.
We, as faithful people, must understand that the only gateway to gathering the younger Jews of the community, the future of Judaism, is promoting spirituality over ritualistic practice. While both rituals and community should be valued, it is pivotal to recognize that a sense of community is more necessary for the single Jew. The average unaffiliated Jewish single with a jaded connection to religious procedures needs to know that in the Conservative movement, it’s ok to not immediately understand every little detail. It’s ok to be confused at first, for everyone in that sanctuary is still learning and will continue to learn for the rest of their lives. It’s ok to find your sense of spirituality while keeping traditions alive. It’s also ok to face the inexorable modern world and all of its advantages in order to take your sense of spirituality with you. Most importantly, it’s ok to not understand the rituals but even better to learn the meanings of them from the synagogue experience. The Conservative movement revolves around teaching, evolving, and learning, three things that could easily be improved in our synagogues. No one truly knows that it’s ok to be confused at first because no one really ends up teaching the ones who are. The Chabad rabbi’s walk up to visitors individually and light-heartedly encourage them to be involved in the services, while at Conservative synagogues, visitors watch the services pass them, due to the lack of warmth around them.
I am still an active Conservative Jew and see hope for this particular denomination. The hearts of all the faithful Conservative Jews are in the right places; we just need to cater our hearts to those who may not have been born into the ritualistic practice that we consider second nature to us. Compared to the other denominations, the Conservative movement is still considered caught somewhere in the middle traditionally, but has the potential to thrive spiritually. As an Egalitarian movement, we have come a long way in regards to modernization, but the road leading to full synagogue membership has not ended quite yet. To gather all the Jews, young and old, affiliated or unaffiliated, spiritually connected or lost, we must open our doors and our hearts before placing the walls of rituals and traditions before us. We must create a warmer atmosphere and welcome all kinds of people with open arms. We must ensure those who feel uncomfortable that having faith is not a talent that only the experienced worshippers can obtain. While we should definitely value our Halachic bonds, the priceless effect of a “kehillah” or community, must take precedence.  In the Conservative movement, along with every movement actually, spirituality should not be a devalued aspect of every community, but rather a primary factor among all the generations that choose to dwell together in search of the connections to their faiths.  Only then will we see a true impact for the future of Judaism.
  

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Broadcasting Faith

                                       

Recently, I was granted the opportunity to recline on the couch and watch a good, uninterrupted half hour of television.  Now, I’m not much of a TV fanatic, but occasionally a good half hour to park my brain in front of a screen is necessary. I can honestly say, however, that since that evening, my brain has yet to “park” anywhere.  In fact, that one evening of social media actually stirred some extra thoughts.
While aimlessly skimming through channels, I was not expecting anything surprising or unusual to appear on screen. I barely paid full attention as the various reality shows passed before me, until I froze suddenly, remote control in hand. On the television screen in front of me, in bright yellow lettering read “Trinity Broadcasting Network,” the umbrella company that sponsors the infamous “Holy Land Experience” in Orlando. My face literally brightened at that moment. There was no turning back then.
As an Evangelical TV station catering to all sects of Christianity, Catholicism, and Messianic Judaism, the Trinity Broadcasting Network certainly works assiduously to please everyone. With various interviews, praise and worship services, and online streaming webcasts, the mysterious religious station somehow manages to satisfy the average Jesus believer. Apparently, this one television station has creatively “saved” hundreds of unaffiliated Americans into the Christian faith in less than an hour, and while I may not be one of those people, I certainly appreciate the overall effort. The talk show host actually once pointed to the camera and prayed for all the viewers in the middle of her interview, creating a warmer atmosphere on screen. TBN has definitely mastered the personal outreach; I felt pretty special that night.
While the Trinity Broadcasting Network does not target toward my religious beliefs, nor do I feel any impact from the biblical and spiritual messages themselves, I applaud the intentions of this religious station. Evangelical Christianity is perhaps the largest growing movement in America due to the many interpersonal outreaches that occur daily. There are over thousands of missionaries that travel to the world to preach their faith; who knew that some of the most acclaimed preachers just proselytize from a television screen? Is there perhaps a more genuine, personal outlet to outreach your faith than on global television? Has social media become the most effective gateway to sharing your religion to the world?
 While many religions fervently believe in pure biblical orthodoxy, admirable intentions, and kindness, there are also the inexorable issues brought to every faith: financial stability, membership, clergy relationships, and effective outreach.  At the end of the day, every practicing religion needs to be active in this society to stay alive. We, as faithful people, need to accept and focus on the modern factors that stabilize our faiths today in order to see our values spread all over the world tomorrow.
I personally consider a friendly conversation or a warm gesture as a sign of outreaching our faith. We informally outreach our faith to others just by the simple acts of kindness we do every day. Holding a door for someone behind me or giving to charity, however, won’t necessarily promote my faith to keep it alive. I understand that there are simple ways to broadcast my faith, even by adapting to the modern, secular world. To be honest, I have proudly “liked” all the Jewish facebook groups online, I make phone calls to my Broward community annually, and I have even downloaded the latest application on the iPhone, the “iSiddur.” Social media is the future, and I must keep awareness of that if I want my religion to be a part of that future.
While it may not seem like it today, Christians have once needed gateways to promote their faith in public. Today, there would be no one take part in the international missions trips, the church services, and the ministries if there weren’t any websites to learn about the faith. Besides the fact that every religious center needs to stay strong financially, these places need to put their names on the map in order to spread their faiths and values to large congregations.
Religion is no longer limited to paper; just about every biblical text can be accessed online. Worship services can be viewed on live webcasts, pastors and rabbis can text blessings to congregants, and faith is debated over the internet. The world today has embraced social media, and we must follow the world in order to spread our values. If economic times were easier, I would recommend that every dominant religion runs its own television network. How cool would it be to simply click a TV channel and see your faith in action? As long as the adaptation to social media doesn’t devaluate the genuine values in every religion, I think a little more universal outreach is what every faith needs to succeed.
 The world is changing and progressing every day; the values beneath biblical orthodoxy and the Scriptures can easily be promoted to society in whatever forms of communication needed. So while I may not particularly agree with everything preached on every religious channel, I truly applaud the concept of faith being outreached into my own living room through television and other sorts of social media. I have no doubt Evangelical Christianity will continue to grow, thanks to outreach channels like the Trinity Broadcasting Network. I can only hope that every faithful group will find a network of some sort to spread their ideas and beliefs to the world. Religious awareness and coexistence are not out of reach; we just need to figure out the most effective ways to create and outreach both. Perhaps becoming aware of the modern world around us, first, will help us all accomplish this awaited goal.                                                        

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

A New Hope

When some hear the word “Messiah,” light illuminates their faces. Others hear the word and fall to their knees in prayer.  Just about everyone I’ve met, however, feels relieved and at peace with themselves, for the  arrival of the Messiah, whoever it may be, sure sounds wonderful for the world we live in today. I, on the contrary, cringe at the thought.
Why am I so opposed to peace miraculously brought to the world? Moreover, why do I passionately disagree with all the Messianic prophecies in my own Jewish Scriptures? It’s not that I prefer endless world conflicts over peace, nor do I ignore the words written in every holy book, I just refuse to blindly believe in an unknown being to accomplish everything that we can do today.
In the Jewish faith, the upcoming Messiah must be entirely human, from the paternal line of King David, and bring eternal peace to the world in his (or her) first (and only) coming. Therefore, according to Jewish texts, the Messiah today is still unknown, which decreases my faith this non- existent, detailed person. The details according to the texts, however, increase my faith in the pure humans that exist in our communities.
Synagogues, churches, mosques, even Buddhist temples all gather to promote peace, to credit something greater for the peace that already surrounds them. We, as faithful people, preach and pray for one person to come and enlighten the world; we truly accept that one selected, humble person will just bring about peace at an unknown time or place. By doing so, we feel comforted that perhaps the peace we’re looking for will arrive sooner if we worship or promote this bizarre concept. Feeling comforted by this unproven idea, however, proves our reliability for things in the world, this case being world peace, to be accomplished for us. Faithful people have certainly become lazy these days.
Truthfully, the Jewish texts have proven that this long awaited peacemaker can’t be Jesus of Nazareth. We can’t expect to see the Lubavitch Rebbe riding through town on a donkey anytime soon. Even the Dalai Lama, though an inspirational leader, doesn’t apply to the Messianic prophecies written all over the Old Testament. This doesn’t stop us, though, from blindly parading the idea of eternal peace everywhere we go. I suppose it comforts us to praise an unknown being that is claimed to help us all get along one day. Since some believe that one man will unite the world, we act as though we are utterly incapable of connecting with others. We’ve been motivated to perfect ourselves in time for one person to arrive and perfect everything else. With the concept of a Messiah, we are literally relying on an unknown future to be built in front of our eyes, rather than building the world in which we live today.
Not all of us, however, accept blind faith. Rather than futilely reclining and waiting, some move forward in repairing the world just in case no one does it for us. We don’t realize, though, that these people have already begun taking small steps to complete the mission of one Messiah: bringing eternal peace to the world. In fact, these individuals may just be the only “Messiahs” we’ll ever witness in our lives. And while these people may not have the ability to instantly create lifelong peace in the Middle East, they put in all their effort to create something close enough; their intentions alone are far more pure than any prophesized text.
Don’t get me wrong, there are many religious activists who do remarkable things. The most faithful people I’ve met spend all their time serving G-D and those around them, which inspires me every day. We, as faith activists, just need to double check our intentions behind our deeds.  Are we catering to the world purely for the betterment of the world, or to speed an entrance of an unrealistic miracle? Will opening the door for the person behind me please the Messiah? Or will it make the person walking behind me feel grateful? Which one is more realistic and impactful at that moment? Perhaps if we focus our actions towards improving the world today, we will be taking steps toward eternal peace, because at the end of the day, would the Messiah have arrived on time to hold the door open?
Unfortunately, I cannot prove that a Messiah is merely imaginary comfort, nor do I know if one will actually arrive. I do know, however, that I will forever look down upon the concept of one selected man accomplishing something we all have the capability to create ourselves. Eternal peace exists just outside our front doors. We can memorize the kindness in our hearts much more effectively than the Messianic texts. We do not need to wait for a debatable prophecy to arrive to create world peace; we could begin the small steps ourselves. We could all, in fact, be our own Messiahs.
My opinions may be unorthodox, but let’s face it; while a rebuilt temple sounds nice, creating peace in our own communities is just so much more worthwhile. Chris Tomlin and Phil Wickham can easily sing about creating peace just as beautifully as their previous Messianic tunes. The mitzvah mobiles could illuminate a motivational message on their trucks rather than a Messiah picture. Promoting peace today is so much more effective than promoting a debatable idea. Promoting the world to accomplish the unthinkable is much more powerful than wistfully praying for the unthinkable to be done for us.  
Life is too short to rely on debatable Messianic hope; let’s create our own. Let’s focus our intentions to making this world, today, a better place. I’m sure any Messiah would be happy to see faithful people coming together to accomplish a global, worthwhile mission. Though we are simply people, we can find the motivation to create something greater for our world today, and in the future. And we have already begun.