If you are safe today, you have a responsibility.
You have a responsibility to pay attention. It is by mere chance you were born into the position you are in and are not in a conflict zone right now.
You have a responsibility to be grateful and use what you have been given – your education, your position, your privilege, your resources, and your voice – to advocate for those facing terror and violence.
You have a responsibility to not let hate win. Do not let this week’s events perpetuate fear, stereotypes, or Islamophobia in your heart or in your society.
A woman was just attacked for speaking Swahili in a suburban Applebees less than 10 minutes from where I grew up. It's a horrific hate crime and I’m appalled happened so close to my home.
I heard about the attack on the heels of a weekend spent at an interfaith leadership institute. The institute was a powerful time to reflect on my own faith background and identity, to connect with others and hear their stories, and to dream of ways we can promote interfaith dialogue and cooperation in our communities.
For the first time in three years, returning to Grand Rapids this fall felt like coming home. There was a feeling of contentment, of returning to something that is good.
My first three years here didn’t feel that way. I felt disconnected from the city and the lifestyle of an over-committed student wore me thin. It took awhile to find people I connected with; there were a fair share of lonely days and wet-eyed counseling sessions.
I've been quiet on the blog since coming back from Hungary, largely because this semester has been difficult in many ways and I haven't had the words to express everything I'm feeling and processing. I hope to write more about it in the future, but in the meantime I'd like to share about one area of my life that I have grown in recently.
I’m about to turn 22, and in looking back my life looks a bit different today then it did a year ago. Like the majority of people in our society, I’ve always struggled to be kind to my body and view it in a positive light. Ever since coming to college, this has only gotten worse as poor eating habits became the norm. The plethora of desserts at the dining hall, the academic stress and busyness, the constant stream of free food being handed out everywhere you turn… Let’s just say freshman 15 was definetely a thing and “treat yo self” was my life mantra.
People used to laugh when I would say I was addicted to food, but I really was. I still LOVE food and love eating, but the problem was that I reached a place where I wasn’t able to say no to unhealthy food anymore - despite wanting to. Food controlled me and left me in a constat cycle of disempowerment, self-loathing, and frustration.
2014 has been a full year. I’ve learned, worked, read, seen, traveled, written, listened, wrestled, mourned, celebrated, and done a lot. 2014 took me to Uganda, Istanbul, Northern California, Seattle, Hungary, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Romania, Croatia, Poland, Slovakia, and Austria. It took me through three internships and one volunteer placement. It reunited me with many dear friends, it introduced me to new wonderful people, and deepened some of the relationships I cherish most. In looking back on 2014, several overriding themes emerge – the lessons I've been learning, the ideas that have challenged me, and the things that have shaped my year and, as a result, me.
One of the greatest, most painful lessons I learned in 2013 was the importance of rest. I saw how detrimental perfectionism, over-commitment, and an overall stressful lifestyle were on my well being. I realized how idiotic our culture’s over glorification of busy really is. So in wrapping up 2013, I vowed to prioritize rest in the New Year. However because of commitments I had made I wasn't able to put this into practice until studying abroad in Hungary this past fall.
My life in Budapest was full, but not overly so, and I know my life back at Calvin will be much busier than my life abroad. However through those fourth months, I experienced the benefits of living a restful life. I had the space in my life there to do the things that are good for my soul – like writing, reading, and volunteering. Instead of plowing through life, I was able to reflect on everything I was experiencing which brought me greater insight, appreciation, and meaning. I felt much more awake and alive. I was filled up, and so in addition to being more content and joyful, I was also in a better place to love others.
Living this way is so counter-cultural to the American society I grew up in. I was talking recently with a friend on this topic and she was saying how we have ceased to be human beings. We are human doers. We are defined by what we do, not who we are. I believe we are called to a rich, flourishing life. And going through life on auto-pilot, over-caffeinated, depleted, and depressed is not how we were made to live. As hard as it is with a demanding schedule, in 2015 I want to continue to prioritize a high quality of life.
Wow, my last official blog from my semester abroad! It is crazy how fast these past four months have flown by. Time is a weird thing and I frankly hate how quickly it passes. Anyways, I didn't blog my last month in Budapest because, on top of being pretty busy, I was also desperately trying to make the most of the time I had left. I tried to spend as much time as I could out in the city and with the people I met in Budapest and as little time at our dorm or on my laptop as possible. It was a very full last month with many ups and downs, but I savored every second. Here’s an update on my final weeks abroad on the 2014 Hungary Semester.
The highlight of my semester abroad was participating in service-learning. For those who don’t know, I volunteered with a ministry (RMK) that assists refugees and immigrants successfully adjust to their new lives in Hungary. Not only do they practically help them, but they also provide newcomers with a community and familial atmosphere. At RMK I met with three teenage girls, Lina, Luna, and Mish, weekly for one-on-one English tutoring sessions and babysat two little girls, Maya and Mitra, once a week while their mom had Hungarian language tutoring. I loved volunteering at RMK so much because I was able to build relationships with the girls I tutored. I had the privilege of hearing their stories as well as their thoughts on various issues and their aspirations for the future. I was able to get a glimpse into the diverse cultures they come from through the lens of their life experiences. I became their friend and helped them become friends with one another, too. It was a deeply impactful experience and shaped me and my time in Budapest greatly.
This past month I tried to spend as much time at RMK and with the girls I tutored as possible. Two Saturday mornings Tonisha, a student from my group who also volunteered at RMK, and I went to RMK to play board games with the kids there. I also went to see the Hunger Games with Lina and her friend Zena, went to the Budapest Christmas Markets a few times with the girls, went out to eat once to the Hummus Bar and twice to Al Amir – an awesome Syrian restaurant – with Lina, and we all went out for bubble tea on my last day in Budapest. Tonisha and I also spent our last Sunday in Budapest walking around the city, shopping, and hanging out with the girls.
I haven’t written in a few weeks because it has taken me awhile to reflect on all I have learned and experienced in the past month regarding the Holocaust. The task of trying to summarize what I've seen, read, and heard, and share about it respectfully and appropriately, has been daunting. It’s hard to put everything into words, but this is my best effort.
The Hungarian Holocaust
One afternoon while my parents were visiting last month was spent learning about Jewish history in Budapest and particularly learning about the Holocaust. We first reflected on the Holocaust memorial shoes along the Danube, in memory of the Jewish victims shot into the river by the Arrow Cross militiamen in 1944-45. We then made our way to the Jewish district and to the Dohány Street Synagogue (or The Great Synagogue). It is the second largest synagogue in the world and my first time ever visiting one.
The Synagogue has a clear Catholic influence, as the Jews who built it were looking to be accepted by their Catholic neighbors, show respect for Christianity, and blend in. However all hope of acceptance and co-habitation was lost with the beginning of the 20th century. Due to a variety of factors, including deep anti-Semitism and resentment towards Jews, Hungary’s history of defeat and desire to regain territory, and Hungary’s complicity with the Nazis and their goal of Jewish extermination, Hungarian Jews in particular suffered during the Holocaust and nearly 600,000 lives were lost (1).
Prior to deportations to Auschwitz, Budapest’s Jewish Quarter surrounding the Great Synagogue was walled up and became a ghetto. Many Jews lost their lives here due to poor conditions, starvation, and disease before they even made it to Auschwitz. Unlike most synagogues, the Great Synagogue has a cemetery and memorial marking the mass grave of over 2,000 Jews who died in the ghetto. A bit past the cemetery there is a Holocaust Memorial Garden with a large, metal weeping willow with the names of victims etched on the leaves. There are additional artistic monuments as well as a symbolic grave honoring the handful of Gentiles who risked their lives to save their persecuted neighbors. One such hero is Carl Lutz, a Swiss diplomat who used his position to save over 60,000 Jews during the war.