Empathy is what connects us as human beings in a world where so many things divide us, or try to at least. Empathy will always prevail.
What is Empathy? It is more a sense that we can truly understand, relate to, or imagine the depth of another person’s emotional state or situation. It implies feeling with a person, sharing a deeper connection. In some cases, empathizing can be like looking in a mirror, seeing a reflection of your own emotional journey, maybe your own mental obstacle.
This past weekend, January 17th through the 20th, NFTY MV came together for Winter Chavarah in Denver, Colorado. The very first person to greet me was my best friend Josh. As I walked into the temple in anticipation of seeing my second family, my heart was beating faster and faster with every step I took. All of that anticipation vanished and was replaced with a sense of comfort as I hugged Josh, then my best friend Maggie, and Alexis, the list goes on, and on, AND ON. For a moment, think about what emotions fill your mind, and your heart, when you hug your NFTY friends. What words would you use to describe that feeling? For me, I felt a sense of completion and unconditional love. Sometimes I wonder how my connection with NFTY came to be so strong, and continues to grow exponentially. The answer I’ve come to is empathy.
The theme of this NFTY event was called “having difficult conversations and building empathy.” Long name for a theme, right? Let me tell you, this theme led to me having the most enlightening, emotional, challenging, empowering, and authentic weekend. Throughout the course of this event, the programs were created to spark conversations, questions, opinions, and empathy. One of the programs was about understanding the behaviors that come with living with a disability. From station to station, I had the opportunity to step into someone else’s shoes. For a brief moment, participants were able to gain a stronger understanding and experience the world through the eyes of an individual living with a disability, maneuvering through the world.
At this NFTY event, I was able to lead a wonderful program with Charlye Reiner. This program had two main purposes. One was to demonstrate healthy ways to release stress (demonstrated through Just Dance and Coloring:), and the second was for me to bring awareness to the terminology we should use surrounding mental health in addition to suicide prevention. As participants walked into the room where my station was, I gave them a warning about the content that would be discussed. I made sure my peers knew that at any point in time if they felt that this conversation led to an overwhelming emotional response that they could leave, get some air, talk to a friend or advisor, and take a minute to breathe. I started off the program explaining how words are powerful, but knowledge is even more powerful. I had to be vulnerable in this program. To empathize, one must be prepared to be vulnerable and open. I felt safe telling my NFTY peers my story, so now I will tell you. Four and a half years ago, I lost my grandpa to suicide. He was the brightest, funniest, and most kind-hearted man I knew. And when I say the funniest, I MEAN IT! From giving performances of “Summertime” while dressing up in a robe and singing into a flatiron as a microphone, to facetiming my family and I during Hanukkah while literally dressed up as a Menorah, wearing flashlights to represent the candles. Losing him changed my whole outlook on life, and gave me a purpose in life… A purpose to bring awareness to suicide prevention, a purpose to educate myself, and the purpose to empathize with others, reminding them that they are never alone.
After each conversation ended, and while my friends rotated to the next station, people came up to me with love and affection. In those precious moments, I saw empathy translate into real action. I saw how empathy strengthens relationships, creates new friendships, brings a sense of love, and brings a sense of belonging. This difficult conversation was one of the best parts of the event. We must push ourselves to take part in those uncomfortable conversations, because most of the time, those conversations are the ones that matter the most.
NFTY MV, I am here to empathize with each and every one of you. Let me tell you my favorite saying, it is a quote from The Help,
You is kind
You is smart
You is important
Never forget your self worth. Push yourself to create deeper connections with those in your life. I hope you all had a magical weekend at Winter Chavarah. See y’all at Spring!
Boulder Temple Youth