Monday, December 28, 2015

Gratitude: The Most Important New Year's Resolution

Over the course of the last few weeks, I've begun writing down my prayers before I go to bed. I start out with a few things that i am thankful for, and then I ask God for help in whatever in coming up in my life. This has helped me to realize the true importance of gratitude. One doesn't realize how much one has to be thankful for until we try to write it down.

I'm not the biggest fan of traditional New Years' resolutions. Too often we start out strong with no real plan as to how to accomplish our goal, and by February 1st, all of the resolutions fall by the wayside because we get busy or lazy and that's fine. This being said, I think that there is one New Years Resolution that we all need to make this year. We need to be more grateful. Too often we look at the world with cynical disgust (I know I'm tremendously guilty of this) and forget the amazing things that we have. I'd like to issue some "thank yous" and my hope is that, in the new year, some of you all will do so as well. We forget what's important when we get wrapped up in the rabbit holes of our own minds or into a strict goal oriented mindset. Too often we remember the "what" and for the "why." Gratitude helps bring us back to the "why."

Over the course of the last week, I have gotten the opportunity to work with the amazing clergy at my childhood synagogue. And I want to start by thanking them. Thanking them for caring even though I no longer live fifteen minutes away. Thanking them for taking me under their wing. I have so much to learn, and I am blessed to have such incredible teachers (A new blog post about Beth Emet is coming soon).

Thank you to my friends who put up with my neuroses, and help me to make judgement calls, write a paper on Greek mythology, and plan Friday night services all in the same conversation.

Thank you to everyone who has read this blog. I cannot thank you enough.

Friday, December 18, 2015

It Will Be Okay: Keeping the Faith

In my high school philosophy class, I was once called a religious fanatic. I can't recall quite why; I had some pretty unpopular opinions in that class. For example, I have faith, and that seems to make people in the philosophical world a little bit annoyed, but no matter. This is why you can call me a religious fanatic all you want and I won't mind:

I never really understood prayer until I was in about sixth grade. I discovered the power of prayer in a place that is still incredibly special to me today. At my camp, we have a prayer space that is surrounded by trees, and if one closes their eyes, all of the people and the problems drift away. Prayer isn't easy. It requires the putting into words thoughts that we don't speak out loud. It's not an easy way of solving problems; it isn't a cop-out answer, it's a comfort. Prayer helps me to ground my mind when things are out of my control. Prayer helps me to make decisions. Prayer is the reason that I believe in God. Prayer is how I express my faith. It doesn't work for everybody, but it does work for me.

I'm pretty skeptical of miracles, as anyone who has read my D'var Torah on Lech L'cha could tell you, but I think that faith is a pretty powerful thing. People and nature and hundreds of other agents make things happen, but nonetheless, it's important for us to have faith in one another and in the world itself. Every person is created in God's image and should be treated as such. I've been asked why have faith in something that I cannot be sure of i.e. we can't see God (I disagree with this, but that's a whole other blog post). To that, I call forward the term of Soren Kierkegaard: "leap of faith." Kirkegaard believed that faith couldn't really be faith if it was knowledge, and I agree with this. We take a "leap of faith" every time that we trust someone with a small part of ourselves or share love with someone else. As soon as we reach outside of ourselves, we are putting our faith in other people, which is where it belongs. 

No matter how cynical I may seem about politics or the state of the world, I will balance that cynicism out with a heaping dose of faith. Faith in God's work; faith that things someday will get better; faith that America will use the democratic system to elect a good president. And most of all, I have faith in the wonderful people who surround me; my mentors, my friends, my family.

Friday, December 11, 2015

Don't Let Dreams Stay Dreams: Parshat Miketz

While I was reading through this weeks’ parshah: Miketz, I couldn’t help but think about, and by think about I mean get endlessly stuck in my head, Debbie Friedman’s song, And the Youth Shall See Visions. The line from that song goes and the old shall dream dreams, and the youth shall see visions. This got me thinking about what the difference between dreams and visions really is. Anyone can dream. Young children do it all the time. But I’m not as convinced that every person can see visions. I think only those who want to see visions will see them, and otherwise, their notions of the future will be stuck in their dreams. 
In this parshah, Joseph is freed when he interprets one of Pharaoh’s dreams, and therefore, his ability to interpret dreams is what saves him both from slavery and from his brothers. It is very probable that someone else could have interpreted Pharaoh’s dream, it wasn’t that hard to figure out, but the way that Joseph interpreted it required immediate action which may be why it was included in the Torah.

We all have dreams of where we want the world to be in five, ten, fifteen years or what we hope will happen in our lifetimes, but I think what we need to do is have visions. I have a vision for the future where our discourse is not as racially and sexually biased as it is today. I have a vision for a future where kids with disabilities can go to Sunday school just like everyone else.  Visions can be big or small. They can affect just your family or the whole world, but the important thing is to take immediate action because while change may be slow, if dreams stay dreams, nothing can happen at all.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

The Pull Close, Push Away Approach: An Endless Frustration

You're probably reading the title to this blog post and thinking: Emily, what the heck are you talking about? Well, I'm about to tell you about something that has happened to me quite a few times in my lifetime of trying to figure out who to trust in this world. This phenomenon, which I will be calling PCPA for short is composed of two parts.

1. The sharer(me) reaches out to someone who they trust (or think that they can trust, but that part comes later). This is generally an adult in their life; someone who is theoretically and sometimes professionally obligated to be there for them. That adult continues to check in on them and treat them warmly, responding to their texts and emails, reassuring the sharer that the responder will be there for them, etc. This can also happen in person with physical warmth and kind words.

2. The responder "disappears." This can mean that they are more distant while the sharer is talking to them in person, or more often, in my life, it means that the responder stops well, responding. Texts go unanswered; calls go unreturned.

I can't say for sure why this happens but I do know two things: First, the sharer will often feel, at least in my case, that they were wrong to trust you which can cause them disappointment and anxiety that gets redirected to the sharer. Second, PCPA seems to happen when the information that the sharer has told the responder is something"heavy" or "complicated." I speculate that the responder pulls away because of fear, but since I don't really talk to anyone who has demonstrated this phenomenon for me anymore, I'm not sure. I would love to hear your thoughts.

I also want to just take a second and thank all of you who have been there for me through thick and thin. You know who you are, and I love you.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

The Problem with How We Comfort: A Lesson in Empathetic Listening

There are a few ways that we tend to try and respond to someone when they share their feelings or painful experiences with us. Most of them end up invalidating the sharer. 
1. Relaying your own experiences to try and make the sharer feel less alone.
Why this doesn't work: Firstly, this person came to you asking for help, so you should feel honored. This means that the conversation should revolve around them, not you. By sharing your experiences, you are shifting the conversation to be about your experiences, and therefor, the sharer may feel like you are invalidating their feelings. The second reason this doesn't work is because "you don't get it". I have sat here at my computer staring at a blank screen for hours over the past few weeks trying to find a more polite or elegant way of saying it, but that's what it comes down to. I have this issue the most when I try to share with others because my life is unusually complicated, and the responder sharing one experience that they share with me doesn't mean that they understand how that experience interacted with all of the other stuff in my life. As someone who has tried to share with many different people over the years, I recognize that this is a natural reaction and one with good intentions. That being said, I don't think that we should lose the opportunity to improve our comforting skills.

2. The "think positive" approach.
Why this doesn't work: I have had quite a few people in my life tell me to look at the cards I have dealt to me and "see them in a different light" and therefore, turn the negative things into positive things. First of all, when one is in the midst of the hand with the terrible cards, it's pretty hard to see the cards in any other order then they are in your hand. I know this from experience. You may realize that you've learned something from the experience a few years later, but it is nearly impossible to learn from experiences like that in the present. The second reason why this doesn't work is because it often feels like you are minimizing the terribleness (just imagine this is a curse word) of my hand by telling me that I can turn it around with my mindset. 

3. Pity or the "I'm Sorry" approach
Why this doesn't work: Oh goodness, how I despise this approach. I have seen it hundreds of times. I know that when you say you're sorry to me, you don't mean to make me feel worse, but the way I see it is that you don't know what else to do, so that's what you say. I know that we,  as humans, are naturally programmed to do this. We say and do what we know. And I know that you don't understand, but pity isn't the best way to try and convince me that you do. 

Alright, everyone still with me? Great. You're probably thinking, Emily, you just told me all of the ways that I try to comfort people are invalidating of the sharer's feelings; what do I do? Empathetic listening is a term that I learned on Dear Hank and John (it's a podcast, you can google it). Basically, you want to be a comforting mirror. You want to reflect the emotions that the person you are talking to are sharing with you. For example, "you seem really upset about this" is actually not an invalidating answer because it allows you to acknowledge the sharer's emotions without needing to understand an experience that you have never had. Strangely, this is also what you should do if your child is throwing a tantrum. The second part of empathetic listening is asking clarifying questions and  trying not to interrupt the person. Asking questions about the details of whatever the sharer is feeling will make them feel heard. Alternatively, you can just give them a hug. This is often my strategy because sometimes you can tell that someone is upset about something, but they don't want to talk about it.  So that's it. As always, leave a comment if you have questions or comments.


Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Od Yavo: The Song that Has Bookmarked My Life

"Od yavo shalom aleinu, v'al kulam. Salaam"
Still, indeed, peace will come, it will come upon us.

The first memories I have associated with this song make sense: song sessions at camp, closing services every shabbat evening. This song is used for a prayer for peace often. But this song started to mean something to me approximately six years ago when I found out that a former camp counselor (who I adored) was staffing my eighth grade Israel trip. I remember the sounds of the guitar at the end of that pre-trip meeting, and they indicated that even though, at the time, my life was slipping away, it was all going to be okay.

The second memory I have of this song is at camp between my Freshman and Sophomore years of high school. I have a vivid memory of us dancing around the dining hall, the illuminating smile of my caring counselor reminding me that I was going to be fine. Throughout my time in high school, at every event that we sang this song, I was reminded that I was going to be okay.

This past summer, I sang this song with my campers, and this fall, every week at Hillel Shabbat dinner after we finish the prayer after meals, we break into song, without fail. The most significant memory is Fall Fest after I had just spoken to many people who I didn't know, and when I spent most of the song cleaning up bottles of wine and grape juice.

This past weekend, I got the opportunity to go to HUC-JIR for their college leadership weekend. We closed our Friday night service with this song, and I was reminded, that even with the pain and suffering of the world weighing on our minds, we were going to be okay. And as I smiled while blinking away tears, I remembered the true power of Od Yavo.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

L'dor Vador: My favorite Jewish Concept

L'dor Vador-generation to generation- has always been one of my favorite concepts in Judaism, and I have always really respected my mentors and I have so many of those that I can thank for wanting to be a Rabbi now, but I'll write a blog post on my trip to HUC this weekend when my eyes aren't begging for sleep. Regardless, L'dor Vador.

Seven years ago I was a camper in Tiferet, the arts unit at my camp, and there was one counselor who I really looked up to. Two years after the fact, I heard that she was going to HUC-JIR (Hebrew Union College, Jewish Institute of Religion) to become a rabbi, and I was inspired, thinking, oh, I can do that. \

This past summer at camp, I worked in the aforementioned unit, Tiferet. I was there for six weeks, but for the sake of the story, let's just focus on the first two. Those first two weeks, I was a counselor for a little girl with a long last name who turned out to be the daughter of the Director of Admissions and Recruitment at HUC-JIR. We spent A LOT of time together.

This weekend, when I visited HUC-JIR, I got to see both my former counselor and my camper from this past summer. I was struck with the incredible nature of our tradition that it can create this kind of connection where the student becomes the teacher, the camper becomes the counselor, the mentee becomes the mentor. I am so lucky to live in this interconnected web of Reform Judaism. It has taught me that I truly can impact others just as those before impacted them. And I can only hope that someday, that camper grows up to impact more campers and the cycle will continue. A never ending cycle of love and learning (and camp).

Before this weekend, I never truly knew the meaning of L'dor Vador. Now I do.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

My Intense Love of Reform Judaism Both On Campus and Off

I've been involved in my temple since I was about three years old so I am no newbie to the world of Reform Judaism. I went to Sunday School for many years until I became an aide in a Sunday School classroom and then to the cantor (I helped him lead services). If you want to read more about how much my synagogue means to me, you should read this blogpost. The URJ (Union for Reform Judaism) sponsored my camp where I grew from an awkward, quiet fourth grader into a confident counselor. The URJ brought me my youth group (NFTY-CAR) which helped me make it through my high school years. It gave me the resources to help a friend create a three-day camp and year long partnership program with a school in Waukegan, IL (more on that here). My community has given me so much, and that's the reason that I want to give back to them (More on that in a second).

This weekend is the URJ Biennial which I am not at because of travel craziness and the next biennial being in the city I live in, but I have been watching the lifestream every second that I have not been in classes the last few days. Last night, the incredible Alan Goodis opened with his song Esah Einai, a song that I listened to thousands of times as I fought my way through my freshman year of High school. I couldn't help but tear up as I attempted to write an essay at the same time. This morning, the URJ passed a resolution to make our communities more trans-inclusive, and I was once again on the verge of tears(geez, I'm emotional). I could't be prouder to be a part of this community.

Two days ago, the board of the Reform Organization here on campus attempted to take a yearbook photo. I say attempted because we are perhaps the most dysfunctional family possible. But we are family. I was welcomed into services on the first week of school, and I immediately relaxed after a crazy week of new experiences. Reform Judaism feels like coming home.

So many amazing clergy, educators and friends have contributed to my life, and there is too many to list here. Perhaps I'll write a longer blogpost about just them at some point. It is because of all these amazing people who made Reform Judaism my home that I am on the path to becoming a Rabbi.

In conclusion, there are not enough words that I can write to describe how blessed I am to be a part of the Reform Jewish community. Or at least not words that I can write without crying in the middle of the dining hall. All I can do is thank God and hope that this family will welcome me and allow me to welcome them for now and forever more.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Has Anything Really Changed?: A look back in time

Recently, for my classics class, I was reading an Ancient Greek Law Case about a woman named Neaera. Neaera, at the time that the case was brought against her former pimp, was almost seventy years old. What he was accused of is complicated and unimportant to the point, however, the two major issues addressed in this case were Neaera's sexual history and the question of her citizenship.

I was intensely frustrated and disappointed when I read this case for the first time. The fact that Neaera was previously a prostitute should have absolutely no bearing upon this case, however, like it would if this case was brought in front of a modern jury, her past served to discredit her. It peeves me that this case from thousands of years ago feels to the modern reader like an episode of Law and Order : SVU. Shouldn't we have stopped judging the sexual pasts of women by now? This is ridiculous. Why does a woman's sexual past contaminate her in the eyes of the public? Not to mention that in this case, Neaerra had not worked as an escort for many years. I admit that I tend to be a very cynical person, but while reading this case, I continue to believe that human nature may never change as much as we would like it to.

Alright, onto the second question of this case. This, along with the amount of vlogbrothers videos I've been watching (links at the bottom) have made me think a lot about what it means to be a citizen or a part of a nation. Neaerra is not an Athenian citizen because of complicated reasons having to do with her coming to Athens from Corinth after pretending to be related to someone else. It's not really relevant to my point, but I'll try to find a place where you can read the case if you're interested and include it at the end of that blog post. The main thing that comes to my mind on this topic is this quote from James Joyce's famously incomprehensible book Ulysses: "A nation is a group of people living in the same place, and also in different places." What really is a nation? Sure, we have people who are technically citizens of the USA, but what about those people who have immigrated here on Visas? What about the families that came here before there were formal rules for citizenship? What are the rules for belonging to any community? How do we know? Can we self identify? These are non-rhetorical questions that I would love to hear your thoughts on (Yes, I know I just ended my sentence with a preposition. It's my blog, be quiet). I'm planning on doing a whole blog post on communities and this quote with regards to immigration, probably later this month.

Questions? My email address is emilysdana@gmail.com.

Links:
Vlogbrothers: https://www.youtube.com/user/vlogbrothers
The case referenced: http://www.stoa.org/diotima/anthology/wlgr/wlgr-greeklegal90.shtml

Thursday, October 29, 2015

How Shabbat At School Has Conquered my FOMO.

Quick definition of terms:
Shabbat: the Jewish Sabbath day going from Friday at sundown to Saturday at sundown.
FOMO:Fear of missing out, usually used to describe social situations.

I have only missed one Shabbos dinner since I have been here at school. Therefore, I have spent a huge amount of time with my Hillel friends and other members of the Jewish community here at school between all of those dinners and all of the holidays, I'd say we are essentially family. Yet, if you go to my Facebook page(perhaps you were sent here from there), you will see that there are very few pictures of me with these incredible people. This is because it is a Jewish custom not to use electronics on holidays, including Shabbat. In an age of "pics or it didn't happen," this fact is incredible. All of those amazing memories did happen, and they were sacred even though we didn't take pictures. The removal of the need to preserve every single moment actually allowed me to have more fun and make more meaningful relationships, and I no longer worry about FOMO. I just worry about enjoying myself.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Lech L'cha: To A Place That I Will Show You

This is the D'var Torah that I gave tonight if you were not at Hillel dinner.

There are hundreds of things that people describe as “life changing experiences.” Any of you who can think back to your own college experience remember picking which incredible trip to Israel or social justice seminar that you were going to write about. I am very skeptical of life-changing moments. By no means am I saying that things in my life haven’t changed me over the years. But those life changing moments are not something that I recognized in the moment. They only appeared to me in retrospect. More on that in a second.
The Torah portion this week, lech l’cha, is incredibly fitting for Parents’ weekend. In this portion, God leads Abram to the land of Canaan, the land in which he will build his people. Also in this portion, Abram’s name is finally changed to Abraham. Lech Lcha, some of the first words in the parshah, can be translated in a few different ways. One of which is “go to yourself.” We are commanded, as Jews, to find ourselves through whatever path we may take.

As I start to construct my self in college, I’ve been thinking a lot about the people and moments that have made me the way I am. That made me think about backstroke flip turns. Backstroke flip turns require you holding your breath and estimating the placement of the wall. One of my coaches when I was a kid made us do them over and over and over, and I hated it. I would swallow water and bang my head on the wall (obviously not on purpose) until I was incredibly frustrated. The same coach pushed me off the diving blocks over and over until I was confident enough to jump off myself. I didn’t realize how much these lessons that I learned on the chlorine-coated deck really affected me until I looked back on them. I wouldn’t have taken as many risks if it hadn’t been for that one coach. He is the reason that I volunteer for so many things today and probably the reason that I’m standing up here. There is no doubt that he helped me to “go to myself.” Tonight, I’m asking all of you to  think  about those experiences which ed you to “lech lcha,” go to yourself. Shabbat Shalom.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Why I ADORE Cassandra

I am a total nerd when it comes to Greek mythology. I admit it. There is very little that makes me more excited than reading and talking about the gods and goddesses of the ancient world and their shenanigans. Throughout the years, I have read hundreds of different pages of mythology from a multitude of sources. After all this time, I have one favorite character: Cassandra. Cassandra, the daughter of King Priam and Queen Hecuba refused the sexual advances of the god Apollo, and as a result, she was given the gift of prophecy, however, she was cursed with the fact that noone will ever believe her. She foresaw the destruction of Troy, Agamemnon's death and many other things, but nobody ever took her seriously.

Despite the fact that these stories took place across the world and long ago, I think that the portrayal of Cassandra still has strong significance today. We are too quick to write off people who speak harsh truths. This is especially true of women who we are quick to dismiss as "crazy." We, as humans, must learn from Cassandra. We must learn that sometimes the things that are hardest to hear are also the things that we need to know the most.


Monday, October 19, 2015

Oy.

I first want to apologize for not posting for the last several weeks. Midterms happened. But then i realized something. i realized why I am doing all this. yes, I have a ridiculous about of papers to write. Shh... I'm trying not to think about that. But I know that someday, I can help people, and through prayer and through a whole lot of hard work. I can indeed get through all of this.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

I See Your Pain: An Explanation of What I'm Looking At Before I Ask if You're OK

I know, we are instructed, basically from birth that showing sadness or pain or any other negative emotion is not okay and it means you're weak. I am here to tell you that this is not true. it is OK not to be OK. And you are going to try and smile and laugh it off, just as I do when I'm upset, but your face gives you away. Here's what I see:

1. Fake Smiles: This is a ridiculously common one. People give me a so called reassuring smile. However, in real smiles, the corners of the eyes are crinkled, and this is not the case in fake smiles.

2. Eyes outward: This blue is easier to notice when you are not speaking or actively engaged in a program. The eyes shift away from one another.

3. Mouth corners turned slightly down--yet another sign of sadness

4. Inner eyebrows raised. This one is often very subtle, and I often miss it.

This all being said, I want to make a point. I read people who I care about. once I spot a fake smile, i start paying more attention to that person's face when they don't think that anyone is looking at them. When I ask if you are okay, I don't mean to pry. I just want you to know that I care, no matter what.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Home is Wherever I'm With You: Sukkot At School

Let me begin by pointing out the fact that if I was back home in Chicago, I wouldn't even notice that Sukkot existed let alone spend the majority of the first two days of Sukkot in a Sukkah. Occasionally while growing up, I would visit a friend's Sukkah and eat some food in it or something, but it was never a big deal. But this year was different.

My Sukkoth started the way that most of my Shabboses do here at school: setting tables. The meal coordinator and I would run around, counting plates, silverware, etc, you know the drill. Once the sukkah was all set, and the decorations were properly attached with the Tardis sign hanging front and center, we went back to our dorm rooms and took a break. When I returned, the Sukkah was filled with people. I spent the majority of my night with these people, playing card games, laughing at ridiculous jokes and talking about the future of the Jewish movement. On Erev Sukkot, I left the Sukkah after 1am(Does that mean it wasn't Erev anymore? Somebody remind me to ask a Rabbi that...).

We joined back together today at noon for a casual lunch, and then my afternoon continued with, you guessed it, setting more tables. Once the tables were set and I had edited my peer reviewer's essay on Genesis 16, we sat around joking about the amount of Jews that there are at my school(mind you, this is not an uncommon thing). Finally, dinner came, and every few minutes;, I would be once again awed by this amazing community that I have found myself in. i was sitting with a few friends and the Orthodox rabbi on campus when he suddenly asks, "Who are you?" First, I laughed because this conversation had literally been going on for a half an hour before he asked me for my name, and ten we continued talking, vaguely about me, and he said something to the effect of "oh so you're dad grew up and got married and no longer cared about having a girl's first name as his last name..."I burst out laughing. First of all, because my parents are no longer married and I made the rabbi feel super bad about saying that, and second because what was this conversation we were having? I guess we all really do spend too much time together. Oh well, I guess I call Hillel my home for a good reason.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Have Some Fire, Be Unstoppable

In a Grey's Anatomy episode sometime back in Season 9 or 10, Cristina said to Meredith that she needed to be unstoppable. I think that this is good advice to live by. If whatever that you are believing in isn't worth fighting for and throwing yourself into, it isn't work believing in at all. This applies to stupid things like TV shows--you all know how passionate I am about my shows, to serious things like religion.

I am passionate about the stupid things that I love for serious reasons as I referenced in a previous post(Why We All Need A Little More Liv in Our Lives). I love Shondaland shows(The three ABC shows all produced by Shonda Rhimes) because they address things that I am passionate about in real life. For example(WARNING SPOILERS), in the Grey's Anatomy episode this previous Thursday night, the doctors treated teenage lesbian lovers that were being bullied for loving each other. Their parents failed to accept them, and not only did the doctors on the show feel for them, but the audience did as well. The amount of celebratory tweets I saw when Maggie Pierce(one of the doctors) punched the homophobic mom of one of the lovers in the face brought tears to my eyes. In a world where there seems to be so much bias and pain, it is nice to see people band together for what they believe in even if it is in relation to something fictional.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Why We Shouldn't Hate Yom Kippur: I'm looking at you, Mom

First of all, quick primer: Yom Kippur is a Jewish holiday, occurring 10 days after the Jewish New Year. It is the Day of Repentance, and it is customary to fast from sundown the night before to sundown on the day of(this is how most Jewish holidays work).

I'm not going to tell you to have an easy fast as I try to ease off of the caffeine in time for Wednesday myself. Apparently if you drink a gallon of water the day before it helps? But I am going to tell you that the fast is not intended to be difficult. The purpose of the fast is to clean our souls and be as close to angels as possible.

The purpose of these Days of Awe and the day of Yom Kippur itself is to ask forgiveness from ourselves, others, and God.When we ask for forgiveness, we are at our most vulnerable. But at our most vulnerable is when we have the most potential for compassion and loving. Yom Kippur is our chance to right wrongs and start the New Year in a different mindset.

We speak about all of the bad things that have happened to us. Sometimes, we may even wonder why God does not apologize to us. By no means will I say that everything happens for a reason, however I will contest that we have more control than we give ourselves credit for. We can choose to make the most of what we have. For me, today, that meant having Grilled Cheese for breakfast so that i could finish this post before I go to Yizkor. And on a bigger scale, it's meant learning from harsh experiences instead of allowing them to break me.  We make a ton of choices every day, let's choose to have compassion and love.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Micro-Expressions: The first 20 minutes of the GOP Debate

I'm going to present this in a matter of posting a picture and then explaining what I notice in each expression. Once I get to the end of the debate, I will do a specific post on each candidate but since every 20 minutes takes me almost an hour, i'm going to do this bit by bit.There will be a sole blog post on Trump once I finish the debate because I have too many expressions of his. As always, please ask if you have questions!

1.  Jeb Bush: Fear
Our key indicator here is the raised eyebrows which when presented only for a second show surprise, but when they are pulled back and apart, and the corners of the eyelids are pointed down, fear is indicated.

2. Carly Fiorina: Contempt
In this example, Fiorina is trying hard to conceal her contempt, but her squinted right eye and raised right upper lip corner give her away. Contempt is the only one of the Big 7 emotions that is asymmetrical, so it is generally very easy to notice. You can also see that her smile is fake by the lack of movement in her eyes. in a genuine smile, the outer corners of the eyes are crinkled.

3. Marco Rubio: Contempt
While this is similar to the above example of concealed contempt, Rubio does a better job at making the smile look real with his eyes, however, his mouth gives away his true contempt.

Friday, September 18, 2015

I Hate the Concept, But I Can't Help Loving Them

I hate the concept of celebrity. The idea that someone deserves to be held up on a pedestal seems to turn them into some sort of God. That being said, there are a few celebrities who I still love despite my best judgement. Also, some of these people are youtubers. I have no idea if they count as celebrities. Yes, I know I sound like a ridiculous teenager girl.

1. Kerry Washington: I can't help it; I'm sorry. I'm obsessed with Scandal and all the political activism work that she does for the Arts is too much for me. Also, she's the first African American female lead on network TV in something like 30 years.

2. Mariska Hargitay: Not only does she play a kickass detective on SVU, she makes it a point to stand up against sexual violence in the real world as well. She started the Joyful Heart Foundation which provides resources to victims of sexual assault.

3. John Green: Okay, i know that his books aren't the best works of literature out there, however, his videos are not only hilarious, but I would not have made it through AP US History without his help.

4. Shonda Rhimes: The Queen of groundbreaking television.

5. Laci Green: A sex-ed activist on the Internet, Laci has been one of my favorite Youtubers for many years now.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

I'd Tell You I Miss You, But I Don't Know How

"Look for me in the people I've known and loved, and if you cannot give me away, at least let me live in your eyes and not in your mind."

In 2006, I started going to OSRUI. The first memory I have of camp is of Heather, my counselor, teaching me how to make friendship bracelets when I was missing home. I have no idea why it worked, however, I used that same tactic with my own campers this past summer. Heather was cheerful and loving, and I couldn't have asked for a better introduction to camp. One year later, on yet another first day of camp, I ran straight from my dad's SUV into her arms. The next year, however, I was met on the first day of camp with the news that she had cancer. Obviously, at the time, i was in 5th grade, so i didn't really know what that meant. Three years later, I got dropped off at my first youth group event. Heather greeted me like she hadn't just been through a round of chemo. Her smile was nurturing as she pushed me to have fun and make friends. Two years after that, our team, Chemosaurus Rex, was campaigning for Relay For Life. Physically, Heather wasn't doing so well, but she never let us see that. She just kept encouraging us to fundraise. A month and a half before our Relay, Heather passed away. I have never met someone as selfless as she was. This past summer, I got to be a counselor at OSRUI. There wasn't a day that went by when I didn't think of her. All I can hope is that I made her proud.

I don't remember when I met Oz. I started swimming at YWCA Flying Fish somewhere around age 5, so it was probably within those first one or two years. Initially, he pushed me harder than any other coach, so i dreaded my practices with him, but over time, my feelings about Oz changed. I started to learn to take risks because I always knew that no matter what, he would have my back. I let him push me off the diving blocks when I was scared. As much as he called me Emmy, which drove me crazy, i still can't help but think of him every time that I smell chlorine. i just wish I had gotten the chance to thank him before he died. From him, I learned to take risks.

I can truly say that without these two people, I do not know who I would be today.
May their memories be for a blessing.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Why We Could All Use A Little More Liv in Our Lives: Benson and Pope and Why I Love Them

WARNING: TW Abuse/Sexual Assault, Spoilers regarding Scandal and SVU.

Quick Recap for those of you who aren't as TV obsessed as I am: Olivia Benson(Played by Mariska Hargitay), the lead character on NBC's Law and Order: Special Victims Unit. Olivia is a NYPD detective who investigates sex crimes--everything from acquaintance rape to pedophilia. Olivia Pope(Played by Kerry Washington), the lead character on ABC's Scandal. Liv is a Washington DC fixer. Her job, besides having a steamy love affair with the President(Played by Tony Goldwyn), is making her clients scandals disappear.

Both of these characters are caretakers. Their jobs are to make sure that other peoples' problems get solved. Both have a hard time taking time for themselves. Olivia Pope grew up with a mother that was supposedly dead and a father who was absent. Olivia Benson grew up being abused. When the Olivias have bad days, they don't immediately have someone to turn to. Not only do I strongly relate to this, but I think that too often we see television characters who appear perfect, and teenage girls desire to be them because they never fall apart. But these aforementioned characters are not human. Benson and Pope are. The audience sees them cry, screw up professionally and personally, and run their mouths when they shouldn't. I imagine that's why their fans care so much about them.

Both of these characters have demonstrated the great effects that abuse can have on a person. Pope was kidnapped, fearing for her life until a friend came and rescued her. She was beaten and demeaned. Benson was held in a room, tied to the bed with her own handcuffs as a man beat and raped her. Yet, both of these women portrayed strength. The shows did not skirt around the issue. We saw the blood and heard the screams. The flashbacks were painful for me and many others to watch. But it's important to see these things.

Olivia Benson was seeing a therapist for much of Season 15, and I can only hope that Pope gets the help she needs for her PTSD in the upcoming Season 5 of Scandal. For a long time, having to go to therapy was seen as making someone "broken" or "crazy," and watching a popular TV character go through this and get help reduces this horrible stigma.

But beyond all that, the Olivias have taught me that it's okay not to have your life together all the time. It's okay not to be okay. It's a phrase that is wiped from our minds because we have expectations on us. But we're all human. It's okay not to be okay.



Tuesday, September 15, 2015

And It Feels Like Home

Over the last couple of days, I have spent my first high holidays away from my home synagogue. I'm not going to lie and say that it was easy, because it won't. I still longed to hear my Rabbi's voice and hang out with all of my friends. But this Rosh Hashanah was great in its own way. I got the chance to spend it with new friends in a community that welcomed me with open arms.

The wonderful thing about going to a school that is so Jewish is that even though I do miss home so do all of my friends, and we compensate for that pain by eating large amounts of meals together and laughing. Tonight, I sat between our Jewish chaplain and one of my friends and we spent the meal telling jokes about Jewish Mothers.

 I think we often forget to laugh during the Days of Awe. We forget that our years must be filled with joy as well as with meaning and introspection. We are so focused on our mistakes and asking forgiveness that we forget how important it is to savor each moment that we have with the communities that surround us.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Forgiveness

Forgiveness. The Healing of the Soul. A chance for us to turn to ourselves and to those around us and heal the wounds we've caused. During the Days of Awe(The ten days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur), there is a strong emphasis placed on asking for forgiveness from others inner lives.

But just as we cannot love others until we love ourselves, we cannot help to heal others until we hear ourselves. We must forgive ourselves for all the things that we wish we had or hadn't done. We must forgive ourselves for making human mistakes. We must forgive ourselves for taking care of our own happiness over another human's. In order to survive in this maze of Life, we must learn to move forward instead of being stuck in the mud of the past. This is a New Year. We choose to nourish or diminish our souls. Let's choose to not beat ourselves up this year. let's accept ourselves and see where that takes us.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Blog Elul: Give

I love giving gifts. I always have, and I always will. I love sappily thinking about what my friends would want and going on a wild goose chase of the internet to find it. I love personalizing T-shirts and phone cases and mugs...You get the point.

Sometimes I emotionally give too much. I tend to pour out all my love into other people and not leave any for myself. I've got to fill myself sometime. This coming New Year, I am going to make a point to pour some love, not only into others but myself as well.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Blog Elul: Bless

I never really connected with prayer until I was a senior in high school. I always loved the community nature of the services at synagogue and at camp, but I was never someone who would pray to God before I went to bed at night.

But then, I realized something: God is with me in every breath and every step. God isn't going anywhere. He can't decide He doesn't want to be friends with me anymore or get too busy for me. I can be angry with him, but He will still be there forgiving me with open arms.

I am blessed every time that the morning light streams into my room through the blinds I forgot to pull and every time that I successfully make it up the hill to class. I am blessed to have absolutely incredible role models and great friends. I am blessed to have my incredible camp that taught me how to be independent. I am blessed to be strong against most of the odds.

We all get dealt a hand of cards. We don't control which cards we get, and sometimes, those cards that were originally turned down, get flipped over at the most inopportune times. But we still get to choose which ones to play. We choose the person who we want to present to the world. God blesses us with the ability to do so. Even if your hand may seem like the worst one in the world, you choose the rules of the game. If you don't let the cards you've been dealt hold you back, they won't.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Blog Elul: Create

We create our meaning. We choose whether an experience means something us or not. We are the canvases that carry our own experiences on them. We may not get to choose what kind of material that we start out as, but we do get to go from there.  In David Foster Wallace's brilliant essay/speech, This is Water, he refers to the"default setting." The "default setting" is the waiting in line at the grocery store or sitting in traffic without thinking about our thoughts. Let me explain. I'm waiting in an airport security line, nervously checking my watch every 30 seconds to ensure we won't miss our flight. I want to scream at the five year old in front of me who is whining to his parents, and the young couple edging in front of me in line, but I don't. I imagine that the five year old is just as tired and hungry as I am and that the couple is on their way to their honeymoon and their flight leaves before mine. These things may not be true. But I create these stories in my head to not only calm myself down but to lift my anxious mind out of it's self obsessed "default setting." I'm creating meaning in things that would normally make me angry. 

When we create art, we are making visual meaning of intangible emotions. How does one express the true nature of heartbreak without lovesick poetry? How does one express their jubilation without drawing with bright colored pencils? The lyrics of a song can tell you 10x more about a person than 1000 conversations. Especially during adolescent, people need an outlet to healthily make sense of their emotions. The so called "quality" of the art does not matter. If the emotion is there, the art is meaningful. 
And so we create.

To breathe easy.
To sleep.
And to find closure.


Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Blog Elul: Intend

I of all people know that those with the best intentions can end up with consequences they didn't expect. We always mean to help the people we care about, but sometimes, we can overstep our boundaries in doing so. We may think that we are superheroes, and even so, superheroes make mistakes. Nobody has to be strong all of the time. Of course, none of us intend for bad things to happen to us or others.

But all we can control is ourselves. People have come and go in my life, and I know that it's just a part of growing up. I intended to keep the friends that I had in middle school with me for my whole life, but betrayal and drama stepped in and I started over, much as we are commanded to do this Rosh Hashanah. There is always room for more good intentions and more good people in one's life.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Blog Elul: Hope

Hope. What Pandora left in her jar. What we swear to have when a tragedy hits.

Hope and Faith go hand in hand because as much as we do try, we cannot control the future. Bad things will happen, and instead of allowing them to break us, we need to hold strong. We need to convince ourselves, no matter how hard it will be, that we will win the next fight. Even when it feels like you don't want to get out of bed in the morning, we have to have hope. And if you cannot have hope for yourself because you are stuck so deep down in the valley of darkness, I will have hope for you. I will hope that someday soon, you will see the light again. You just can't stop fighting. I know the pain of a forever uphill battle. You may feel broken, but nobody dies with all of their pieces put together. People may seem to have their lives together, but I'll let you in on a little secret; A lot of the time they're just pretending. We just have to hope that each day we will find a piece of ourselves to add to our collections. And after all, broken crayons still color just as well.

Why I Miss My Synagogue

Last night, I participated in a shabbat morning service that took place in the library at a Jewish Day School. I was on my school's Hillel retreat. The service combined three different traditions even though it was advertised as a Liberal service. There is absolutely nothing wrong with pluralistic services. They allow us to learn more about each other. However, I couldn't help feel a pang of missing home.

My rabbi liked to say that I lived at our temple. This is not entirely untrue. From the age of 5 through my high school graduation weekend, I was consistently involved at Beth Emet. For a lot of this time, it was the most stable thing in my life. I went through different friend groups and grew up, but I always knew that I could come home to Beth Emet. When I think of each room in that building, thousands of wonderful memories flood my mind. In the synagogue, we had Purim shpiels and song sessions. In the basement, we played Hide and Go Seek and made menorahs. In the kitchen, we made chili all night and decorated cookies. Even the hallways illicit joyful memories of playing flashlight tag during Lock Ins. Our confirmation trip, all be it filled with delayed flights and miserable weather, was one of the most influential weekends of my life.

The people are what made my experience so special. The clergy helped me through everything. I have seen an Associate Rabbi become a Senior Rabbi; I have seen 5 Youth Programs Directors; I have learned from 3 Cantors. My group of friends are a lot more like family. We have thousands of inside jokes, some of which I don't even remember the origins of. We have laughed together, cried together and prayed together. I couldn't miss them more. While I may not be at Beth Emet this high holiday season, a piece of my heart will be hiding on the couches outside the elevator upstairs or collecting food at Yom Kippur, just so they won't forget me.

Shana Tov to all of you!

Monday, September 7, 2015

Blog Elul: Begin

These past few weeks have been filled with beginnings. A new city. A new place. living with new people. Having consistent internet that doesn't cut out every five minutes. New teachers. New hilly area and therefore, new calf muscles. Each year at Rosh Hashanah, we get the opportunity to begin again. To have our slates wiped clean. To start anew. But that new beginning is coming a little bit late this year because I'm already through with orientation. However, I am beginning to feel comfortable here. I have incredible friends and a routine. It's important to spend some time thinking about the past even during new beginnings. The slate can never fully be wiped clean. Our pasts inform our future. So we'd better be ready.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Blog Elul: End

I have forever said that I am terrible at endings. Havdallah makes me emotional, I hate closing activities with a vengeance, and I dread New Year's Eve. These moments, they just feel so final, so limiting despite the fact that some things do have to end. I had to say good-bye to three sets of campers and my fellow counselors. Summer has to end so that fall can start and my dorm room can remain a bearable temperature(Also, yay New England fall!). I had to say good-bye to those at home when I left for college. But with each ending, comes a new beginning. New experiences teach us about ourselves, and most of all, they show us how much people can truly mean.   While I truly despise saying good-bye to those who I love, I know that they live with me in my soul. What's that line from Wicked again. Oh right "because I knew you, I have been changed for good." And it's never truly good-bye. It's always just see you later.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Microexpressions and Politics

I am obsessed with the television show Lie To Me. If you haven't heard of it, here's a quick summary: It's about a scientist and a psychologist who use the reading of micro expressions to solve various cases.What is a micro expression? There are 44 muscles in the human face. They come together to form thousands of emotions. However, there are really only eight that need to be watched for: shame, disgust, contempt, happiness, sadness, surprise, anger, and fear. These emotions are reflected on the face by the "reptilian brain," the more primitive and instinctive part of our brains, for less than 1/2 a second. Even if you are attempting to hide an emotion, your face can betray you.

With this information, I decided to do an experiment. We are coming up on primary elections and eventually, next November, we will elect someone to be the president of the United States. These candidates have debates with audiences. This is what I'm doing: I am watching each debate and taking notes on the expressions I notice and when I notice them. I am attempting to use this to predict who will come out on top. Let me stress this: I am trying to prevent my political biases from getting in the way of this experiment. This is science, not politics. Ideally, after two or three debates, I will make a post with my notes on micro expressions and my interpretations of such.

Welcome to Unapologetic Enthusiasm!

I can't study all of the things that I want to study. it's just a fact of life. There is not enough time in the world to analyze the psychology of Grey's Anatomy, question the existence of free will, and examine the prevalence of heteronormativity in high schools. Here is the place where I will write about all of those things and more. I can't promise that this will have any structure topics wise, but my goal is to post twice a week unless I get too busy in which case I will drop my posts down to once a week.