Be a Shamash.


Carla as Shamash .

We’ve been back living in Austin for 365+ days.

It’s been a year (!) since the Child and I had our big talk about making new friends and what do to when you can’t find a nice person to hang out with.

It’s flown.

It’s been fun.

That said, it also reminds me of what I’ve written before with regards to fully living in our bodies versus merely going through the motions of life encased in a skin-sack.

(bear with me. this will make sense in a moment.)

Using that sentiment as lens, I’ve been back in Austin for a year, but not lived in Austin since 2012.

I’ve spent time here. I’ve made friends here. I’ve reconnected with old friends here. I’ve done practically nothing to weave myself into the community here.


fundraising 5k…doesn’t really count.



I had a vague sense of these feelings (for me fully living somewhere means immersing myself in the community) but never put the sentiment into words until I stumbled upon Rabbi Wolpe’s tweet during Hanukkah.


Be a shamash (the helper candle whose sole purpose is to ignite others) he exhorted us via social media. Use your spark to set other lives on fire. 

Those 140 characters captured exactly what I have not been doing offline in the ATX.

I feel pretty good about my family’s 31 acts of kindness.

I feel pretty great about opportunities I’ve seized to help others in my virtual world.

I’ve not once served as Shamash in Austin in the same way I sought out/took advantage of these opportunities during my time in Oakland.

Your light burns brighter the more you spark the flame in others.

Thanks to my new Twitter Rabbi I realized I’d not ventured out and looked for ways to take my flame and ignite someone’s unlit wick.

(to beat a metaphor to death, I realize.)


this man was often my Oakland Shamash.



Since I’ve read the tweet I’ve challenged myself to come up with general acts or attitudes (unlike the specific actions of our December) which would aid me in bringing light wherever I go.

Any gestures of kindness or reminding others of their inherent value I could think of which would serve to banish darkness or loneliness.

30 days later I’ve come up with five:

  • Remind others of their potential. When we believe in ourselves, we show up differently in the world. This is showing up confidently and unapologetically ourselves is contagious precisely like a flame. It’s a way I can be the light and know the light will gain momentum even when I’m gone.
  • Seek advice. Ask for help. We all have a basic desire to feel needed. We all feel more alive when we know we matter. My seeking other people’s counsel and acting on what they suggest helps me and serves to ignites the other person’s flame.
  • Offer connection. From Crappy Dinners to small acts of kindness. This year, more than any other, I’ve relearned the lesson everyone has a hard. Even when it’s not discernible on the outside many of us crave connection we aren’t receiving.
  • Provide help. Provide. For me this is different from offering. I don’t want to give people opportunity to brush off my offer or decline. This doesn’t mean I wont ask the person to clearly define for me how s/he would like to receive assistance. It does mean I’ll be gently persistent.

I won’t end this post by saying And now I plan to spend the next 350+ days Being A Shamash in Austin whenever possible.

For me it’s bigger than that.

I want to make this change, I want to share this change with my daughter, and I want us both to remain permanently changed and consistently bringing the light.

And you?

  • How might you be a Shamash in your community? What could you do to share your light with others?

The post Be a Shamash. appeared first on Carla Birnberg.

This entry was published on January 14, 2016 at 5:43 am and is filed under Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

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