Finding Compassion in Come From Away

By Brynn Weisholtz ’20

Standing in line to see Come From Away at the Schoenfeld Theater in New York City, I found myself wishing I were on a different line waiting for basically any other show. I peered around at the other shows near me. I saw Dear Evan Hansen and sighed; Kinky Boots and smiled; Hamilton and gasped. Indeed, I knew nothing about Come From Away except that my mother had met an older woman at Dear Evan Hansen who raved about it and convinced her to catapult Come From Away to the top of our Broadway wish list.

As the doors opened at 7:30, the line filed into the smallest theater I had ever been in. My family took our seats and, as I looked around, I noticed that the average age of the audience was somewhere between the ages of my parents and my grandparents. Suddenly, I heard a woman explaining that she and her husband had flown into New York City from Newfoundland this very morning to see the play. As the lights began to dim, my curiosity was piqued by her story; she had, in fact, lived through some of the events that were to be featured in the musical.

I knew Come From Away centered around the small town of Gander in Newfoundland, Canada, where an intimate community rallied to help strangers following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. However, I did not have any concept of how the tragic events of the day forever changed the lives of the selfless people of Gander. With air traffic halted and planes unable to land in the United States, 38 planes were diverted to Gander Airport, and Gander, with a population of only 9,000, welcomed over 7,000 strangers from across the world with open arms. At a moment’s notice, cots were set up in schools, supplies were retrieved from local stores, food was prepared, and no questions were asked except, “What else can I do?”

I was truly in awe of all the people who opened their hearts and homes to complete strangers. The residents of Gander welcomed citizens from all walks of life and were not deterred by language or cultural barriers; instead, they bonded, embraced one another, celebrated life, and mourned the world’s tragedy alongside strangers, some of whom would become lifelong friends.Throughout the 100-minute musical, I was entranced by the story depicted on stage, one that brought both laughter and tears to my fellow onlookers and myself. While the majority of the audience appeared to vividly remember the events of 9/11, I only know of that day through second hand stories, as I was not yet born. Growing up in a post-9/11 world, I cannot fully comprehend how different life used to be, but the musical brought me to a better understanding of how radically the world around me has changed. Although I was not alive that fateful September morning, the tears I shed at the performance of Come From Away connected me with the people in that theater just as the people of Gander connected with their visitors. The show I regretted leaving my house for opened my eyes to see how selfless humans can truly be.

Band-aid Culture

By Ethan Malzberg ’19

I grew up with a life-size band-aid covering wounds it never healed.

Though the expanse of years has erased much from my memory, I’ve never forgotten any of the comments on my gay voice. The first was in fifth grade. I beat him in a game of War, to which he responded, “At least I don’t have a gay voice!” It was a word still foreign to me, only heard on commercials for Modern Family, but it has altered the way I view myself even to this day. In a term I learned from Dr. Rodney Glasgow at the Student Diversity Leadership Conference, it was cognitive dissonance — an “identity bump” — with one comment completely changing my own perception of my identity in a way I had never considered before.

I ran home to my mom that day, impatient to tell her what that boy said. After a brief pause, she delivered the normal parental recourse for when your kid is bullied: “You’re not gay, he’s just trying to insult you because he’s jealous. Don’t let him bring you down!” It was a relief to hear this from my mother at the time: I was not the unfamiliar word with which he described my voice because my mom said so. It was a little band-aid to shield an enormous insecurity that has stalked me since.

It was also a relief to hear my guidance counselor repeat the same sentiment the following day. “You’re not gay, he’s just trying to insult you because he’s jealous. Don’t let him bring you down!” It was the perfect recipe for repression; I could now ignore his comment for the foreseeable future because my mom and guidance counselor said so. That is, of course, until the next “your voice is gay” would come just two months later at camp. Although the band-aid’s effect was fleeting, it was just what I needed at the time.

Years later, I discovered an email chain between my mother and my guidance counselor about the incident. “[Redacted] called Ethan’s voice ‘gay’ today,” my mother explained to the guidance counselor. “Of course, Ethan is not gay, but he was very hurt,” she finished. As I observe that exchange today, I gawk at how the situation was handled. “You’re not gay”: not then, but now I am. “He’s just trying to insult you”: how is it an insult? “Don’t let him bring you down”: you just did! The truth is my voice is higher pitched than the average male. It always has been and it always will be; I recognize there is nothing wrong with this but my lasting insecurity tells me otherwise.

Instead of addressing reality, adults put a band-aid of denial over this wound. People commented on my voice throughout the entirety of my childhood — even the rabbi at my own Bar Mitzvah joked that it was “angelic” and “womanly” during his sermon, and the panacea has always been, “That’s not true! Your voice is normal.” Every time a band-aid was put on me, it was promptly ripped off, reapplied, ripped off, reapplied. An interminable cycle that all but begged the wound to fester.

I don’t blame my mom or my guidance counselor at all — or any adult for that matter, since the same situation arose more times than I can count and touched all areas of my being. Shifting societal attitudes over the past eight years have changed the conversation on how to raise LGBTQ+ kids and I believe that email exchange would have been very different today. Regardless, every adult who recoursed the bullying I endured had the best intentions to make me feel better.

This Band-Aid Culture extends much further than my situation. It reminds me of the trophy debate: should every kid on every team be awarded a trophy? We subliminally tell the youth that everyone is the best even if they aren’t. In principle, this guards children from an unwarranted inferiority complex. In reality, we raise children to believe that the sole point of a game is to win. We prescribe trophies as band-aids to the losers, telling them “you are not a loser” instead of “it’s okay to lose, there is a greater purpose to the game than winning.” Though not a perfect analogy to my situation, like trophies, adults slapped on a band-aid to my troubles, telling me “you are not gay” instead of “love yourself no matter who you are.” Using band-aids, we shield kids from pain at the expense of growth. The wound never heals; instead, it festers until it reaches its nadir, and eventually, it must be treated properly. We need to eliminate the band-aids and start handling issues at the onset.

Bad News: A Necessary Evil

By Martha Lewand ’20

It may be hard to believe, but I recently had an interesting revelation when I took the ACT. Of course, most students consider the test both stressful and painful – it is a quintuple whammy of English, math, reading, science, and the essay. By the time I started to write that essay, I was thinking more about completing it than having a profound insight. But something about the essay got me thinking. Among other things, the prompt asked me to consider the perspective that we should block out as much bad news as we can, because too much negativity can lead people to believe that they can never solve the world’s problems. While that idea was initially appealing – after all, who wants to listen to bad news – I eventually concluded that bad news should be heard, not so we can wallow in depression and self-pity, but because hearing bad news is the first and most necessary step towards making the world a better place. As disturbing as bad news can be, it often is the impetus for positive change. Bad news may leave people frustrated, dispirited, and helpless, but when bad news inspires us to make a difference, it has the effect of bringing out the best in the human spirit, allowing us to find the solutions to the problems that plague us. To make ourselves better, we need bad news.

For example, take the Parkland school shooting in February 2018. In the aftermath, many people struggled to understand how such a thing could have happened. When I first heard about the incident, I was shocked, struggling to comprehend and grasp what had occurred. A few days later, however, I came across an article that detailed the biographies of the seventeen victims. As I scrolled down the list, tears began to stream down my face. I saw profiles that reminded me of students I knew and I also saw a profile that reminded me of myself. It described a seventeen-year-old boy named Nicholas Dworet. Nicholas was tall with blonde hair and blue eyes, like me; not only was Nicholas a swimmer, like me, but he was committed to swim at the University of Indianapolis next fall. Yet, he would never get to fulfill his dreams of attending college and pursuing the sport he loved.

Gradually, my sadness and heartbreak transformed into fiery frustration. I was tired of senseless gun violence in our schools; I was tired of hearing “thoughts and prayers” instead of demands for change. I had finally had enough.

Soon after, I heard about the March for Our Lives movement, the student-led demonstration that would take place in Washington D.C. I had never attended any sort of march before, but I knew this was a chance to use my voice along with hundreds of thousands of activists and demand change. On March 24, 2018, I woke up at 3:45 AM and made my way to our capital to march with my friend. We stood with our signs, marched on Pennsylvania Avenue with fellow students, and made our voices heard. I had never felt so empowered.

What came out of the Parkland shooting for me and many others was a newfound passion for political activism and the resolve to fight for better laws to prevent gun violence. I learned how important it is that young people stand up and fight for what we believe in. Finally, I understood that exposure to bad news is necessary because it can turn tragedy into something good, something that can inspire us to make change for the better.

Of course, no one wishes for bad news. That ACT essay perspective I mentioned made a good point: If we hear too much bad news, our hope for a brighter future may be crushed. In the face of catastrophe, we may just want to give up and stop trying. I felt that way after the Parkland shooting. However, out of our darkest fears and deepest despairs must come the resolve to make things better. To paraphrase, Edmund Burke once famously wrote that evil triumphs when good people stand by and do nothing. We have to be the force for positive social change. To become that force, we must confront the evil around us. When we learn of bad news, a school shooting, a race riot, or the murder of a journalist, we must resist the temptation to flip the channel or turn the page. As tough as it may be, we have to see the bad news as a chance to do something about it.

Recently, the US Congress banned bump stocks, which will keep someone from converting a legally purchased rifle into an automatic weapon. This will not end gun violence in America, but it is a critically important step toward making our schools, shopping malls, hospitals, and synagogues safer. That ban was passed because people were motivated by the grim reality of mass shootings in America. They accomplished this progress because they had the courage to confront a difficult truth and the conviction to act on their beliefs. We have to stare bad news in the face and work to make sure it doesn’t happen again. Only then will we build the country we want.

Speaking of Public Speaking…

By Ketaki Tavan ’19

This past Friday’s LeBow Oratorical competition reminded me of what now feels like a distant high school memory: my 5-person, trimester-long Public Speaking class that I opted to take instead of Driver’s Ed. Every time I’m asked about my favorite class I’ve taken at Pingry or course recommendations from classmates, I unfailingly circle back to Public Speaking.

I initially gravitated towards the course due to an interest in improving my speech writing and delivery skills. We worked on these skills every day through observation, discussion, and practice. Class flowed freely and in accordance with what was happening around us — if there was a major speech at Pingry or in the wider world that week, we’d make it a point to discuss what worked and what didn’t, what we’d do differently and how we’d emulate the high points.

The practical speech writing and delivery skills (like cold-reading, for example) I took away from the course should not be overlooked — they’ve stuck with me to this day, and thanks to my experience with them I’ve pushed myself to give speeches to various circles in my community several times since the course ended. But personally, what made the course so special weren’t these takeaways that I anticipated when signing up, but rather the takeaways that I truly didn’t see coming.

Because of the nature of speech writing itself and the frequency with which we did it in the class, Public Speaking became a vehicle through which I was able to really process my ideas and feelings. I came out of the course having reflected on some of my own experiences and views on the world as well as some of the most effective ways to share them. I left with a portfolio full of these reflections that will not only inspire future pieces but also serve as a unique form of a diary documenting the ideas I grappled with throughout the course.

Not only did Public Speaking allow me to learn more about myself, but it also allowed me to learn more about my classmates. Because of the vulnerable and personal nature of speech writing, when I listened to the speeches my peers brought to class each day, I learned so much about their personalities, views, and how they contributed to a truly diverse Pingry community. Speeches often sparked political, social, and academic discussions where we learned about each of our viewpoints and, in terms of speech writing, how to strengthen them rhetorically. We learned to debate thoughtfully and intelligently with each other because it was the way we were taught to craft arguments through our speeches.

My class became a mini-community of friends who came in to each meeting excited to hear what the others had to share. We learned from each other and grew closer because of what each of us shared at the podium on any given day. This was a collaborative experience through which we took inspiration and were constantly offered advice by our peers. Each of my pieces became what felt like a group-effort from several people who really cared about the final product.

While Public Speaking may not catch most students’ eyes when searching for courses, I encourage my classmates to consider the hidden treasures that the class holds. An opportunity to learn skills that will universally serve you well in the future, as well as engage with the diversity of thought and personality within yourself and your community, Public Speaking truly is worth a trimester from each and every student.

Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Word?

By Rashida Mohammed ’19

The widely-known novel Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain has recently been eliminated from Pingry’s American Literature curriculum. Additionally, Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad, which was on the book list for World Literature sent out this past summer, was not taught in any of the World Literature periods. This is following what seems to be a rising trend in the United States of removing books from English classrooms. Many complaints about the appropriateness of these texts or those similar often come from black parents (such was the case in The Duluth school district in Minnesota), black students (like those in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania), or the NAACP, which has labeled Huckleberry Finn’s use of the n-word over 200 times as offensive, a stance they’ve held since the 1950s.

In trying to understand these complaints, I thought perhaps that people felt uncomfortable with students reading what they considered to be a problematic piece of literature or were uncomfortable with students and teachers reading derogatory terms in a classroom setting. After some thought, I think that there is a common theme related to all these qualms about reading such books: the inability to embrace discomfort. This idea became better fleshed out after reading an interview with Jocelyn A. Chadwick, President of the National Council of Teachers of English, in which she said, “[Huckleberry Finn] goes where Americans really don’t want to go. We talk about race and racism and acceptance and inclusivity and equity…but we don’t really listen and engage in a real substantive conversation.”

In the past few years Pingry has seen progress on topics of race relations in the form of its affinity groups and Black Student Union. Between these groups and our many advisory meetings, SDLC-hosted events, and leadership trainings, several conversation norms have been impressed onto us as important skills in school and in life. One of these norms is to lean into discomfort. Regardless of why Pingry made the decision to alter the curriculum, I hope that leaning into discomfort doesn’t leave the English classrooms as a skill. I cannot emphasize enough that it is not okay to feel unsafe in a learning environment, but the ability to disagree with and analyze multiple perspectives, even if it’s one that you may find offensive, is vital. I hope every school that removes books like Huckleberry Finn from their curriculum considers this opinion.

Arguing that other works like The Secret Life of Bees and The Lord of the Flies could replace these novels and convey the same sentiment is valid, but we need to be careful with where we draw the line. Living in such a vocally polarized country, we are more grounded in this debate about race now more than ever. So, why not let the discussion start in the classroom?

Why Pingry Clubs Get an A-

By Aneesh Karuppur ’21

Pingry is known for a lot of things; just head over to a website like College Confidential or NJ.com and you’ll find many different opinions and rankings of the school. People always seem to compare our academics to Newark Academy’s, or our athletics to Delbarton’s, or the Pingry experience to the Lawrenceville experience, but Pingry’s broad variety of club activities are rarely mentioned. Why aren’t clubs more prominently featured? After all, any college counselor will tell you that colleges value extracurriculars in addition to academics or athletics.

Pingry’s profile on Niche.com, which features rankings and information about nearly every K-12 school in the country, tells us an interesting story. Pingry earns a high A in every category on everything except – gasp – clubs! Pingry’s clubs earn a mere, shameful A- according to Niche, but no reasoning or justification is provided. Are Pingry clubs really so much less impressive than the other things the school has to offer?

The answer is no. Of course not! Pingry’s clubs are certainly high achieving– Pingry’s QuizBowl team, for example, has more trophies than can fit in Ms. Smith’s room, and the Model Congress club regularly collects gavels during trips.

But the impression that Pingry clubs stink seems to come from people’s reviews of the school. According to one anonymous Niche user, “I was not involved in many extracurricular activities at Pingry. In my experience, clubs and organizations are put on the backburner and academics are more valued. It seems to me that if a student is looking for extracurricular experience, they will participate in something outside of school.” Ouch.

But this user is not the only disgruntled person who is unsatisfied with Pingry’s clubs: “Great if the school cares about it” says another user. In general, the consensus seems to be that Pingry doesn’t put enough emphasis on clubs.

In a sense, this is true. Many clubs in Pingry are essentially autonomous, meaning they run without significant intervention from teachers or administration. This is especially true with clubs that don’t spend too much money.

Now, this is not necessarily a bad thing. But, what ends up happening is that clubs are running completely on individual student knowledge and initiative, which makes it difficult for the club to grow together because students have many other responsibilities to tend to. After a certain point, students cannot offer the same amount of knowledge that a dedicated coach or advisor can. However, the club’s advisors often have other responsibilities as well: advising plays, teaching students, coaching sports, running publications, and a whole host of other jobs that make it very difficult for them to put in the time needed. It simply doesn’t make sense for the club to expect its already burdened advisors to develop a level of understanding that is sufficiently greater than that of the students and help the club to grow.

Ridge High School has one of the top forensics programs in the country, in part because it has a dedicated coach who visits weekly to run the club meetings. Without that kind of teacher intervention, students are less motivated to join and, without enough students, the cost of a dedicated teacher becomes too high. It’s a vicious cycle of stagnation.

Even from a monetary perspective, the “let the kids deal with it” attitude doesn’t seem to work well. Without sufficient support, clubs won’t be able to reach their potential or win accolades for the school.

Pingry definitely supports its clubs in terms of facilities. Clubs (usually) have the tools and equipment that they need to function, but what is missing is that last link of a fully invested, dedicated, single-job teacher that would allow Pingry’s clubs to be as successful as the sports teams, at least in the eyes of the administration. Some clubs are now defunct because there was no advisor to continue their existence.

It is quite likely that other members of the community have brought up this suggestion in the past. Nonetheless, the idea is intriguing for future implementation, and could move Pingry’s club score from an A- to an A+.

Putting Out Fyres

By Noah Bergam ’21

Ask almost any Pingry student who Billy McFarland is, and the response is quick: he’s the Fyre Festival guy. The fraudster. The former Pingry student.

For me, that last part has always been an afterthought, a small irony. I heard about it back when the festival came crashing down in 2017, and whenever the name came up it was a fun laugh.

But when I watched the Netflix documentary about the Fyre Festival, something about the whole disaster was brought to life in a disturbing way. Witnessing plans crash in real time, with the livelihoods of so many people put at risk, the amount of time and money and pride put to waste on a fraudulent business model — it all makes you wonder what kind of person it takes to remorselessly allow this to happen.

Sure, he was a person who went to this school. But he’s also a person that a lot of us will now immediately characterize as “crazy” or “malicious.” Someone whose mind just works in a different, broken way that we can’t relate to. Someone who we can frame as the butt of endless SAC memes of the week.

But I believe that this mindset of quick assumptions is deeply flawed, and I don’t say that in defense of McFarland. I think we have to understand him and his intentions in a much more complex way in order to properly learn from his mistakes.

I would argue that Billy McFarland is the product of a greater generational shift, a far-reaching phenomenon that I like to call Fyre. It’s an addiction, an obsession with attention, in which one’s ambitious words and the attention they gather outpace their abilities to make those promises come true. This is what allowed Billy to get investors on his side and to turn his impossible festival into a sellout show — he had an excessive Fyre, a pride in his lies. The people around him mistook that for true, entrepreneurial fire – and were proven utterly wrong.

But this idea applies to much more than just fraudulent tech startups. We all, at some point, have set out on a course of action with faulty ambition and pride, saying things that we can’t fully back up. This Fyre manifests itself everywhere across this very school — in promises to friends, club announcements, resumes, memes of the week, and probably even some Pingry Record articles. And the reason I ask Pingry in specific to look inwards is because, in my experience, we reside in an extremely success-oriented community.

I don’t think that statement would come as a surprise to anyone. Moreover, there is nothing wrong with that; in many ways, it inspires students to put their best foot forward. That being said, this focus on success translates into an even larger focus on ego, on reputation. Whether social or academic, these reputations can be boosted by exaggerations or small lies, which, over time, can add up. Often, especially in an environment as trusting as Pingry, these words can successfully create the desired illusion of wit or success, and thus be fostered further.

Perhaps more often than we as a community are willing to let on, people get away with this, and nobody gets hurt. But when this Fyre becomes an ingrained habit in our everyday lives, bubbles of lies begin to form. These bubbles can burgeon in importance, until at last, the needle of reality catches up, and the hard truth comes crashing down.

Hence, the story of Billy McFarland. A millennial Icarus, whose Fyre was enormously amplified by the distinctly modern power of an Internet Age. We, too, perhaps on a smaller level, are liable to make those mistakes in our Pingry community if we let lies or exaggerations overtake our reputations.

McFarland may be insane or malicious to some degree, but he showcased a Fyre that is present within all of us. We all need to recognize that instead of simply treating his mistakes as jokes. And hopefully, with that recognition, we all can create a school environment that puts out Fyres rather than encourages them.

A Reflection on Holiday Roles

A Reflection on Holiday Roles

By Lauren Drzala ’21

Turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy, pumpkin pie: just a few of the elements that help make a Thanksgiving feast for most people. As you all know, Thanksgiving break came to a screeching halt after five days. For me, it was not enough time to recharge my brain. Now we anxiously await winter break, hoping for one or two snow days in between. During this holiday season, family members swarm your house. And in every holiday party, I have realized there are certain categories my family members fit into when it comes to preparing any holiday event: the watchers, the cooks, the cleaners, and the guests.

The watchers. This classification of holiday participants can be described as the little pests who hang around the kitchen, waiting to strike on the innocent mashed potatoes sitting by the hot stove. I, myself, am guilty of this. Spoon in hand, they dive for the unfinished sauces and foods, being stopped by none other than the cook who prepares it. To vanquish a watcher, one must tell them they have to help clean up the mess. After this point, the watchers are nowhere to be seen, saving the remainder of the food they did not get their hands on.

The cooks. The creators of the holiday foods who feel they are the superior beings in the kitchen. They are just normal people who turn into chefs, making everyone wonder where these hidden talents just came from. Suddenly Mom and Dad turn into Alton Brown, whipping out delectable items comparable to those on Food Network. They make us wonder how these hidden talents just appear out of their ordinary lives. The cooks add some thyme here and a splash of a mysterious juice seemingly from the depths of the Amazon Jungle there. Because they are so engrossed in their cooking, a mountain of dishes begins to grow in the sink, much to the dismay of the cleaners.

The cleaners. These are the people I relate to the most. They start off as watchers, unaware of the perilous mistake they have made by sitting in the kitchen. These innocent children meet their parents’ gaze, aware of the pile of dishes in the sink. They try to escape, but are forced to help clean up. Once the cleaning begins, so does the complaining. I am personally guilty of this. “No one helps me,” is usually my go-to, but once someone like my younger sister tries to help, I say, “Get out! You are not good at cleaning up.” However, there are times when the mess is just too much to handle, and that usually leads to me ask for help.

The guests. There are many varieties of guests, including the grandparents, the cousins, the family friends, and those family members you see once every six years. Some guests are people that I have never met before. You think you hear your parents say they are friends of your third cousins, but you aren’t quite sure. There are some guests who decide to help clean up. Although I do enjoy a helping hand (when there is too much for me to handle), I don’t enjoy it when the guests begin to clean up when I am enjoying myself. This leads to a death stare from my mom, compelling me to halt my fun and start to clean up again. I then have to approach these guests and pry the soap and sponge from their hands, telling them to have a good time while I am stuck with the dishes . . . again.

Now, what I have also learned from continuous holiday parties and guest after guest is that hosting a holiday party is a pain, but it is all worth the trouble. Everyone special in your life comes together for one glorious party. Yes, it can be exhausting, but you are doing it for the people that you love. I am very glad to spend my holidays with my family; they really do make me happy at the end of the day, and I do not say that enough. To quote Michael J. Fox, “Family is not an important thing. It’s everything.”

Another Shooting Happened. This One Felt More Personal. What Can I do?

By Ethan Malzberg ’19

The news broke for me on Twitter. It was Saturday, October 27. While taking a break from college essays, I never expected to scroll past frantic headlines announcing a massacre against my community.

The Monday following the shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, I immediately went to Ms. Hartz’s office to discuss how we could act. As co-leader of Jewish Affinity Group, I was unsure what my role should be in the healing process of the Jewish community and the greater Pingry community.  

Together, we decided that the Jewish Affinity Group should host a Town Hall. There, anyone from the community — regardless of religious identification — could share their reaction to the events in Pittsburgh. Aside from Pingry’s usual norms, we added an additional one for this town hall: attendees were welcome to stand up and share their reactions, but no one was allowed to respond to someone else’s reaction. Our intention in setting this norm was to create a space solely for reaction and support, not debate. It was important for me to allow people to react in whatever way they desired — and given the political intertwinings of any mass shooting, that might mean politics — without allowing something as emotional as this to turn into a place for heated argument.

The Town Hall took place on November 8 during CP. All members of the Pingry community were invited. Teachers, students, and administrators attended the event. Many attendees shared one or multiple responses to the shooting; others simply listened and observed for the duration of the event. Personally, I shared my newfound fear as an American and as a Jew, my distaste for the manner in which our President and Vice President addressed the shooting, and my guilt for not giving myself enough time to process the events immediately after they occurred because I was so busy with schoolwork and college applications.

Mrs. Ostrowsky, one of the school counselors, shared a particularly poignant poem written by Zev Steinberg that brought many at the event to tears. The following is an excerpt from the poem:

“Little boy, what’s your name – do you have one?

Sweet baby, just eight days, what should we call you?

I have heard the sacred circumcision postponed for jaundiced yellow, but never before for bloodshed red.

Is your name Shalom? We long for peace in this troubled world. I hope you are Shalom.

Is your name Nachum? Oh, how we need to be comforted in our grief. I hope you are Nachum.

Is your name Raphael? Our broken hearts and bleeding souls need healing. I hope you are Raphael.

You should have been carried high into the congregation on Shabbat morning – past from loving hands to loving hands – on a cushioned pillow to receive your Jewish name.

Instead your elders fell and were carried out on stretchers in plastic bags. Their names on tags.

Is your name Moshe? Our unbearable anguish and rage demands justice. I hope you are Moshe.

Is your name Ariel? We need the ferocious strength of lions to protect our people. I hope you are Ariel.

Is your name Barak? We need courageous warriors to vanquish our enemies. I hope you are Barak.

The blood on Shabbat morning was supposed to be covenantal not sacrilegious, sacramental not sacrificial, sacred not unholy. The tears were supposed to be of boundless joy not bottomless sorrow.

The cries were supposed to be ‘mazel tov’ not the mourner’s kaddish.”

For those who do not know, a baby’s naming ceremony is considered, by Jews, to be one of the most important moments in life. This is supposed to take place within eight days of birth. As the poem mentioned, postponement of the ceremony is a rarity; the fact that this occurred speaks to the gravity of the Pittsburgh tragedy.

Personally, I was brought to tears by this poem. It made me aware of just how unpresent I had been. It was so easy to hear “9 dead, 10 dead, now 11 dead” in the headlines that eventually, I tuned the news out. It was so easy to fear for my own safety (for the first time in recent memory) and immediately tune out. It was so easy to immerse myself in school work that I tuned my own pain out.  Despite having planned this event, I had been so numb that I never processed everything that occurred until I heard this poem: the shooting happened at a baby’s naming ceremony, it wasn’t “just” a normal Saturday morning service.

What happened at the Tree of Life Synagogue is so much bigger than me. Still, I learned that self-awareness and emotional awareness are necessary if I want to help other people heal. I need to take care of myself before I can try to help anyone else.

Selfishness as the Driving Force Behind Voting

Selfishness as the Driving Force Behind Voting

By Eva Schiller ’21

On the Saturday after Thanksgiving, I was dragged out of my room to watch the opening skit of Saturday Night Live. It was a rerun commenting on Kavanaugh’s election by the Senate, and depicted Republican senators partying after the judge was confirmed to the Supreme Court. While I did enjoy the skit, I recognized that it was designed to make the viewer think as well as laugh. So, what part resonated with me? I managed to pinpoint a quote by Cecily Strong, who played senator Susan Collins in the skit: “I think it’s important to believe women until it’s time to stop. But…you know, I’m a guy’s gal, okay?” While it was intended to mock Collins for not supporting her own gender, this quote brings up a more serious question: why would anyone support a cause that damages their own ‘people’? Why root against the progress of your own team?

To me, it seems similar to a Pingry student rooting for the other team during a sports event. You may ask yourself why any Pingry student would do such a thing. The answer is simple: they must feel a stronger affiliation with the other school than they do with Pingry. Perhaps they are indifferent and throw their support behind the opponent, seemingly more deserving of it. Maybe they choose to root for a friend on the other team.

But is this really why people vote against causes that could potentially benefit them? For instance, it seems hard to believe that any woman could feel a stronger affiliation with “sexist” policies or actions than they do with “feminist” ones. It seems even harder for me to believe that a woman could outright dislike feminism. There must be some reason why some people are able to forsake a group that they are expected to support, much like our hypothetical student who decided not to root for Pingry.

It is important to remember that many people will simply disagree with me; causes that I deem harmful to the progress of women or other groups may seem beneficial to some. However, there are others who recognize a cause as damaging to their ‘team,’ yet still support it. I have decided that the root of this decision is the selfishness ingrained in our society. This may seem paradoxical– wouldn’t selfish people support a cause that benefits them? Well, they do. Selfish people support causes that benefit them as individuals, not the groups with which they identify. For example, many believe that our current national leadership is opposed to causes that benefit women, but this does not seem to quell support from some women who remain unaffected. If a Pingry sports team wins or loses, the average student is unaffected and is at liberty to root for either side. As long as people care more about what affects them, we will continue to vote based on personal interest rather than the interest of our political, racial, and sexual groups.

The problem that we, as a society, then face is how to encourage stronger affiliation with one’s various groups. According to Alexander Hamilton, humans are inherently selfish, but I am unconvinced that persuading people to vote for the good of their “team” is a lost cause. Since it is more selfish than voting strictly for the good of society, while still less selfish than voting for individual gain, I find voting for one’s societal groups to be a middle ground that many should tend towards. It may even help people make better decisions that benefit themselves. For instance, if I considered my identity as an American, a woman, a student, a daughter, etc. while voting, I would likely end up making a choice that was best for both me personally and for everyone who shares those qualities with me.

So, let’s summarize. We support causes that are potentially damaging to our own societal groups based on our own intrinsic, inevitable selfishness, and the only solution is to entirely reimagine what we should see as important. A bit extreme, I know. But, the best place to start is within ourselves: remember to take others into consideration when making decisions that affect them.