It was the third date with the man that would become my husband.
I took a deep breath. His answer would reveal something important about him- and whether we’d be a good fit.
“There are two kinds of people in this world: Those that want to change the world and those that are happy focusing on the world around them… you know, their own life. I want to change the world. What about you?”
I moved to New York as an early admissions student to Stern College when I was 17 years old. After years of a relatively sheltered life (think insular Hasidic community in the Midwest with Persian parents), this was my first foray into the great unknown- a world of diversity, opportunity, subways and little supervision.
One night while hanging out with friends on the Upper West Side, I met a whole group of Jewish kids from Brooklyn. Though they looked like any other young college-aged kids, there was something different about them. A certain confident swagger. A definite sparkle in their eyes. A can-do aura that said, “I’m here. I’m somebody.” We got to talking and turns out, they were from a Chabad Hasidic community just like me — though on some level, they were on a different path. They definitely weren’t wearing their black hats and white fringes anymore, to say the least… The exterior markings of a Hasid were gone. But the inherent revolutionary spark was still in full force, alive.
My father met Chabad on Campus as a college student in the early 70’s. Newly immigrated from Iran, he saw a Sukkah-Mobile one day and it sparked a memory from his childhood. Next thing he knew, my Dad (who had the fiercest mustache ever) was shaking lulav and esrog with a young, Hasidic Rabbi who in turn, shook awake my Dad’s soul. There was no turning back.
Growing up Chabad, there are things we’re taught that are integral to our identity as Chabad Chassidim and as Jews: Every person counts, and every good deed counts. There’s a power that is inherent in every single Jew that can never, ever, ever be underestimated. And every good deed- however minuscule and inconsequential it may seem- has magnificent, incredible impact on the world and its cosmos. Can you imagine what it is to live like this? It is the ultimate upper. The ultimate boost. We feel invincible… And it never fades.
So of course, growing up, I wanted to change the world. And for me, it was always about people and our stories; the power of creativity and community. I believe that through those mediums, big stuff can happen… that movements for change are at our fingertips. I want to change how we educate our children about their sexuality (more about that another time). To create nonjudgemental spaces to share our thoughts and feelings. To create revolutions in Jewish education where we celebrate the individuality of every person. I am always pushing myself to think bigger, better, more meaningfully. I truly, really, want to change the world.
So as I’m sitting there on our third date, over Marlboros and martinis, I wait for him to answer the question: “I want to change the world. What about you?”
And this was his answer: “I believe you can change the world through your own life… I can change the world through my own, happy home.”
Deep, right? It’s not about a big mantra, a big campaign, a big mission. Change- meaningful change- can occur through small steps, through focusing on ourselves and families and improving our lives. There’s a ripple effect that’s just as impactful, just as strong.
His answer pierced my heart. I had found a partner.
And while I reflect on that and believe that there is real truth and beauty to his perspective, the world is absolutely changing. We all know that. We are connected through myriads of ways and the advent of social media has created a space where people’s pains and struggles- however “far” they may be- are right here, right in front of us. And with that awareness of pain comes opportunity and responsibility. We need each other- and the passion we can bring to the table… So the time for small impact is gone. And I don’t just mean big projects that save countries. The time for lukewarm feelings and half-baked opinions and staying quiet and behind the scenes are over.
It’s time to take a stand, to really feel something- and do something about it.
Last week, I went to a summit of over 700 high-powered CEOs. The theme of the conference was “Leading Innovation.” And every speaker had this theme: Disrupt yourself. Get out of auto-drive. Don’t be afraid of failure. Risk something- anything- to make a difference. As Seth Godin challenged the audience, “If you were gone tomorrow, would anyone miss you?” And sitting there amongst a whole sea of (mostly) men in suits, this is what I thought: I grew up this way. The Rebbe. Chassidus. Shlichus. Whoever wanted the status quo? It was ingrained in us to be disrupters, to be pioneers, to be rebels. And even in bars on the Upper West Side with our beards shaven and our kippahs off, we are officers in the revolution for change. But now- finally- the world is catching on. “Disrupt yourself!” Yes!
Five years ago I had an idea to start a school. Crazy, crazy, crazy. But somehow, against all odds, we made crazy possible. And today, I feel blessed to have the opportunity to live my life’s passions and work to create big impact every day, doing something I love.
But sometimes, it feels lonely. Very lonely. Like standing in the middle of a large circle, surrounded by people, dancing to a song only you can hear.
Or maybe others do hear the music, hear your song. They might even tap along. But will they join you, get up and dance? Will they twirl their bodies with utter delight and abandonment, totally enthused by the rhythm, feeling the energy of the melody pulse through every limb and vein? Will they feel the passion?
Maybe, yes. Maybe, no.
Are you ready to dance alone?
And what if you’ve been sitting too long on the sidelines, in the quiet space. Or maybe you’ve had the same song on auto-repeat for as long as you can remember… the dance steps more like a zombie-walk of monotony and tedium. Are you ready to find a new tune, to search within yourself to find that thing that still matters, that gives you hope?
Are you ready for your song to be heard, wide and far?
And what if we all danced together, sharing our music, the notes of our particular songs blending in beautiful harmony, an orchestra of change and drive and grit? What if we all cared about something- anything!- so much that we couldn’t bear it anymore, we had to act? Now?!
Join in. Find your song. Quiet down and listen to what moves you… And then start dancing.