Learning from Deus and Why You Shouldn't Judge Yourself On Yom Kippur

I’m not gonna catch you up on the past few weeks.
Just know this. Whenever I previously listened to Wiz Khalifa’s “Young, Wild and Free” I felt like I was singing along disingenuously. Until I moved to Israel this year, I wasn’t living life young, wild and free. Now I most certainly am.
French Philosopher Henri Bergson believed that modern day society creates, “the encrustation of the mechanical on the living.” Essentially, we live robotically, rationally and according to social/societal laws. However, our vital impetus (driving force), or élan vital, allows us to break through the monotony of life and experience happiness and laughter from within. Well these past few weeks in Israel have instilled me with a new passion and joy for life. I’ve broken free from the robotic life that previously restrained me and come into a new person, living a life filled with unpredictable adventures and excitement.
Back to reality.
Although I’m volunteering at Magen David Adom in October, for the first few weeks until the program starts I will be going to various volunteering locations with a bunch of other Aardvark volunteers. On the first day of group volunteering we went to Save a Child’s Heart.
“Save a Child’s Heart” is a humanitarian organization with a mission to improve the quality of pediatric cardiac care for children from developing countries who suffer from heart disease, and who cannot get adequate medical care in their home countries. It also works to create centers of pediatric cardiac competence in these countries, so these children can be treated at home.”
Founded near Tel Aviv in 1996.
Basically, an amazing organization. If you’re wondering, yes they treat many many Palestinian children. Why? Because the Israeli healthcare system is so incredibly good that they don’t require much (if any) outside medical attention.
Anyway, we arrived at the location and I noticed that nobody wanted to play with a small boy named Deus. Everyone wanted to play with Juan, the outgoing goofy troublemaker. Deus on the other hand was by himself. “Deus is a 5 year old boy from Mwabenda Tanzania. He has been accompanied to Israel by his mother leaving behind two brothers and two sisters. During the day his father works in the fields and his mother stays at home to care for all her children. When Deus grows up he wants to go to university and become a doctor. A week after Deus was born there was an announcement that a doctor from Israel was coming to Bugando Medical Center (located 10 minutes from their home). Deus was taken there to be examined where they found out about his heart defect in 2008.”
His heart defect has caused the right side of his body to grow shorter than the left. He has one fully capable arm and one fully capable leg. Amazingly he has no problem moving around and can actually get around at a speed equivalent to my fast walking speed (faster than the older women caring for him).
It’s incredible. My friend Hersh and I began to play with him and his toys. We bonded with him. He didn’t know English but that didn’t matter. We spent the next 30 minutes playing with him and passing the ball around to each other. For fear that I would bore either him or myself I tried to find as many variations of passing the ball. It was also fun to make him smile or if I was lucky, laugh. Bouncing the ball off my head. Bending over and rolling it through my legs. Catching it and falling over in pain. Silly stuff.
Finally, I told Hersh that we should play the game the same way Deus lives his life, on our knees. He erupted in adorable laughter at our attempt. It really hurt my knees on the tile floor, so neither of is could do it longer than a few minutes. He would grab us by the hands with his one full hand and take us around the building. We danced to the music they played. He loved the Jay-Z and even participated in the directions given in the “Cha Cha Slide” which was the cutest. He loved going “lower, lower, lower” and then “higher, higher, higher”.
At the end of the day I felt happy but unfulfilled. The organization is incredible. The work that they do is unlike any other, but how’s all of us playing with a bunch of kids gonna do anything? I mean aren’t we taking advantage of them by just having fun and goofing around with them? Isn’t help supposed to be serious and practical?
I was wrong.
I came back the next day not really looking forward to volunteering at the same place. Weird right? It wasn’t because I didn’t have fun but because I was doubting the legitimacy of my work. This time we had a bigger group of people with us. More people than we actually needed to be honest, but it looked good.
We walked in and in front of me I see the group parting as Deus moves over to me and grabs onto and hugs my leg. Woah. My heart just burst. I sat down and he jumped into my lap and gave me a big hug while everyone in our group looked on in awe. He then laid down on my leg and played with my leg hair as people slowly began to understand what was going on. By this point I was near tears. He stood up and gave me a kiss on the cheek. We stayed there together on the floor for a few minutes, with him just lying down while pulling at my leg hair. What an incredible heart on that kid. I was so touched and absolutely blown away.
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He grabbed my hand and took me to the playroom where we began to play with the blocks and made a tower. A really tall tower. At first I was worried that having the tower too tall for him to reach would frustrate him, but I underestimated his abilities. He was able to lift himself up onto his leg and stand to reach the top of the tower. It was inspirational. He recognized the limitations that life had given him and fought against them, instinctively. Every time the tower would almost fall, Deus would erupt into fits of laughter. I’d never heard him laugh like that and it was beautiful. He would point at us if he wanted us to put blocks on the tower and say no if we were doing something wrong. This was the first time I heard him speak.
Here’s a video of us building the tower together with his wonderful laughing and dancing. WATCH IT!

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Then Deus grabbed me by the hand and led me outside. He pointed at the duck and reached for me so we sat on the large plastic duck together. The outside of the building is gated and includes a garden filled with dozens of different plastic animal sculptures. Deus began to be vocal. Really vocal. He led me around and spoke for a long period of time in Swahili. We went to each animal and he taught me their names in Swahili. Whenever I tried to pronounce them he’d laugh. I loved just hearing the strength and conviction that he spoke in his native tongue.
We played with the bricks for a little bit longer. Until he motioned for us to close our eyes. None of us were sure what was about to happen. Slowly we saw what can only be explained through video. WATCH IT!

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We played for a little while longer and then people kept on coming up to me to ask when we could go and telling me that we should leave because they were tired and hungry (our counselors weren’t there). I told them to wait a little longer. Deus grabbed my hand and started taking me up the stairs. I could hear my friends yelling from downstairs that they wanted to leave, but I didn’t care. Why should I? Deus was giving me (and my friend Jake) a tour of his home and I didn’t want to be anywhere else. I didn’t carry Deus. He got up 3 flights of stairs by himself, and he’s the kind of kid who does NOT want help unless he needs it. He led me around the corner of the third floor to his room! I thought it was so sweet he wanted to show me his room. He showed me a few of his favorite toys and grabbed the ball that we had played with yesterday. Sadly, I caved in to my friends wishes and motioned to him that I had to leave. The goodbye was the hardest part. I gave him a hug and waved goodbye. He followed me out and gave me one last hug and a kiss on the cheek. Wow. What an absolutely amazing human being.
So…this weekend is Yom Kippur.
Most people don’t like Yom Kippur because they perceive it as the holiday of judgement. That’s understandable because fasting for many people seems sadomasochistic, as if they were punishing themselves for their sins.
Most people assume that the holiday is about looking back at your mistakes this past year and evaluating yourself. Is that valuable? Sure, but everyone thinks about their mistakes throughout the year. You’re never going to forget the nasty insults you fling, hearts you break or ethics you violate. Doesn’t matter how many Yom Kippur’s you have, there will always be some part of you that remembers the event and isn’t “over” it even though god might be.
What about remembering the good things?
Or more importantly recognizing what you have done for others and how much you’ve changed.
If I hadn’t come back that second day to “Save a Child’s Heart” I would have thought that I had completely wasted my time going there. I would have thought that I had never connected to anyone and remembered the volunteering day in a negative light.
I know the person that I was last year and the person that I’ve become over the past 2 months in Israel.
Tonight we had to do an exercise where we wrote down all of the “bad” things we’ve done this year on a piece of wax paper and then we dipped it in water to clear our sins. I don’t follow authority if I disagree with what they’re tell me to do so I revised the activity. I wrote down everything about myself that I had improved on from last Yom Kippur. There’s a lot. I also wrote down what I still need to change about myself. THAT is what evaluation is about. Not self-hatred, but rather a celebration of personal development.
This Yom Kippur I want you to write down 5 things that you’ve changed about yourself from last Yom Kippur, and 5 things that you wish to change.
Make sure to use positive reinforcing language like “I’ve become more__” or “I plan to be__”.
And finally…love yourself and those around you. Forgive yourself and those around.
Have a meaningful fast. I don’t believe that our fates our sealed by God in the Book of Life…but read a good book this year. Something light 🙂