Lessons on Life and Loss

By Guest Contributor

Yom Kippur is the holiest day of the year for me as a Jew. While fasting this past Saturday, I reflected on my own actions that have caused harm. I prayed for forgiveness and in the year to come better fulfill my highest obligation of tikkun olam – repairing the world.

During the afternoon break between services, I walked down the street from the synagogue to a demonstration for Marissa Alexander. It was her birthday and we wanted to make it her last behind bars.

Marissa, a black woman, had fired a warning shot while being subjected to abuse. She injured no one, yet received a 20 year sentence in the same state, under the same American flag, that let George Zimmerman run free.

At the demonstration, I talked with my friend Ramona Africa. She expressed tremendous concern about American commemorations that exploit a people’s loss to justify racist murder.

Ramona, part of the black liberation group MOVE, is the lone adult survivor of the American flag-approved bombing of her West Philadelphia home.

“Jay,” she asked, “where is the statue for the little children burning to their deaths?”

I do not know the answer to Ramona’s question. But I know that when we begin to remember lives we are taught to forget, we begin to feel uncomfortable.

I do not how to best grapple with histories of genocide and racism. But I know that attempting to do so, even as we make mistakes, is necessary if we are to truly honor each life.

I then returned to synagogue to begin the Yizkor, to commemorate those who have passsed. I remembered my dear friend Ian Cameron ’13.5, earnest and beloved member of our Middlebury community.

Perhaps selfishly, I am grateful Ian took time away from Middlebury. In that he entered a couple years before me, his research at Brown lengthened the time we were blessed to spend together on campus and provided fond memories he enjoyed sharing.

I was enticed by Brown’s effort to study its own involvement in slavery and begin a process of confronting its role in this injustice. It seems a powerful model for Middlebury to reference in working to address its occupation of Abenaki land.

The Rabbi consoled, “May his memory be for a blessing.”

We need to forever remember and honor the lives taken on Sept. 11, 2001. My religion teaches me that each life is an entire world over.

Swallowing the ocean would not prepare me to produce enough tears to express the pain I feel for all of the worlds lost that tragic day, nor all of the galaxies lost in the consequent wars waged under the American flag.

At another point in the service, we knelt all the way to ground to humbly honor that we alone cannot right all of the suffering and injustice in the world. We collectively stood up, committing to do our part.

I pray that we as a Middlebury community stand up together so that the memories of Ian, Trayvon, the MOVE children, those lost on Sept. 11, those lost in the wars of terror, those lost in slavery and those Abenaki buried on campus, that their memories may be for a blessing.

JAY SAPER ‘12.5 is from East Lansing, MI

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