Even before my graduation from Michigan State University this past spring, it was clear to me and to those in my graduating class that we would be entering the most difficult job market (save for those poor ’09 grads) in recent years. With many of my friends planning to move away from Michigan after graduation, I knew I too, would most likely end up a Detroit native living in a foreign land.
When the prospect of moving to Chicago turned into a reality, I discovered I would be embarking on an unexpected journey into the world of Jewish non-profits. Growing up, I had always wanted to be a part of the family scrap metal business— there’s not a whole lot that beats torches, cranes, trucks, and heavy pieces of metal. But when the business closed while I was still in high school, my dreams were put on hold.
Growing up a nice Jewish boy who attended Hebrew school and Jewish summer camp with a smile, it was almost inevitable that I’d become a camp counselor. Although not my first job, it was the most responsibility ever bestowed upon me at the time. It all took place in a magical environment, full of friends, waterskiing, and s’mores-on-demand.
Before I get too lost reminiscing about my summer camp days, let me tell a slightly different story. One day after school in 1999, I got home hungry as a hog (not kosher) dog. I opened the fridge and there in all of its glory was the most wonderful chicken patty I had ever seen. My mom had picked it up from the butcher shop for some noshing later, but I couldn’t wait till dinner time. I put that sucker in the microwave and waited to bask in chicken patty wonderland! At the beep, I brought the food to my throne, took a bite, and spit it out. Not only was the breading stale as cardboard, but the chicken had a rubbery texture and was a little bit gray. I quickly threw the rest away. I found out later that evening that what I thought was a chicken patty was really eggplant parmesan! At that moment, I permanently removed eggplant from my list of tasty food and downgraded it to “only if I have to survive” status.
Over time, my memory of that incident faded, but my dislike of eggplant stood strong. Now where was I? Oh yeah, my days as a camp counselor. After spending six years as a counselor and supervisor at my Jewish camp, I decided I wanted to surround myself with Jews full-time and took a year off before college to live in Israel. During that year and into college, I’ve had my tough moments, but I also began to learn many things about my identity as a Jew from East Lansing. You could say I’ve had my fair share of “eggplant parmesan” moments, like that one time I thought it would be a good idea to take a hike across the Negev during a shitafone (flash flood), but it wasn’t until last year that I realized what I could discover from eggplant.
As I came home from class one snowy afternoon, I walked through the kitchen to see my roommate preparing dinner in a huge aluminum pan, enough for all three of the “roomies.” As it baked in the oven, I couldn’t wait to take a bite out of whatever it was. It turns out, I was about to sink my teeth into a big piece of eggplant parmesan! So I told him The Story, but this time promised him that I would at least try a tiny bite. And this time, I kind of liked it!
In the words of my roommate the good cook, “nothing tastes good and nothing tastes bad, you decide in your head.” My expectations for eggplant that day were destroyed when I compared it to the breaded “chicken” patty from my past. And I think that’s how many moments of life go, you just have to make the best of them. So, as I start my new life in Chicago, I hope that I will be able to continue appreciating the adventures of life for what they have to offer, even when they taste like eggplant.