Posted in Life

Shabbat: The Day of Stress

Over the past couple of weeks I have come to feel like Shabbat is not the day of rest, but rather the day of stress.

Only a few weeks ago the rabbi at shul spoke about how we need to not worry about who we are having Shabbat meals with, that we should just enjoy the day for what it is.

And today, my roommate got annoyed when I said that Shabbat stresses me out, telling me that it is just not what people do. People aren’t getting invited for meals. As we are getting older, there are just fewer meals going on, and I shouldn’t feel bad for myself or feel alone.

Well, I have to say that I do feel alone. Shabbat is a weekly reminder for me that I don’t have friends. It is a weekly reminder that I am single. It is a weekly reminder that I still feel like an outsider and that I am doing something wrong. It is a weekly pie in the face of stress, anger and shame.

I am tired of not getting invited anywhere. Of the places that I do get invited to are usually through one of my roommates taking pity on me, that once again I am alone and have no where to go. It is hurtful that a year in, I still don’t feel like I am part of a community.

I am tired of trying to find people to come eat at my table. I don’t mind hosting every week if I have to, but I want to have people come to my meals. The stress of the potential of no one willing to join me, hurts my heart. Or what might be worse is me doing all the cooking, all the guests are my roommates and they won’t talk to me. They will sit on the other side of the table and just ignore me.

I decided to stay in NYC because everyone told me that it was the “hub of young single Jewish life.” So how is it that no one is having Shabbat meals? When I was in Canberra, sitting alone was hard, but it was also expected. There were only two places that I could go to for a meal, that I know. But here, there are hundreds of Jews my age – both married and single. So how is it that I am alone?

How is it that I go to shul and still don’t feel like I have people to talk to? How is it that I can’t think of people to invite to my shabbos table even if I did cook every week? How is it that I still don’t have a close friend or two that will do Shabbat with me when we don’t have plans? How is it that I feel completely alone and then feel shame with my lonesomeness?

I wonder about this so-called phenomenon of people not really doing Shabbat meals as we get older. What is stopping us from getting together and having a meal? What is disconnecting us from doing this very basic weekly ritual? Is it because others too feel alone? Hurt? Shame? That Judaism no longer has a place for them? Are they too, just too tired to try and scramble together every week, to do the same thing, and just feel alone and sad? What are we doing wrong that is kicking us out of what the essence of Shabbat is?

I long for the days where I can once again feel oneg Shabbat- a shabbat where I am with people, where my home feels like Shabbat, where I end Shabbat feeling rested and happy.

Posted in Quotes

Braving the Wilderness

This week’s book is “Braving the Wilderness: The Quest for True Belonging and the Courage to Stand Alone” By Brene Brown. It is a book about how to aloneness – something that I feel often. This idea that even though I might be with other people, I am by myself. That no matter what I do, I find that my brain makes me want to do something slightly different – and many times it is what I do. The truth is (and she says this often in the book) those are the times that I find that I am happiest – those times that I am doing what I feel is just right and what is needed. Usually it is not something SO crazy (she brings a time she wore jeans to speak a conference) – it is how I wanted to do theatre with students and seniors; or that I wanted to volunteer in a nursing home; or that I wanted to play a bit with my audience when I directed plays; or that I wanted to run a ball with people who can’t move on their own; or that I was willing to fight to study Torah at a high level.

She talks about how sometimes going “into the wilderness”, those places that can be scary, those places we know we will be on our own, is the place that we also with thrive. It is taking that step (which could feel like a giant leap) that will allow us to flourish, accomplish more, and create change. I know that I used to feel pretty ok doing so, but lately (ok, over the past 4 years), I am more wary. Over the weekend I kept on thinking what would it be like if I actually shared my story, my anger, my frustration at things happening in the world – especially in the world of Orthodox female rabbis- where it is the most personal? What if I wasn’t afraid of what the personal push back would be? What if I was willing to put myself on the line? Part of me feels like I would actually be less angry. I would feel like I have a voice that I can share, not a voice that I constantly feel like I need to keep hidden and quiet. I would be able to maybe be a more authentic me…

I also thought about, as a start, what if I started to share this blog with my friends and family? For those who don’t know, I don’t share this blog anywhere. The only one’s I know who are reading it and complete strangers. I guess there might be people reading it that I know, but they don’t know it is me writing. What if I started to tell you more about myself? That I would not be some anonymous woman writing things. I am thinking about starting with sharing this…maybe only to a few people and see what happens. But I do think that it is a start to something.

One issue I have, and I have been noticing it in a lot of these books, especially the one’s that talk about feeling powerful being “alone” in doing “your thing”- is that each author talks about their spouse, and the support they receive from that person. I am aware that I am fully capable of doing things on my own, but it would be really nice to have someone in my corner. Someone to come home to. Someone that supports me and encourages me, even when it feels like the world around me is against me. I just wish that one of these authors was writing about being “alone” and actually was alone (ok, maybe that might be my cue…but then speaking about that experience is being vulnerable…which I guess is the whole point, blah, blah, blah). But still, I do think that it is important to note.

This book actually fits in well to something I was thinking about earlier this week, with regards to my work. I was talking to my supervisor about long term vs. short term patients. For the most part, the floors I am assigned to, people are short term – every so often there are people there for a long time or people who are in and out a bunch. But mostly I will see people once, maybe twice. I was reflecting on the differences I felt with the family I was with for a whole month, really being fully in their lives. (Comes to think of it now, there was also more consistency as I was in the hospital five days a week). I enjoy working in places or situations that I feel part of it. I want to belong or feel part of something, I want to be needed. And when I am working with longer term patients, I have the place of belonging and connection, in some ways I become part of the family or be part of the community- something I find that I am greatly missing.

I don’t have a community. I am not really sure where I am meant to be or where I actually belong. And the truth is, it is quite lonely to be alone. In my professional life, I don’t care if people don’t want me – it is fine with me when a patient says, “no, I’m not interested in talking” or “I don’t need a chaplain”, it is not really about me. But in my personal life, rejection hurts, and I feel like all I have is rejection – which is just hard to be in that state. So then, when I have to say goodbye to someone or a situation that I feel part of it is hard. It is hard to say goodbye to feeling somewhat comfortable. To say goodbye to a situation where I wasn’t constantly introducing myself, but I was actually able to just be myself.

I know that the future is coming, and in reality I need to start thinking about it. But being forced to think about the future brings to the forefront that I have still yet to find a place that I belong and soon, once again I will need to start over and make a place for myself.

I know that I am capable, but I am just tired of doing so. I wish I felt compelled to be somewhere or do something or just to know what the path I’m supposed to pursue.

Where will I feel settled or whole or part of something?

Maybe it is why I connect so much with people that are alone or on the “outside”. I want people to talk to me, to notice me. So then I go make sure to notice them (which might be similar to an article I read about non place and the noticing the unnoticed, being there for someone who doe not have someone else to listen or care — which maybe is why I’ve always been drawn to geriatrics).

A think happened in class the other day, that was both joyful and terrifying. (Which she writes is something many people do, we are afraid to feel joy…) I wrote a theological reflection that I really like (I had a lot of fun writing it). And my supervisor asked me, why am I stopping myself from my ministry. It seemed that I knew what I thought this person should do, but I did not push them to do it. I backed away. I allowed myself to be cut off. There was something in that interaction that made me gasp, and when I was praying I was a bit in shock, almost how I felt when I found out that I got in. That maybe there is something real in what I am doing. Maybe I am doing my own thing, but that is why I am doing it so well.

Maybe this is the place that I will find I belong?

Well, here are some quotes:

pg. 5

…Dr. Angelou said:

You are only free when you realize you belong no place – you belong every place – no place at all. The price is high. The reward is great.

pg. 34

Spirituality is recognizing and celebrating that we are all inextricably connected to each other by a power greater than all of us, and that our connection to that power and to one another is grounded in love and compassion.

pg. 40

True belonging is the spiritual practice of believing in and belonging to yourself so deeply that you can share your most authentic self with the world and find sacredness in both being a part of something and standing alone in the wilderness. True belonging doesn’t require you to change who you are; it requires you to be who you are.

pg. 54

…Hunger is a warning that our blood sugar is low and we need to eat. Thirst warns us that we need to drink to avoid dehydration. Pain alerts us to potential tissue damage. And loneliness tells us that we need social connection – something as critical to our well-being as food and water. He explains, “Denying you feel lonely makes no more sense than denying you feel hunger.”

Yet we deny our loneliness…We feel shame around being lonely- as if feeling lonely means there’s something wrong with us. We feel shame when our loneliness is caused by grief, loss or heartbreak….We used to define loneliness as a “gnawing, chronic disease without redeeming features.”…

Cacioppo explains that loneliness is not just a “sad” condition – it is a dangerous one. The brains of social species have evolved to respond to the feeling of being pushed to the social perimeter -being on the outside- by going into self-preservation mode. when we feel isolated, disconnected, and lonely, we try to protect ourselves. In that mode, we want to connect, but our brain is attempting to override connection with self-protection. That means less empathy, more defensiveness, more numbing, and less sleeping.

pg. 144

The foundation of courage is vulnerability – the ability to navigate uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure. It takes courage to open ourselves up to joy. In fact,…I believe joy is probably the most vulnerable emotion we experience. We’re afraid that if we allow ourselves to feel it, we’ll get blindsided by disaster or disappointment. That’s why in moments of real joy, many of us dress-rehearse tragedy…We try to beat vulnerability to the punch by imagining the worst or by feeling nothing in hopes that the “other show won’t drop.

pg. 145

Pain is also a vulnerable emotion. It takes real courage to allow ourselves to feel pain. When we’re suffering, many of us are better at causing pain than feeling it. We spread hurt rather than let it inside.

pg. 148

Dr. Halifax…I’ll never forget what she said to me. “Tonight we will exhale and teach. Now it’s time to inhale. There is the in-breath and the out-breath, and it’s easy to believe that we must exhale all the time, without ever inhaling. But the inhale is absolutely essential if you want to continue to exhale.


A powerful example of a strong back comes from my friend Jen Hatmaker…I asked her about what that wilderness looked and felt like to her. Here’s what she wrote:

I won’t sugarcoat this: Standing on the precipice of the wilderness is bone-chilling. Because belonging is so primal, so necessary, the threat of losing your tribe or going alone feels so terrifying as to keep most of us distanced from the wilderness our whole lives. Human approval is one of our most treasured idols, and the offering we must lay at its hungry feet is keeping others comfortable. I;m convinced that discomfort is the great deterrent of our generation. Protecting the status quo against our internal convictions is obviously a luxury of the privileged, because the underdogs and outliers and marginalized have no choice but to experience the daily wilderness. But choosing the wily outpost over the security of the city gates takes a true act of courage. The first step will take your breath away.

Speaking against power structures that keep some inside and others outside has a cost, and the currency most often drafted from my account is belonging. Consequently, the wilderness sometimes feels very lonely and punishing, which is a powerful disincentive. But I’ve discovered something beautiful; the loneliest steps are the ones between the city walls and the heart of the wilderness, where safety is in the rear view mirror, new territory remains to be seen, and the path out to the unknown seems empty. But put on foot in front of the other enough times, stay the course long enough to actually tunnel into the wilderness, and you’ll be shocked how many people already live out there — thriving, dancing, creating, celebrating, belonging. It is not a barren wasteland. It is not unprotected territory. It is not void of human flourishing. The wilderness is where all the creatives and prophets and system-bunkers and risk-takers have always lived, and it is stunningly vibrant. The walk out there is hard, but the authenticity out there is life.

I suspect the wilderness is a permanent home for me, which is both happy and hard. A dear friend sent me a text during those harsh first steps out… There is this wonderful and strange story in Genesis 32 about Jacob physically wrestling with God all night in the literal wilderness, and upon realizing that Jacob was positively not giving up and in fact hollered, “I will not go unless you bless me!,”  he touched Jacob’s hip and wrenched it out of socket, a permanent reminder of the struggle of a determined, stubborn, dogged man with God; an absurd and ballsy move, as outrageous as it was impressive. My friend texted me: “You are like Jacob. You refused to let go of God until He blessed you in his space. And He will. You will indeed find new land. But you’ll always walk with a limp.” So I’ve chosen the wilderness, because it is where I can tell the truth and lead with the most courage and gather with my fellow outsiders, but this limp will remind me of the cost, what lies behind me, what will always feel a little sad and a little bruised. Was it worth it? Unquestionably. And I hope the limp shows my fellow wilderness dwellers that I’m acquainted with pain and didn’t make it out here unscathed either. Outliers, I suspect it won’t hinder our wilderness dance party in the slightest.



Posted in Life

The Evil Eye

There might be an evil eye following me – or at least that is what I was told.

There is a chance that it actually didn’t come from me, but from something that someone has against one of my parents. Something I would have no clue what it is. As it was put, I am naive and going about my business – but it is there.

Maybe the bracha that was given to me will be enough to help me go against it. But maybe not.

For now, I was told, to just go about my business as usual. Do the things I normally do. But if that doesn’t work out, they will call, they will invite me for tea, and they will do a Tikkun, a fixing.

At the same time I was told to be open to things (ie. dates) in places I don’t expect them. It was hinted to me that maybe if I am visiting somewhere, and I meet someone, I should just go with it.

I was also told that God likes to listen to prayers. But they should be clear, and not in a screaming form. To write down my prayer. To talk to God.

I was told that I should not despair. I should not go down into the sadness. That there is still hope and that all is not lost.

I was told that I should allow myself to use my instinct as my compass. That if I do that, I will be going in the right direction. That my compass is good. That I am smart and kind, and I just need to be willing to listen to my instinct and follow it.

I was told that it is through happiness and through the “good spirit” that I should encounter the world.

At the end of this encounter, I tried to say “I’ll try”, but I was told no – you must say “I’ll do and I will succeed”. Amen v’amen.

Posted in Quotes

The Wisdom of Not Knowing

So in my books about feelings list, I just read “The Wisdom of Not Knowing” by Estelle Frankel.

I did enjoy reading this book. The author goes through different theories of what is in the unknown and why it is so scary to many people. She brings in not only cases from her own psychology practice, but also some religious texts, mostly from Judaism. I really appreciated her use of text to bring about the ideas. Something that we have to do in CPE is a theological reflection, and I think that the way she integrates theology into her experience is so seamless, and I think is what we are meant to be doing in our own reflections.

The book also made me think. She writes about accepting the unknown and being willing to jump into the unknown. I think though about what if all I see is the unknown, and in general I am ok with being in the world of the unknown, if not excited about the prospects, but what if I want something that is known? What if for a change I just want to know what is going to happen? What if I am tired of every year starting new and having to take that leap?

Yes, I realize that if it is not one thing it is another. And almost everyone is making decisions of the unknown all the time, just at times they are bigger unknowns than others. I find that being in the place of almost constant large unknowns, it is just exhausting. There is a lot of energy that goes into embracing the unknown, and I don’t think she speaks enough about it (really I don’t think anyone does).

She also talks about embracing the silence. Well, many people speak about the beauty of silence and nothingness. And I question this too. What about if life just feels like it is only silent and alone? That is not a place to learn about creativity, that is a place of emptiness. A place of pain and perhaps even suffering. I was talking to a friend today, and he said that he was bored. And he found it strange because in general he likes doing nothing. I said, that there is a difference between doing nothing and being bored, in the same way that there is a difference to being alone and being lonely. There is a difference in how you are feeling in this time of quiet, nothingness, aloneness; I think that the biggest thing that creates the change is the choice (although this too is not always true): am I choosing to be in the quiet and not with people or is it that everything around me is quiet and there is no one to go to or no one that wants to be with me.

Some quotes that I really enjoyed:

pg. 28

As an archetypal symbol, the “stranger” represents not just someone in need of kindness but also the transmitter of new and unknown ideas and possibilities. To open the door to the stranger is a means of inviting in the unknown. It requires a willingness to be shaped and altered by new ideas and experiences. Sometimes a single encounter with a stranger can open up doors to unknown possibilities that forever change our lives. Xenophobia, in contrast, is an expression of fear of the unknown and the unfamiliar….

Open-mindedness and curiosity make room for the imagination to flourish. Just as the unknown stranger is welcomed through the opening of the tent, the unknowable divine mystery enters our consciousness as we open up the gates of our imagination.

pg. 34-35

But do we really know anything? Truthfully, each moment of our lives is a miracle unfolding, unlike any other moment. When we awaken to this truth, any experience can be an epiphany. The twentieth-century mystic and philosopher Rav Kook compares such moments of heighten awareness to the miracle of creation: “An epiphany enables you to sense creation not as something completed, but as constantly becoming, evolving, ascending. This transports you from a place where there is nothing new to a place where there is nothing old; where everything renews itself, where heaven and earth rejoice as the moment of Creation.”

pg. 49

When we use our curiosity to probe the internal significance of things, we enter into a more intimate dialogue and relationship with the world. To not ask questions leaves us as passive spectators and observers of reality rather than participants. As Rilke says in his Letters to a Young Poet, questions have the power to open up previously locked doors, to reveal the inner meaning of things. Until we ask the right questions, the way forward cannot be revealed.

pg. 77

Reality is always

Soft clay,

ever shifting and changing

its shape.

Fire it

into form, and at the very moment you are

hailing it as final truth

it will break in your hands. – Dororthy Walters, “No Matter What You Know”

pg. 105

Words reveal that which can be known, while silence guards the gates of the unknown. At the same time that words and language provide an essential tool for self-awareness, over reliance on them can snuff out the mystery of the white fire – that aspect of our being that can only be approached in silence.


If we live long enough, we all may encounter events and experiences in life that simply do not make ordinary sense and do not lend themselves to rational inquiry. In many instances, the only dignified response to human suffering and tragedy is silence and the suspension of thought. In the face of incomprehensible events, silence may be the only true expression of faith. In silence we admit the limitations of human comprehension. In Jewish law, one who visits the bereaved is instructed to be silent – to not speak unless spoken to. Holding the sacred space of silence for mourners makes it possible for them to be present in their grief. In silence, we do not run the risk of trivializing the mourner’s experience with our well-intended but often awkward words.

pg. 116

The “Song of the Sea” made its way into the daily liturgy as a reminder that reality is not fixed but continually being created anew each moment. Gazing into the white spaces of the parchment surrounding the words of this song, we are invited to enter the white fire of our lives – to see the primordial light that shines within the dark edges of our finite existence, to hear the song that emerges from the silence and see the miraculous possibilities that are hidden inside the ordinary stuff of our lives.

pg. 183

Courage is the quality that enables us to overcome our fear as we venture into the unknown. It is a capacity we develop over the course of our lives by continually confronting, rather than avoiding, the challenges that life presents. People often mistakenly equate courage with fearlessness when, in fact, it is simply the willingness to act or persist in one’s purpose despite the presence of fear, danger, or resistance. Courage is not he same as impulsive risk taking, which stems from a need to show off or generate adrenaline. Instead, courageous deeds tend to be powerful – to benefit others or help us grow. Each time we take a risk by stepping into the unknown, we build our courage reserves. Sometimes the risk is to our sense of physical safety; other times, to our self-image or self-esteem. By stepping our of our comfort zone and facing our fears rather than avoiding them, we discover our courageous hearts. And each successive step we take into the unknown builds upon that acquired strength of heart.

pg. 184-185

The Hebrew expression for courage, ometz lev, suggests that courage involves “strength of heart.” In scriptures the word ometz, “strength,” sometimes appears as a noun, other times as a verb (ametz), suggesting that courage is a capacity that we develop through practice. We build our courage muscle by intentionally strengthening our hearts – the seat of our courage. This strength training involves learning to bear difficult emotions like fear.

pg. 189-190

…In an interview with the activist-journalist Maria Shriver, Laura offered readers the following tips:

Don’t underestimate yourself. You can probobly do much more than you think you can. If you find an endeavor you feel passionate about, take one step at a time, and soon you will have created a path. Solving small problems can help you build the capacity to meet far greater challenges.

Don’t let anxiety stop you. It’s fine to notice when you’ve left your comfort zone, but don’t let that dissuade you from pursuing something meaningful. Your anxiety most likely means that you are on the edge of an important learning curve.

Be open to an unpredictable future. I thought I would spend my professional career as an obstetrician.When health problems interfered with that plan, I had to let go and see where life was taking me. As it turned out, I stumbled upon and area in public health that had been neglected – solar electricity for health care- and in the process found my passion.

Be willing to be a consummate learner. Although I knew nothing about solar electricity when I started my organization, I was willing to learn. And now, when I travel the world teaching midwives and doctors about solar electricity for their health center, I can say, “If I could learn this…so can you!”

And finally, be persistent. It hasn’t been easy to start an organization and raise money for projects in Africa, Haiti, and Asia. Something I think my greatest attribute is my stubborn nature.

If you believe in your mission – don’t give up!

pg. 193-194

The poet Ruth Gendler sums worry up as follows:

Worry has written the definitive work on nervous habits. She etches lines on people’s foreheads when they are not paying attention. She makes lists of everything that could go wrong while she is waiting for the train. She is sure she left the stove on, and the house is going to explode in her absence. When she makes love, her mind is on the failure rates and health hazards of various methods of birth control. The drug companies want Worry to test their new tranquilizers but they don’t understand what she knows too well: there is no drug that can ease her pain. She is terrified of the unknown.

pg. 195

Fear, of course is not all bad. IT serves the important evolutionary purpose of keeping us alive and safe. There are many dangers and risks worth avoiding. Having courage does not mean being foolish or taking unnecessary risks. But, all too often, our fears exaggerate the actual dangers we face. And when we allow our anxieties to control our decision making, we often end up unnecessarily restricting our lives. Each time we allow fear to paralyze us it take a bite out of the quality and scope of our life. Courage, on the other hand, enlarges us and expands the playing field upon which our lives unfold.

pg. 197

…as the Indian philosopher and compiler of the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali, writes:

When you are inspired by some great purpose, some extraordinary project, all your thoughts break their bonds: Your mind transcends limitations, your consciousness expands in every direction, and you find yourself in a new, great, and wonderful world. Dormant forces, faculties and talents become alive, and you discover yourself to be a greater person by far than you ever dreamed yourself to be.





Posted in Quotes

The Remarkable Ordinary

In my continuing quest for finding answers for life, the next book that I just finished in “The Remarkable Ordinary: How to Stop, Look, and Listen to Life” by Frederick Buechner.

How amazing it would be if we were really able to stop and see the remarkable in the everyday. Why is it that we are constantly looking for good or God in just the amazing things, but forget about the every day things? What would the world look like if we were actually able to see Godliness in the mundane – which might make it no longer mundane? How amazing will the world look if we look at it and experienced it in the same way we look or experience art?

I do wish that I was able to “stop, look and listen to life.” As the year is progressing I really do need to start thinking about what is next, and I still feel totally lost. I don’t want to try and stay just because it is easier than starting over again. And I don’t want to just move back to Israel because that is where I think I have friends, but it is extremely unclear if I will be able to give anything to society. I don’t want to try and stay working in a hospital because I know that it would be easier than dealing with the politics of the Orthodox world. And I don’t want to go into pulpit work just because it is the thing that is going to make the news or help the “political fight”.

I really just don’t know.

I know that I am good at what I do. I know that I still don’t feel like I have a community in NY. I know that I enjoy what I am doing at the hospital. I know that in some ways I miss working with older adults. I know that I miss talking about halacha and teaching, but maybe I can find ways to do that in other situations. No matter what I need to give something up, the question is what….

As usual, some quotes that I really liked.

pg. 27

Listen to the gandeur of time, listen to the stateliness of time…

But each of these composers is saying, Pay attention to the quality of time. The Kairos-ness of time. And in a way I think of the phrase keep time. You can think of keeping time in the normal sense as keeping to the meter of music, but music in a way, is saying keep time in another way – keep it, keep in touch with it, keep your hands  on it somehow. Keep in touch with the sadness of your own time, with the joy of time, with the marvelousness of time, with the terror of time, with the emptiness of time, with the fullness of time.

It is also saying, Listen to the sounds, listen to the music of your own life. Listen to the voices of the people you live with, listen to the songs that they sing. I don’t mean the song they sing – tra-la-la — but I mean listen to the music of their voices. Listen to the slamming of the screen door. Listen to the patter of feet walking back up the path. Listen to the turning of a tap in the tub, because that is a very profound and touching way the music of your life. It is the song out of time that sings to you. Keep in touch with time, not just a rush and tumble.

pg. 28

And ballet… And I realize this art is working in both time and space. It’s both music and it’s spacial on the stage, and it’s saying listen to this time, right now, and look, look at what you’re looking at, look at the language the body speaks, the language the face speaks, the language the hands speak, these wonderful things the young, supple, beautiful bodies are doing up there on the stage to the music. These are the kind of things we all of us do less young-ly, less supple-y, less beautifully, but with our hands, with our bodies – pay attention to that. So generally – and this is not a complicated point, God knows – the arts frame our life for us so that we will experience it. Pay attention to it.

pg. 39

To love your neighbor is to see your neighbor. To see somebody, really to see somebody, you have to love somebody. You have to see people the way Rembrandt saw the old lady, not just a face that comes at you the way a dry leaf blows at you down the path like all other dry leaves, but in a way that you realize the face is something the likes of which you have never seen before and will never see again. To love somebody we must see that person’s face, and once in a while we do. Usually it is because something jolts us into seeing it.

pg. 44

The deepest mystery of all, I think, is the one to which biblical faith points, which is the idea that we are made not only of matter that comes from the earth and stars, but we are made in the image of God. Whatever that means. I don’t know what that means altogether, but I think it means that we bear his mark upon us. Deep within us…The world adds all sorts fo things that the holy self that God made, but it still is there, and though we lose track of it in a million way, I think it remains, if we are lucky at all, as a source of goodness, of flashes of insight, good dreams, good prayers that somehow pray themselves, of healing.

I think that is the place from which all true art comes, and by true art I mean art that doesn’t just entertain – perfectly all right to do that – but true art that nourishes the spirit, that illuminates the mind, that deepens the understanding, that deepens our humanity. I think that what true art, and true religion, does at its best is to put each one of us in touch with that holy part of ourselves, with that source from which art and love comes, and from which all good, wise things come, so that we – by virtue of this painting, this poem, this ballet, this piece of music, this Scripture – become finally, truly, human at last.


Posted in Quotes

Toward a Meaningful Life

I’ve been thinking a lot about my spiritual life (ok, CPE is making me think about it and I am actually do it).

So I am starting to get a bunch of books out of the library. Just last week I read a book I really liked, “Loveable” By Kelly Flanagan. As much as I enjoyed it and thought that it really did speak “to me”, there were a number of places that were very Christian. Now, I don’t think that there is actually a problem reading such a book, but I started thinking what would a Jewish book sound like?

This week I read “Toward a Meaningful Life: The Wisdom of the Rebbe Menachem Mendel Schneerson” by Simon Jacobson. There were parts that I thought were really great, but so much of the book just fell flat for me. The ideas that he discussed felt so watered down or felt like they were missing the point.

I am wondering if there are Jewish books that speak about the spirit, pain, suffering, loneliness, love – all is a way that actually acknowledges those feelings, and doesn’t tell someone to just find the good. If you know of any that you think I should read, please let me know. I’m always looking for good book suggestions.

Some quotes that I liked:

pg. 11

It is not enough to encourage the soul and educate it, you must actualize the soul by partnering it with your body. To help a neighbor in need, to listen to a stranger in distress, to help provide food or clothing to someone who cannot afford it. These become more than simple good deeds, they become vital nourishment for your soul and a means of putting your physical body to appropriate spiritual use. When the soul is nurtured with awareness, warmheartedness, and refined behavior, it fully emerges in our lives with the heat and intensity of an actual flame, lifting the body with it.

pg. 33

Without love, education is at best incomplete and at worst destructive. Love means sensitivity- not to your ideas and your standards, but to your student’s and, most important, to God’s…

The true educator is not one who simply teaches facts, but one who teaches a child to think for himself — to find answers to his own questions based on principles he was taught, and not to be solely dependent on a teacher or a parent to solve a dilemma… This is consistent with why God created the universe: not so puppets could play out a predetermined script, but so that each individual would have the desire, the freedom, to act honestly and virtuously.

pg. 60

So love is much more than treating another person with compassion. It goes beyond exchanging feelings of warmth. It is much more than doing to others only as you would do unto yourself. Love is a Godly act, the purest way to feel another person’s soul as well as your own.

The deepest love is not merely human. It is a love infused with Godliness, whereby a mortal kiss is transformed into a immortal one. True love is one soul greeting another.

pg. 62

Love, therefore, is the foundation on which our entire world is built. All our laws, all our attitudes, all our interactions stem from the same principle. Love is the root of all civility and morality. Without love, it would be impossible to live in peace with one another, to respect one another’s needs, and to treat everyone with the same compassion that we would like to be given ourselves.

pg. 63

To achieve selfless love, you must first learn to love yourself, to create harmony between your own body and soul. This means understanding who you really are and what you have been put on this earth to accomplish. It means being comfortable with your calling and not looking for distractions. If you are in conflict with yourself, how can you expect to reach a comfortable love with another person?

pg. 76

A true home must be the center of your life or it will inevitably become a liability and a burden…

It is important to remember: Your work may be important and necessary for survival, but the workplace is not your home. Neither is the restaurant where you eat, the museum you visit, or the foreign city you travel to. Many people today have replaced their homes with their careers or hobbies…

But why should your home be the center of your life when there are so many exciting things to do and learn outside the home? Because, in order to fully enjoy anything in life, you must feel entirely comfortable with yourself, and you learn to be this way at home, a place free from the distractions and struggles of the outside world.

What does it mean to be comfortable with yourself? IT means being comfortable with your soul, the Godliness within you. It means that the outer you, the part that deals with the material world, is at peace with your inner you, the real you. And that makes you a comfortable place for God to dwell in. When you radiate from within, you warm the entire home, filling it with a peace and gentleness that will be felt by all those who enter.

pg. 133

A teacher who was close to the Rebbe once came to him for advice. His deep emotional pain as a Holocaust survivor was preventing him from fulfilling his teaching responsibilities. “There are no words to console you” the Rebbe said, “but you cannot allow the Holocaust to continue in your life.” He counseled the man with words he had learned from his father-in-law, the previous Rebbe: “We are day workers, and our task is to shed light. We need not expend our energies in battling darkness. We need only create day, and night will fade away.”

pg. 200

A woman who suffered a great tragedy came to see her Rabbi. The Rabbi said to her: I have no answers for you, but I can cry with you. 

Posted in Daily Prompt

Haunting Laughter of Joy

For the past month or so, I have been spending a lot of time with a family in the hospital. It is a horrible tragic story, where half of the family died in an accident, and the other half survived. The survivors are two teenagers, one pre-teen, and the father. The teenagers and the father have been in the hospital.

Slowly, the family is physically healing. I go to their unit about once a day, and have somehow created a connection with the kids especially. I am a person that they will ask to come back, or to stay around even if there are other guests that just entered their room.

This past week they started talking to me about their mother, siblings, and just what life was. The conversations are starting, because leaving the hospital is becoming a reality.

I was shocked when the teenage boy saw me and asked me to come to his room, where he began to tell me his feelings about leaving the hospital. How he is scared to go back to where he was living. How he is scared about going back to school and having to go back to “normal” life – because nothing in his life is normal. Everything has changed. How he has seen pictures of where he used to live and thinks that it is haunted. And we spoke and even explored some of his emotions for 20 minutes, and might have been longer if his family didn’t walk in.

I was shocked with the teenage girl started to tell me about her mother. When she wanted to show me a picture of her, although she did not want to look at it herself. When she told me she was annoyed with her friends for telling her that getting back to “life” take time, and actually the best thing they can do is just to hold her hand and say nothing, because there is nothing to say. How she is scared to go to somewhere new – even though she is done with being in the hospital – because it means that she has to learn new people, and new rules, and it means that it is one step closer to going “home”, which is scary right now.

I was shocked when the father spoke about how sad he is. How he still blames himself.

In all these instances, and more, I had to bite my cheek to not cry in front of them (they were not crying at the time). I was shocked and in awe that they were sharing so deeply with me.

But the time that I felt the most helpless, where there were no words in the world that could be of any use, was today. I was sitting with the father and he asked me if I wanted to see pictures. And so we sat, and he went through his phone showing me pictures of the children and the wife that he lost. Celebrations, vacations, just sitting around. Showing me, telling me “look how happy we were”, “look how beautiful they were”, “do you see my beautiful family?”

And then he showed me a video, of his 3 year old daughter, taken only days before her death. She was laughing hysterically while climbing all over his back. And he just played it. And played it.

She will forever be his laughing 3 year old.

And all I could do was just sit there and watch.

via Daily Prompt: Forlorn