“At the Sky, for the Crescent Moon”
Danyal Khalil ’23, CSSJ Interfaith Intern

The Islamic calendar is different from the Gregorian calendar. It is 11 to 12 days lesser than the Gregorian calendar and has its own months. Right now, we are in the Islamic month of Ramadan, and this month is special. During Ramadan, Muslims all around the world fast from dawn till sunset.  The purpose of fasting is to teach Muslims about self-discipline, patience, sacrifice and empathy for those who are less fortunate. The first few days of fasting are the hardest, then you become used to it, and then it ends with celebration of the Islamic holiday of Eid al-Fitr. The festivity of Eid begins only after the crescent moon is seen. On the 30th day of Ramadan, you can see people outside, on their terraces and their balconies eagerly looking for the crescent moon, so that the month of fasting can end, and they can celebrate Eid the following day.

I believe that the current pandemic in a way can be seen like the month of Ramadan. The first days were the hardest and now we have become more used to this new way of distanced living. The day of celebration when it is over is close. Now everyone is looking for the crescent moon, Covid vaccines in this scenario, to mark an end to this period of patience and sacrifice. However, this time the moon, rather than appearing at once, is going to appear in parts. Thus, we need to be a bit more patient this time.

Right now, I am looking at the sky at the parts of the crescent moon behind the clouds, patiently waiting for the whole moon to come out.


“Savoring the Path: Counting the Omer”
Rabbi Marley Weiner, Director of Asbell Center for Jewish Life

The last month of the semester always feels like a marathon. And this year has felt more like a marathon than most. Class is more exhausting on Zoom, and so is planning programming. With the weather improving, and summer vacation on the horizon, and as more and more of us are vaccinated, it is so easy to look towards a brighter and more fun future with impatience.

In Jewish tradition, this time period marks the Counting of the Omer, 49 days in which we count from Passover to the holiday of Shavuot, which commemorates Mt. Sinai and receiving the Ten Commandments. Egyptian slavery was awful for the Israelites, and it could be so easy to psychologically rush forward from the place of our suffering to the place of our greatest triumph. But Jewish tradition does not let us do that. Instead, we have a month and a half where, every night, we number and appreciate the in between time, and we use each day to do additional spiritual preparation for the Giving of Torah.

Since the start of the pandemic, I’ve been hearing (and saying!) “when things are back to normal.” But this year has worked on all of us. None of us are unchanged from where we were in March of last year. We have learned new things about ourselves, our friends, and our communities. We have pushed the limits of virtual and remote community as far as they could go. We have learned more than we ever thought we would about epidemiology. We adapted to the narrowing of our in-person face to face circles. And for some of us, we mourned the loss of family and friends to COVID-19.

This in-between time from pre-pandemic and post-pandemic has been hard, and transformative, and awful both in the colloquial sense and the more ancient meaning, “full of awe.” It will take time, even as we can gather together again, to fully integrate its lessons. Let’s not rush too quickly to that time, lest we forget what we have learned in the last year. Let’s savor this part of the journey, count the days, and see what they can teach us as we move forward.


“Hope is On Its Way”
Rachel Prince ’21, CSSJ Interfaith Intern

In the Jewish tradition, we are now in the period of counting the Omer. The omer includes 49 days of counting between Passover and Shavuot. Essentially, the Omer is dedicated to preparing and anticipating for the Harvest to come. Perhaps, the concept of counting the Omer can also be representative of our experiences living throughout this global pandemic. How many times have you found yourself waiting for that one event that would make it all worth it? How often have you counted the days hoping for a sliver of positivity and excitement in the near future? How many of your significant life plans got put on the back burner? Although we all have different lived experiences, this feeling of longing (and this hope for the horizon) is universal. We have all had to wait in this time. Yes, some of us have been more patient. Some of us have lost more. Yet, there is power in validating this longing as something real and very human. So, I hope that we all can create small moments to look forward to, and celebrate the small victories within our daily- seemingly monotonous- lives. Hopefully the anticipation isn’t much longer, and we can begin to enjoy those moments we’ve had to neglect. 

Here is a poem to get us through, by Langston Hughes:

Still Here

I been scarred and battered.
My hopes the wind done scattered.
   Snow has friz me,
   Sun has baked me,

Looks like between 'em they done
   Tried to make me

Stop laughin', stop lovin', stop livin'--
   But I don't care!
   I'm still here!



“The Need to Know Now”
Aidan Birth, CSSJ Interfaith Intern

As we are now over a year into our experience of the COVID-19 pandemic with masking, social distancing, and quarantining, I have found myself needing to know the future. Every so often, I get into a slight state of COVID despair and find myself searching, “When will COVID end,” on Google. Beyond that, as a college senior, I have found myself thinking numerous times that I need to know about my future now. It is as if I think my knowledge of when something will actually happen will make it happen sooner. This is nothing new for me; even pre-COVID, I have spent a good few days waiting for the bus or train in New York City (where I am from) and looking at an app or screen that tells me when the next bus or train is coming. What I have realized is that I have a need to know...and I need to know now.

This desire to know now is not unique to me. As I complete a religion major and philosophy minor, I am well aware of the desire to have the whole universe figured out. There is a natural desire in us to gain knowledge of the phenomena around us. Yet, as I sit around for hours pondering all this, I come to an answer that, at first, seems unsatisfactory — I do not need to know everything now.

The religion major and philosophy minor in me scoffs at this thought. Isn’t the need for further knowledge much of my academic focus? Furthermore, the college senior in me cringes; after all, I am asked once every few days if I know about my post-grad plans. Then the human in me is puzzled because after all, don’t we all want to know when the COVID pandemic will end. Yet, as I discuss these matters with other people and take time to reflect on them on my own, I have come to realize that I am weighing myself down and stressing myself out with my insistence that I need to know so much now.

I am not proposing we give up on all our academic, personal, and career endeavors because they are stressing us out. However, what I am proposing is that we be humble with ourselves and our own expectations. It is not worth undermining our self-worth for the sake of striving to know everything as soon as possible, especially when some of the things we are striving to know are out of our control. It is okay to not have the answer to every question I have right now. Sometimes, the answers to our questions will come at times when we least expect them.

In the meantime, let us focus on what we know now and look with faith to the future. It is hard to know about the future, and it can even be hard to know what to make of the present, but we have plenty of experiences from the past that can help us discern what to do now. They can help influence our choices of what we should and should not do now. Furthermore, as we look back in the past, we start to realize and appreciate all the unexpected and beautiful occurrences in our lives. In some cases, these occurrences have led to our current positions in life, such as the schools and jobs we have chosen. This is where looking with faith comes in; there are choices we have control over, but we are sometimes presented with circumstances that we cannot entirely control ourselves. Once again, this is where we are faced with the possibility of needing to know now. Alternatively, we can humble ourselves and realize that it is okay to not have all the answers we want now but have faith that we will have answers in due time.


Cody Nielsen, CSSJ Director

Where am I right now? In FOMO. The weather is getting nicer, the flowers will soon start revealing themselves from their places in the ground (you might have even seen a few). And it seems that everywhere social media is abuzz with people getting vaccines. People are so happy. But I have FOMO.

Am I happy that people are getting the vaccines? Of course I am. Am I happy that we might begin to get to a new normalcy in the future, sometime before the summer? Yes. Could we move just a little bit faster please?

Here’s the thing. I’m 36, I’m in good health, and I am not on campus every day (I still live in Minnesota). I’m safe, able to work from home, and I’ve avoided the virus the entire year when so many others have been sick and so many have been lost. I know lots of them—both those who have gotten sick and those who have passed away unfortunately. We are all pretty broken and there have been a lot of trauma for all of us.

And as long as I stay safe, I should avoid getting sick and eventually I’ll get a vaccine. But not yet. And eventually we’ll get back to being outside and going for coffee and dinners together. But not yet. And we’ll eventually have random meetups with strangers on the street and we’ll hug each other upon greeting and life will be back to something we once knew. BUT NOT YET.

I have FOMO, the Fear of Missing Out, but I’m still going to wait. And I’m still going to wait because I want to make sure that I keep myself and the others around me safe. 

When we started this semester, I asked the staff of CSSJ to be in reflection weekly about the “somewhere” we are in. For me, right now, I’m in waiting. And I’m pretty impatient about it. But my impatience is nothing compared to the greater need for us to be patient, stay safe, and try to find some peace. I want to see my friends so badly, to go for a vacation badly, to just move ahead. But we can’t. Not yet.

So, as you reflect yourself upon the urges to take risks, to simply go back to normalcy, to get frustrated at everyone else getting a vaccine and you just sitting around waiting, I encourage you to set up a hangout, go outside and see the flowers (turns out you can do that while still being safe), and just try to be patient. It’s hard to do, especially if you have FOMO like me.

But we’re going to keep going. No matter what it takes. Because our ability to maintain patience must be stronger than our urge to take the “reward” of gathering too early. 

Stay safe, stay eager, but stay put. The end is in sight. 



“To Feel Heard”
Sagun Sharma ’21, CSSJ Interfaith Intern

My therapist recently told me that I have a deep need to be heard. She asked me to mull it over for the next few weeks. My initial reaction was like “duh! everyone has a need to be heard.” But do they? What does being heard even mean? Is being heard the same as feeling heard? So I asked some of my close friends at Dickinson what it means for them to feel heard. Hear them out, will you?

A big thank you to all my friends for sharing their voices❤️

Pocast link: https://soundcloud.com/user-686410210/to-feel-heard


“Somewhere in Time”
Lori Loudon, CSSJ and Asbell Center for Jewish Life Administrative Assistant

We all need to take a hard look of how we use our time wisely. I want you to choose energy management over time management.

We all have the same 24 hours. If you focus on time, you might be held back by the transactional things we do day-to-day. If you think in terms of energy, you can ask yourself “Is this activity worthy of my energy?” You could live until you are 80 but lose your energy by 60. You have 24 hours, but if after five hours you fizzle out, it does not matter if you have another 19 hours. The issue is not the amount of time you have; its’ the amount of energy you have!

No matter if you are an athlete, scientist, caregiver, etc., if you don’t have the energy, you can’t execute. We are all like batteries. Sooner or later, we all lose our energy. Some days I feel like I have hit a brick wall. That’s why it is so important to place your energy in something worthwhile. Try to focus on activities that contribute the greatest to your life and just do more of those things. I am currently a Deacon at my church. We recently gathered to package goody boxes and sign cards for our college students. We then delivered boxes to those students that are taking classes from home and shipped the others out by mail. This type of activity fills my heart and soul, and I find I have more energy when I get home. I may have spent two hours at my church on a Saturday morning, but I gained more energy and got more done later that day than if I had slept in or just sat on the couch watching TV.

Eliminate the activities that contribute no value to your life. Stop watching so much TV/Netflix and pick up a good book, take a long walk, or call a friend you have not reached out to lately and let them know you are thinking of them.

Below is a quote that I have in my office at home:

“There is more to life than INCREASING ITS SPEED” – Mahatma Gandhi

I am choosing energy management over time management. I always had a tendency to walk fast, talk fast, and hurry up and get everything done in one day. I am retraining my brain to just slow down to appreciate each person I email, each new flower that blooms, etc. We all need to slow down and breathe in joy every day and you will find you have so much more energy to take on what you are truly passionate about.

“And what is a man WITHOUT ENERGY? Nothing---nothing at all.” – Mark Twain

Somewhere in time we are all floating about in our 24 hours that we are given each day. Remember…energy management wins over time management EVERY TIME!!!!



“Hopes and Dreams Lead to Somewhere”
Angelica Mishra, CSSJ Program Coordinator

As part of my duties for the Center for Civic Learning & Action (CCLA)-- the other half of my job besides CSSJ Program Coordinator—I co-facilitate our student leadership team meetings each week along with Laura Megivern, Director of Community Engagement. A couple weeks ago, as part of go-around introductions on Zoom, I asked each of the students to share one or two of their childhood dreams. When I went first to get the group started, I shared my two childhood dreams: 1) for Zac Efron to respond to the love letter I wrote him when High School Musical first came out, and 2) to be an astronomer. Dream 1, sadly, went unfulfilled and Dream 2 died when I took physics in high school. Sharing these dreams, and hearing everyone else’s that day, has made me ponder on the role of hopes and dreams.

Sometimes the ways of the world can seem too overwhelming to address, and hope seems fleeting. All these systemic issues of racism, white supremacy, violence, mass incarceration, disaster unpreparedness, and more, existed before the pandemic and have only been exacerbated and made more visible in this last year. Add to that the winter weather affecting the country in places such as Texas, leaving many who are unaccustomed to the cold and snow without power or help. We, as a collective society, shouldn’t want to continue addressing these issues in the same mainstream ways we’ve been using. We should see that those strategies aren’t helping as many people as we could, especially the ones made most vulnerable by these oppressive systems. Instead, this could be a time for change and renewed hope that we can use to our advantage.

I recently finished reading Dean Spade’s Mutual Aid: Building Solidarity During This Crisis (And the Next) for a discussion group. Published just last year in 2020, Spade talks about how COVID-19 has only increased the urgency with which we should address systemic societal issues. Mutual aid, he argues, is one way forward, and consists of 3 key elements:

  1. “Mutual aid projects work to meet survival needs and build shared understanding about why people do not have what they need.
  2. Mutual aid projects mobilize people, expand solidarity, and build movements.
  3. Mutual aid projects are participatory, solving problems through collective action rather than waiting for saviors.” (9, 12, 16)

One example that he discusses is the Black Panther Party’s Breakfast for Children Program from the 1960s. Members of the Black Panther Party provided free breakfast for children and allowed families to “build shared analysis about Black poverty” at the same time (10). The goal of mutual aid projects is to meet survival needs while also working towards addressing larger systemic issues. Spade mentions many mutual aid examples of work currently being done in local areas to help our country’s most vulnerable populations. After reading this, I felt renewed hope about how we can achieve justice. It is definitely a long road, and as Spade discusses, it takes power and resources to mobilize the amounts of people needed to make huge changes. But Spade and the many activists he talks about offer one option for a path forward. And right now, that’s so important! Sometimes I find it easy to slip into hopelessness about addressing these problems. But Spade helped to remind me that people have been doing this work for centuries, they will not stop doing this important work, and that if we imagine a goal of having an equitable society we all had a part in co-creating, then we can work out the details of a path forward.

I’ll end with a quote from Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella starring Brandy and Whitney Houston: “Impossible things are happening every day”. I remember seeing the movie as a kid and being so absolutely in love with it—the magic, the inspiration, the singing, the mixed race cast, and the wonder and beauty of a Black Cinderella as the main protagonist. Whitney Houston, who plays the Fairy Godmother, sings that quote in the movie’s top song “Impossible”. Both watching the movie and reading Spade’s book recently, I connected the dots. Some of the difficult work mentioned in Spade’s book may seem impossible, but it’s not. Activists and community members having been doing it for so long already and they’re doing it every day. Spade also offers many ways ordinary folks can get involved in the work at any time. Ultimately, his book offered me hope, faith in the power of ordinary people trying to make change, and a dream. Thinking back on those childhood dreams makes me think of what I hoped for when I was little and how something as small and wishfully silly as the hope that Zac Efron can respond to a letter could get me through a day. In these times, hope plays an even more important role. Nowadays, my childhood dreams have been replaced by finding hope in small places and learning about strategies for achieving justice.


“Nowhere but Somewhere”
Danyal Khalil, Interfaith Intern

During the current pandemic, travelling without any fear seems like a distant memory. That is, travelling physically, of course. The situation in which we are right now reminds me of a quote from one of my favorite books, The Forty Rules of Love. The quote is as follows:

              “East, West, South or North makes little difference. No matter what your destination, just be sure to make every journey, a journey within. If you travel within, you’ll travel the whole wide world and beyond.”

I would like to think of my destination as life back to normalcy and the COVID era as my journey. During this journey I am travelling within myself to discover new things, hobbies and passions.

I am learning more about myself than I have ever learned before. I have discovered that I like reading, I have discovered that I believe in the idea of minimalism, and I have discovered that dawn is my favorite part of the day. Every day on this journey, I hope to discover something new. I do not know when this journey will end, but I do know that when it does, I will not be where I started. I will be somewhere.

Even when I am going nowhere, I am going somewhere


“Somewhere, in Song, with You”
Rachel Prince, CSSJ Interfaith Intern

Somewhere, in song, with you.

For Flory Jagoda.

Zikhronah livrakha, may her memory be a blessing.

Flory was a prolific Jewish musician, who was particularly well-known for her songs in Ladino. Born in Bosnia, she grew up speaking an ancient Sephardic Jewish language: Ladino. Ladino is a Judeo-Spanish language, now practically distinct due to several factors such as the diaspora and systemic antisemitism. In fact, Flory was a Holocaust Survivor herself. Ultimately, Flory was probably among the last group of Jews to speak and create art using Ladino.

But songs outlive their artists. Songs don’t die. Music brings the listener to somewhere, to some feeling. Ever heard a song that caused you to forget where you were? Who you were with? Songs can bring you somewhere other than where you are. Songs are infinite.

By producing music in Ladino, Flory will keep her Sephardic ancestry alive for generations to come. What a remarkable legacy.

As a kid in Hebrew School, I fondly remember learning Flory’s, “Ocho Kandelikas.” A Hanukkah tune describing the ritual of lighting the Hanukkah נרות (Candles.) The song has such an upbeat rhythm, and whenever I sing the song I automatically feel connected to my entire community, collectively feeling the excitement of Hanukkah.  Flora’s “ocho Kandelikas” took me somewhere.

Perhaps, in a time when we physically can’t go anywhere, if we are vulnerable enough, we can still travel somewhere through song.

For Flory.


“This is Our Upper Room Moment” 
Aidan Birth, CSSJ Interfaith Intern

In my roles in Dickinson Catholic Campus Ministry (DCCM) and Dickinson Christian Fellowship (DCF), I find myself linking the circumstances of a given moment to the Christian faith. This has happened even more as we have been impacted by COVID-19 and have found ourselves more isolated than normal, trying to protect ourselves from this virus. At the same time, I have found myself planning numerous virtual events to accommodate for the needs of my fellow students. Especially as a second-semester senior, it is easy for me to feel sad as I plan these events, wondering what could have been if I was in person with everyone else and knowing that some of the events I had envisioned will not happen while I am a student at Dickinson. As a result, I find myself pondering on the future of the groups I am involved in at Dickinson, which is how I came to the realization that this is our “upper room moment.” 

The “upper room” is the center of early Christianity. It is where Jesus had the Last Supper with his closest followers, the apostles, it is where Jesus’ apostles were after his death, and it is where the Holy Spirit, the third person of the Christian Holy Trinity, came upon the apostles at Pentecost. I particularly think of the Upper Room as described at Pentecost, which is where the apostles were staying and “devoted themselves with one accord to prayer” (Acts 1:13-14). They remained waiting in this room until Pentecost when a strong driving wind came from the sky and tongues of fire fell upon everyone who was there. Subsequently, all who were present there whom the tongues of fire fell upon were filled with the Holy Spirit and began speaking in different languages. It is from here that the apostles are empowered to go out and spread their belief in Jesus Christ to different parts of the world (Acts 2). 

While this image of the “upper room” and what happened there is specific to Christianity (with some Jewish influences), the idea of what happened does not need to be specific to Christianity. The Upper Room was a place of waiting and preparation. The apostles were not yet ready to spread their belief in Jesus Christ, but they were awaiting and preparing for what was to come. 

We too are waiting; we are waiting to see what happens once COVID-19 is under more control. We eagerly anticipate the day when we can gather more in person safely, yet it is hard for us to envision what this “new normal” will look like. However, we can use the next few months to prepare. For a senior like me, this means passing along the leadership roles that I have in my various groups and finishing the work for my major and minor. For a sophomore or junior, this may take the form of completing graduation requirements and preparing to lead clubs next school year. For first-year students, this may take the form of finding the groups that mean the most to you and dedicating your time to them and finding the subjects you are passionate about as you decide majors and minors. Even for faculty and staff, preparing for the new normal may take the form of looking at what has worked and not worked in executing a job such as teaching a class or offering a service to the college community. 

As much as I can give suggestions, I want to leave this idea of the upper room moment open to anyone reading this. What is your upper room moment going to be these next few months? How are you going to prepare for the new normal, whatever that may look like? What have you done that has worked well, and what have you done that has not worked well? What do you envision for your future, the future of the people you work with and live with, and the future of the groups and departments that you are a part of? As we seek to answer these questions over the next few months, hopefully we too will feel empowered to carry out our tasks and relationships better than ever before. 


“Somewhere: To Where are we Headed?”
Rabbi Marley Weiner, Director, Asbell Center for Jewish Life

Winter break has been an historic and trying time in our nation’s history. From a senate race in Georgia that yielded double firsts (first African American and first Jewish Georgia Senators respectively) to an armed insurrection at our Nation’s Capitol, to the swearing in of the first Black, Carribean American, South Asian, and female Vice President (all the same person), to a death count from COVID-19 that has reached 400,000, a decade’s worth of history has happened in the last month.

In times like these, it’s very easy to lose track of our goals. It can be very easy to get caught up in the latest scandal or tragedy, as these events are shocking and horrifying. But especially in times like these, it’s so important to remember the bigger picture. I’m not advocating for amnesia. What I am advocating for is crafting a vision for yourself of what you want the world to be, and to hold steadfast to your vision. To remember that beauty and justice are possible, and cling to them, no matter how great the challenges may seem.

There is a beautiful poem by Aurora Levins Morales I have been reading often in the last few months. The title, V’Ahavta, means “You Shall Love.” It comes from a Hebrew prayer that describes the proper relationship between God and people, which is one of loving commitment to action and education. Here is a small excerpt:

“imagine winning.  This is your sacred task.

This is your power. Imagine

every detail of winning, the exact smell of the summer streets

in which no one has been shot, the muscles you have never

unclenched from worry, gone soft as newborn skin,

the sparkling taste of food when we know

that no one on earth is hungry, that the beggars are fed,

that the old man under the bridge and the woman

wrapping herself in thin sheets in the back seat of a car,

and the children who suck on stones,

nest under a flock of roofs that keep multiplying their shelter.

Lean with all your being towards that day

when the poor of the world shake down a rain of good fortune

out of the heavy clouds, and justice rolls down like waters.”

For you, what does it look like to live in a world where we have won? What does justice look like? What is your dream for the next generation, and the generation after that? What can you do today, next week, next month, next year, to make that vision a little bit closer to reality? Who can help you? What stands in your way? 

As we answer these questions, as we think about what possibilities might exist in the future, may we find joy and comfort. May this strange new semester present new opportunities to build justice, learning, and relationships. And may we find ways to win, in this community and at home with our families, now and in the future.

V’ahavta, by Aurora Levins Morales: http://www.auroralevinsmorales.com/blog/vahavta



“On the Beautiful Side of Somewhere….”
Cody Nielsen, CSSJ Director

One of my favorite bands is the Wallflowers.  Being that I’m an old millennial (36 and counting) some of the students reading this will have no idea who the Wallflowers even are.   But you might know who Bob Dylan is, and it just happens that Jakob Dylan, the lead singer of the Wallflowers is in fact Bob Dylan’s son.  I digress.

Dylan’s (both of them) writing is eloquent and poetic.  In one of the Wallflowers songs, A Beautiful Side of Somewhere, Dylan remarks

Tomorrow is gonna make you cry
it’s gonna make you kneel
Before it breaks you from inside
Still pressing on, arm over arm
Still trying to get both feet back onto the ground…
I am ready to wake up there in the exodus
On the beautiful side of somewhere someday

This week, some of us will return to this campus, attempting our best to imagine a world in which COVID has rescinded.  Imagining a world in which the last four years of open discrimination toward minorities, and in my humble opinion, toward the United States at large, ends.  As you read this, it is likely that Joe Biden and Kamala Harris have taken the reigns of the country in the form of their roles as President and Vice President.  But lest we believe that one moment will change the world.

The world is changed, as Tolkien once stated, in reference to the world post-World War II.  When I first penned my thoughts in this column, I called it “In the Middle.”  Now, I invite us to call this semester’s reflections “Somewhere,” an homage to a hopefulness that we are somewhere and are heading toward somewhere further.

I have sincere hope that the semester will bring us back together, that graduation will occur in person like it has almost every other year.  I have hope that this new administration will restore us to some semblance of normalcy.  I hope we all soon will roll up our sleeves and will be vaccinated, giving thanks to science and our health care professionals for a remarkable achievement.  And I hope that we can all stay safe this semester (please stay safe and practice safe practices of washing your hands and distancing and limiting your gatherings amongst other things).

But as Dylan puts it, I am just ready to wake up there in the exodus on the beautiful side of somewhere.  I hope you are too.  Because if we work together, we will.  Soon.