The Stories That Connect Us

runyan_josh_otAt a time in life when others get lost in music or drugs or the high school social scene, one particular headstrong 16-year-old decides that his teenage rebellion requires wearing a yarmulke.

He knows little about kashrut, even less about Jewish history and practice, but he knows that he’s Jewish. And so he makes a statement, proudly declaring his identity in the form of a blue knit kippah while meandering through the sometimes conflicting worlds of religious practice and modern life. He is naïve and lost, but his search is pure.

One day, this headstrong young man finds himself at a Target, standing in the checkout line, when a figure from what appears to be another era — a bearded rabbi dressed in black — spots the boy from amid the crowd.

“You’re Jewish!” the rabbi exclaims, but it doesn’t take him long to realize that the adolescent standing before him is somewhat of a puzzle. He stands there in jeans and a T-shirt, clutching his purchases, and, save for the skullcap, clearly inhabits a “non-Jewish” existence.

“Rosh Hashanah is in two weeks,” the rabbi tells the young man. “You must spend it at my house.”

And so propelled a Jewish journey that continues now, almost two decades later. The young man’s story might never have been shared were it notfor a workshop at the Owings Mills JCC sponsored by Limmud Baltimore. What the gathering — which you’ll read about in this week’s JT —illustrated is that everyone has a story, everyone grapples with their role in Jewish life and Jewish community, everyone continues on their journeys.

It is only through sharing these stories that we develop an appreciation for not only what others have gone through, but also how similar our own journeys appear to others. And so, you’ll find in this week’s pages the tales of Ben Hyman, whose love of Baltimore has planted him in what could be the most un-Jewish of locations; and Mike Peisach, whose love of family and familiarity has made him one of the last sewing machine repairmen; and even the tragedy of Esther Lebovitz, the 11-year-old whose murder stunned a community and in whose memory hundreds of people turned out to protest an appeal by the man who took her life almost a half-century ago.

It takes a lot to share a story; because of the difficulty of introspection, it’s even harder to share your own story. It requires careful reflection, an openness to critique and a willingness to be vulnerable.

But it’s through stories that we learn of obstacles overcome, of loves gained and lost, of achievements and failures. It’s through stories that we inspire ourselves and each other, take stock of our lives and the world around us and find answers to the questions that plague us.

More importantly, stories provide the fabric that binds each of us to our past and future, to our family members and friends, to our community and neighbors.

What’s your story?

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