because I knew you, I have been changed… for good.

View of a Jewish chapel with the closed ark on the left, the lectern on the bimah in the center, with siddurim on it, and a large window with stained-class circles in the background. Through the window, a lakefront view is visible. The stained glass circles show a candle. a chanukiyah (seven-armed candle holder for chanukah), a shofar, a sukkah, the two tablets of the commandments, and a lulav with two etrog (a closed palm frond with two citron fruits). Just off-camera, there is one more circle that depicts the passover table with a wine glass.
itle from “for good” from the musical wicked; photo of the chapel of congregation emanuel of chicago, which housed congregation or chadash during my time there, courtesy of eric allix rogers from open house chicago.

(cw: grief, death, gun violence, suicidal ideation, homophobia)

for the past few months, I have walked in a daze of exhaustion and frustration and, yes, grief—to the point where it often stopped registering because it became my new normal.

“I live here now,” I joked with my student teacher, eve… but we both know I wasn’t really joking. we’d just spent a whole day helping students process the loss of one of their classmates, of one of our students, of someone I had known since he was fourteen years old and who was gunned down within a few blocks of my apartment at eighteen… and we felt numb, cold, detached from our bodies as we dragged ourselves down the stairs.

we cried then, and when a student was kicked out of her house for coming out as a lesbian, when a student disclosed suicidal ideation, when a student told us she has to move out of her parents’ house… all of this between filling out college applications with them, and explaining financial aid, and entering grades on aspen. “when does it end?” eve asked on election day, sitting on my couch with her laptop as we planned the rest of the semester. “when the year ends and they graduate and it’s time for a new class of seniors for us to walk with,” I remember replying without missing a beat—as if unfazed by all the trauma we’ve all faced recently.

hell, when my mom casually mentioned that my great-uncle passed away via text, I was more angry at her for the casual delivery than I was actually able to feel any grief.

that all changed this morning.

I woke up a little after nine-thirty this morning and happened to check facebook, which is unusual for me—and was startled as I read a friend’s post saying that a mutual friend passed away suddenly last week and his funeral would be today at eleven. I jumped out of bed, got dressed, and ran out the door so I could make it on time.

as I sat there during the service, all I could think about was the fact that this friend was one of the kindest people I’ve ever met—about how big a loss his passing is not just for me but for everyone who ever met him. there are so many things that I wish I could have said to him when we still had time… so, instead, I’m going to write them here for posterity but also because I think y’all should know them.

the two of us, almost a decade ago, all smiles during purim.

my friend’s name was reuben, and he was the most generous person on the face of this earth.

we first met at or chadash—before I’d even converted—and he welcomed me with open arms. he called me sister, always said my hebrew name with joy, and encouraged me to participate in our choir. his enthusiasm was infectious, and I could always count on him to volunteer to lead a service when I was ritual chair.

from him I learned to sign my heart out on the bimah even if I sometimes went off-key because hashem doesn’t need perfection from my worship—only a joyful heart. he encouraged me to go all out with my acting during the purim spiel, to bake for shavuot, and to volunteer to do things even if I still needed help learning how to do them. there are so many awesome or chadash moments that I could not have had were it not for him, and I really wish I’d gotten to say that to him.

we hadn’t seen each other in a long time prior to his passing. but he often reached out via social media. he made sure that I had somewhere to go for seder, even if via zoom, and I know I wasn’t the only person he took care of. we often talked about how we wanted to meet up again whenever the pandemic was over—and meant it.

unfortunately, hashem called him home first.

losing reuben has also brought into stark relief everything else I have lost after the or chadash merger with temple sholom—my jewish home, the community that welcomed me, some of my first jewish friends, and many of the rituals and routines that anchored the year for me. the members of our congregation have gone in so many different directions, some of them even moving out of state altogether, and so many of us have lost contact with one another… so seeing some familiar faces at the funeral home reminded me of how much I miss them, of how lonely I often feel, of how much I need jewish community again.

as our former choir director from or chadash drove me to the gravesite, we discussed what’s been going at work—and I realized that I want to make sure I do something ahout everything that I’m feeling right now. so, here are my commitments, in honor of the mark reuben has left in my life:

  • I will reach out to people who might need someone to spend jewish holidays with, as he did with me and many others.
  • I will prioritize finding and sharing joy every day.
  • I will focus on building my jewish community as soon as I arrive in seattle next summer.

if you’ve read this far, thank you. ♥ I encourage you to live your life with more courage and love and kindness to honor reuben’s memory. (if you want to donate in his memory, you can do so to the chicago gay men’s chorus or to emanuel congregation.)

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