“Are you ready, Jordan?”
My eyes welled with tears as I tried to find the words to answer Rabbi Joel Goldstein, the campus rabbi at Syracuse Hillel. It was February 2020. Rabbi Goldstein and I were just minutes away from leading a memorial service in honor of my dad, who had lost his battle with pancreatic cancer less than 24 hours before.
Was I ready?
I replayed the last 11 months of my life. My dad was diagnosed with cancer in April 2019, and I leaned on Syracuse Hillel as I grappled with fears of losing him. Rabbi Goldstein offered compassion and support during weekly chats over coffee. Hillel friends constantly texted me with loving messages. My Jewish community was there for me — every step of the way.
Now, they gathered to help me grieve.
Rabbi Goldstein and I ushered 200 students into the basement of Syracuse Hillel. I had only expected a handful of people to come, so I was stunned to see so many old and new faces. We held hands and waited in silence.
Out of the corner of my eye, I watched Rabbi Goldstein make his way to the front of the room. There was a table with a memorial candle and a box of tissues. I joined him and picked up a match to light the candle.
Was I ready? No, I wasn’t. But with the support of my community, I could find the strength I needed to get through this moment and the next.
My voice quivered as I began reciting the Mourner’s Kaddish, a Jewish prayer said in memory of the dead: “Yitgadal v'yitkadash sh'mei raba…”
When the service ended, people hugged me and comforted me. We shed tears together. I left Hillel that night knowing that with my community by my side, I could mourn and eventually heal.
The memorial service was just the beginning of my grieving process. I struggled to celebrate the big moments without my dad — holidays, birthdays, anniversaries. As the months dragged on, Hillel students and professionals helped me navigate my darkest, most challenging moments. They understood when I needed the quiet comfort of a listening ear and when I needed to hear Jewish nuggets of wisdom.
Now, two years later, I truly understand the power of Jewish community. Hillel students and professionals gave me a space to experience my raw, painful emotions. There was no timeline on my grief; there was no expectation to simply get on with life. They honored my pain because they cared. I realized being Jewish meant I was part of a community of people who accepted me. No matter what.
As I continue to cope with my dad’s passing, I know I’m not alone. My Hillel community will always be there to support me.
Jordan Greene is a junior at Syracuse University.