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December 6th, 2007 - Scarlet Michaelson

December 4, 2017

Thursday, December 6, 2007 was the third night of Chanukah, but I didn’t do anything that night to celebrate. I was completing my final semester teaching writing as a graduate assistant at the University of Southern California. My students had taken their final exams and I was reading and grading their essays. The following semester I would finish my thesis, graduating with a Masters in Professional Writing. My focuses were poetry and screenwriting; I’d also been writing song lyrics:

 

It was really something here back in the day 
this place had such passion now it’s gone away. 
Too many memories they let me down 
cause you’re all gone, you’re all gone, and 

Everything’s changing so fast, I can hardly see 
Everything’s changing so fast how could this be 

 

Writing helped me digest all the changes happening in my life. My mother passed away a few years earlier after a long illness. I hadn't seen my father in years. My sister had her many friends; we weren't super close. I’d been in a relationship since summer, but we had separated. Even my roommate had moved out. 

 

I’m thinking about quitting every single day 
instead I make food you used to like
Remember how much we used to talk 
now it’s silent every single night 

 

I was having a difficult time imagining my future. Graduate school was about to end­­.

 

Everything’s changing so fast, I can hardly see 
Everything’s changing so fast how could this be 

 

That spring, I began practicing yoga and studied the philosophy behind it, attracted by its spiritual side. That summer I went to my cousin’s wedding, which reflected her newfound life path with an Orthodox Jewish ceremony. Her brother had previously become religious as well. Then my sister embraced observance, too. It boggled my mind that they were all focusing their lives around observing Orthodox Judaism, a form of Jewish practice with many restrictions that I’d always thought of as “other.”

 

Feeling painfully untethered, I started moving. First I moved near my grandma and an aunt and uncle in San Diego, where I taught English as a second language. My grandma passed away. I didn't feel right living there anymore. I moved near an uncle and aunt in Washington DC where I taught preschool. I didn't feel like I fit in there, either. 

 

Perhaps I used your love to make myself better 
that changed somewhere along the way
You raged a brush fire across my heart 
these ashes are waiting for the rain

 

Finally, I went to Israel where I found myself experiencing a deep spiritual connection to Judaism. I lived in Jerusalem for a year studying ancient Jewish texts, improving my Hebrew, and observing the Sabbath and holidays. I celebrated Chanukah with new friends in the community and with Israeli relatives I hadn’t even known I’d had. When it was time to come back to America, after a brief stay in Irvine, I returned to Los Angeles. I moved into a neighborhood with many synagogues and kosher restaurants.

 

I never thought I’d live in such an area or that I’d become accustomed to turning my phone off on Friday nights and attending Saturday morning prayer services. Although sometimes I still struggle with reconciling restrictions and spirituality, I have become a person committed to observant Judaism. These days I teach writing and English in the local school district, and I teach Hebrew in a religious after-school program. I live in two worlds: one is secular while the other is traditional and religious. In both, Chanukah is celebrated as a holiday of miraculous survival. This year I plan to relish it. 

 

 

Scarlet Michaelson is a writer living in the Pico-Robertson neighborhood of Los Angeles, about 25 miles from where she grew up. She holds an MFA in Fiction, but lately has been writing about the truth.

 

Scarlet encourages others to give to Friends of Sheba, the largest, most comprehensive medical center in Israel and the Middle East. Sheba treats every single person who needs care regardless of race, creed, citizenship or not. Visit friendsofsheba.org.

 

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