“There are stars up above,
so far away we only see their light
long, long after the star itself is gone.
And so it is with people that we loved ‐‐
their memories keep shining ever brightly
though their time with us is done.
But the stars that light up the darkest night,
these are the lights that guide us.
As we live our days, these are the ways to
Every time I am in a synagogue, I find this poem in my prayer book. Sometimes it’s on page 276, sometimes it’s on page 342, and sometimes it’s on page 525. Regardless, I find it. I first read this poem in the spring of 9th grade at a NFTY event. NFTY (North American Federation of Temple Youth) is a movement that builds strong, welcoming, inspired communities through teen-powered engagement. Together, we pursue Tikkun Olam (repairing the world), personal growth, youth empowerment, and deep connections, all rooted in Reform Judaism. My region, Missouri Valley was made up of approximately 1000 Jewish teens across 7 states, this event taking place in Omaha Nebraska, which is not a city highly populated with Jews. However, at this event, I had never felt so attached to my religion. I came across this poem during the silent prayer of our joyful, guitar-heavy, service.
The silent prayer is a time for reflection, for realizations and hopes for the future. So I sat there, reading this poem, and I decided that I knew what the poem was about. This was about role models in NFTY, those older members who set the example and made me feel like I could do anything. The first person that came to mind was Jake Flom. Jake was a year older than me and also from St. Louis, but I didn’t know him before NFTY. He was very put together, had a huge smile, and made everyone feel like they were “in” on an inside joke. I looked up to Jake immensely. In NFTY, we call these special people “NFTY Giants.” At that event, Jake was elected as Missouri Valley’s Regional Vice President, a position that (as a young freshman) I hoped would one day be mine.
That next year I idolized Jake, nearly fanboying him. I was a local Membership Vice President for my temple’s youth group, so I worked in his regional network. We met up frequently in St. Louis, and he reached out to me frequently for help on upcoming projects and events. The funny thing about Jake is my role model became one of my best friends. It was hard for me to imagine NFTY without him. But high school ends. Older friends go off to college and juniors become seniors. Those who left our NFTY community never really leave though, like the stars in the poem. They stay with us, they guide us and we don’t let their legacy die because each person in NFTY carries with them a NFTY giant. I was sad to see Jake go, but his presence never left.
I will never forget that last event with Jake. I was finishing my term as Regional Membership Vice President and running for Regional President. Needless to say, it was an emotional event. However, a few days before the big election and goodbyes, I found out the terrifying news that my friend Taylor was shot and killed in a drive-by. Immediately, everything involving NFTY felt so small. I didn’t care about election results. During the Friday night services, I found that poem again, this time with an entirely new understanding of the poem. I felt then, that this poem was about death.
This poem and tears seem to coincide. I cannot read the poem without thinking about those I have lost.
I think about my Poppy, a man whose light I will find in myself forever. His laugh could make the whole world smile, his love for his family second-to-none.
I think about my friend and teammate Alvin who was accidentally killed by another friend of mine last fall. His flashy basketball shoes on the hardwood will never leave my memory.
I think about Ari, my student in religious school and camper at Camp Rainbow, a camp for kids with cancer and blood-related diseases. I will never forget the pureness of her heart and the happiness she carried so proudly. I will always #SpreadArisLight.
These are the stars that light up the darkest nights.
The lights that guide me.