Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Fantastic Beasts and How to See Them: Harry Potter and Mental Illness

I was listening to Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix the other day, and I was thinking about ways that Harry Potter could be connected to mental illness. It's common knowledge in the Harry Potter fan community that JK Rowling wrote the dementors as an allegory for depression, they suck the soul out of you, leaving you alive, but without the ability to feel and they make you remember all of your worst memories.

But I think other comparisons between magical creatures and mental illness can be drawn. Thestrals, the winged horses that pull the carriages up to Hogwarts, are analogous to trauma. One can only see them if they have seen someone die, so in the beginning of Order of the Phoenix, Harry can see the thestrals for the first time, and he feels like he is going mad because only Luna Lovegood can see them as well. Trauma often leaves a mental or emotional mark on a person, making signs of said trauma visible very clearly to the person who has suffered, but not to anyone around them. Sometimes, people are able to relate to each other, as Harry and Luna are in this passage, because they have shared similar trauma, and they can both "see" and "understand" it, just as the thestrals seem very real to them.

The second connection that I noticed, and that my therapist has pointed out to me many a time is the idea of the boggart, introduced in Prisoner of Azkaban, as a metaphor for anxiety. The boggart is a shape-shifting creature that transforms itself into whatever the viewer is the most afraid of. For example, Ron's boggart turns into a giant spider because he is afraid of spiders. The instance of the boggart that is most akin to anxiety is Molly's boggart in Order of the Phoenix though. She sees all of her family members dying one by one, becoming more and more distraught as she continues to see the worst case scenarios. The only way that one can get rid of a boggart is by using the Riddikulus spell, a spell that turns the boggart into a humorous version of the thing that you are afraid of, and sometimes, the only way to conquer anxiety is by laughing. It's really hard to continue to be anxious if you are laughing. Trust me, I've tried.  I'm sure that there are connections that I have missed, so I'd love it if you could leave them in comments, and I'm looking forward to doing more posts like this in the future.

Monday, December 5, 2016

Finals Week: I Think We're Doing It Wrong

It's finals week here in college, and the atmosphere of stress is palpable. But here's the thing: people seem to spend much more time talking about how much they have to do and how stressed they are then they do working. And it seems to be a competition of who has more work to do or who got less sleep last night (I don't sleep often anyways, but that's besides the point). And I can't help but feeling like we're doing it wrong. It's almost gotten to the point where I'm afraid to ask people how they are.

First of all, come on people, take care of yourselves. Eat meals, not just popcorn, ramen, and nutella from the jar. Try to get some sleep. Take a shower. Hang out with your friends. Go to the gym. Take a breath and watch some youtube videos.  Do the things that make you feel like a person. Your work will get done much more efficiently if you spend small amounts of time working instead of 5 hour study sessions where you don't actually get that much done.

Second, plan your day. Then you can be less stressed and get things done. I'm not good at explaining this, but this video is, so go watch that if you have a few minutes.

We need to stop jumping on one another. Stress is not a competition. Don't blame people for not having their work done. Don't blame people for being stressed. Don't blame people for getting their work done. Try to remember that learning is the point of all of this. All of us are just doing the best we can.

On a related note, I've been struggling a little bit over the last few weeks (I am open about my struggles with chronic illness, you can read more about that here), and there have been days when I haven't been able to get out of bed. This, as you can imagine, is very frustrating for someone like me who loves to plan because I can never know whether or not I'm going to be able to get work done. And I recognize that this is not my fault, but when you ask me why I'm not more stressed or why I haven't finished some piece of work, I feel guilty for having illnesses that keep me down.

This competitive stressful atmosphere is hurting us all, despite the fact that I am very happy to be at Brandeis where this only happens for one to two weeks a year as opposed to all the time, and we need to work to take care of ourselves, to forgive ourselves for our faults and wasted time and to love one another. Best of luck to all of you if you are taking finals, and have a great week even if you're not!

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

DBT and Judaism(Part 4): Matzah, Yom Kippur, and Avoiding Black and White Thinking

One of the quintessential ideas of Judaism is that nothing is black and white, everything is complicated. Matzah is both the bread of affliction and the bread of freedom. On Yom Kippur, we both atone for our sins and rejoice over the fact that we will be forgiven. On one of the happiest days, one's wedding day, we smash a glass to remember the destruction of the temple.

As our Rabbi was listing these examples and saying that we need to learn to hold conflicting ideas in our heads at the same time, a connection dawned on me: the first thing that they teach you in DBT(Dialectical Behavioral Therapy) is to avoid black and white thinking in order to keep our emotions in line and avoid obsessive thinking patterns. We are taught to stop labeling something as just sad or just happy. We are taught to avoid the words always and never and to take things just for what they are, complicated. And there is nothing more complicated than Judaism. Judaism forces us to hold both the pain and suffering of our people's past as well as the joy for the present and future in our heads. 

And maybe that's why Judaism helps me. We are reminded so often (and this is not accidental) that there is good and bad, happy and sad in everything. There is no holiday that includes no remembrance or at least twinge of pain. Most of our holidays revolve around the saying, "they tried to kill us, we won, let's eat." Even leading up to Purim, one of the most joyful holidays of the year, on Shabbat Zahor, we read about the Amalakites, a people who we are both instructed to remember and to drive out from the land, a violent precursor to the joy and partying that is involved with Purim. 

Judaism, as well as DBT, teaches us that we must hold happiness and sadness in our hearts simultaneously and be okay with it. We must remember the slavery, but be thankful for the freedom; We must celebrate our Simchas(weddings, birthdays, b'nai mitzvah), but remember that they will not last forever. Our brains are certainly capable of this, even though we don't generally put in the effort needed to do it. We can hold these ideas together in our minds. And we should. It's the healthier thing for everyone.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Yom Kippur: What am I Returning to Anyways?

I've been struggling a lot leading up to Yom Kippur this year. I've been remembering my study sessions in the Youth Lounge at my synagogue and missing my Beth Emet family, and I've been anxiously worried about my lack of control over the future. So through all of this mess of thoughts, I think I have pinpointed just the thing about Yom Kippur that is making me feel this way:

I find that every day for me is Yom Kippur. Every single day I go over my mistakes and thing about what I've done wrong. And every day I am hard on myself, so I've been asking myself this week, as I get more and more anxious leading up to the holiday(which begins tonight), is how can I make Yom Kippur more meaningful for me and also not let it destroy me. Let's take these things one at a time: I think that the liturgy of YK is still meaningful regardless of whether I am fasting or doing anything else, and this is the one day when all Jews are commanded to think seriously, so I have something in common with them which can also make the experience more meaningful.

How do I keep from spiraling down into a bad mental place on YK? This is a question I don't actually have an answer to. Teshuvah can be translated as return, but what am I returning to? Returning to my past self? But I'm not proud of who I used to be. So where am I returning to? I am returning to a more spiritual state, and in a way a state that is exactly the opposite of YK: a state of self acceptance and self care. And I realize that this isn't the original point of the holiday, however, this is what it is for me, and I think that's okay. And it's okay that I'm eating. And it's okay to not be okay, especially on this holiday.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Blog Elul: Hope

Hope is the light at the end of a tunnel.
Hope is the smile in a sea of frowns.
Hope is the music that floats in my window in hour four of my homework.
Hope is the thing with feathers.
Hope is what was left in the bottom of Pandora's box.
Hope never leaves.
We may forget about it. Make ourselves believe that it isn't there.
It there it will stay. Just hanging around, under all of the guilt, discord, and doubt.
Ready to come out and fly away.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Blog Elul: Begin

Rosh Hashanah is the beginning of the year. I've always liked it better than the Gregorian new year because Rosh Hashanah is actually at the beginning of my year. Sure, i've been at school for a bit, but it still feels like the dust hasn't settled so much on the year to come yet. But really any time can be a beginning if you decide to define it as one. The beginning of each day is a new start and one can make a conscious decision to live one's life anyway they please.

Beginnings, while exciting, also contain a lot of uncertainty, and there is very little I dislike more than uncertainty. But I am confident that this next year will bring happiness and sadness and love and trust and a myriad of other things that I cannot even imagine. And I'm looking forward to it.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Blog Elul: End

I really hate endings. I hated leaving camp--I basically cried for the last 48 hours. I hated leaving school in the spring. But the end of this year feels a whole lot more like a beginning that it does an ending. The ending of this year allows me to think back to the beginnings of so many important relationships and to think about how I will strengthen them and myself in the coming year. The ending of this year means that at some point I will be able to stop worrying about High Holiday logistics. The ending of this year means the beginning of the next. And I get to bring in the next year with my best friends. The people who I feel like I can avoid endings with. With whom it will always be see you later instead of good-bye. And that's a blessing. With endings come beginnings. And both require the same blessing.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Blog Elul: Love

Love. One word that means so much.
A command. From God and from social pressures.
An emotion. Felt towards individuals and group.
The warmth one feels after making a new friend.
The fire while discussing Torah on Shabbos morning. 
The tight hug of a family member.

Love is complicated. It can cloud our judgment.
Cause us to act too selfishly. And also not selfishly enough.
Cause us to spend more time on things irrational.
But love isn't supposed to make sense.

Love is important.
It helps us breath.
Through pain and through joy.
It's refreshing and hopeful.
And with it, we couldn't live without.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Blog Elul: Fulfill

One of the greatest mitzvot(commandments) that Jews are to fulfill is "laasok b'divrei torah," which is defined as "to engage with the words of Torah." Now, many rabbis and people much smarter than me have different interpretations of how one goes about fulfilling this commandment, and I honestly think that I forgot how to fulfill this mitzvah until the other night.

Yesterday, at my rabbi's suggestion, I began studying Jewish text on my own, specifically Psalms because she thought they would bring me comfort. Directly after spending a bit of time studying by myself, I joined some friends in our house of study (Beit Midrash) to learn about the Torah portion for the week. Walking out of that building, late at night, I felt different than I had in a long time. I felt alive and filled with the words of my tradition, and the world, my stress about everything going on in my life had melted away if only for a short moment. And I was reminded of why I love being Jewish and why I want to grow up and be a professional Jew.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Blog Elul:Judge

I am an INFJ. I'm proud of it. But I'm not proud of how judgmental I can be. My initial instinct is always to judge someone on the clothes that they are wearing or the way they talk, but that's not the way to a successful life. I started out by just not saying those things out loud, but now, now I have trained my brain to stop judging, at least for the most part. And that's something I can be proud of.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Blog Elul: Ask

We all ask similar questions. Why are we here? Who are we? How do we make meaningful use of our limited time on this earth? Is there a God? Does that God require something of us? What do we worship? 

But we answer these questions in different ways. With science and religion. Or a combination of the two. We don't debate as to whether these challenges exist. We know that they do. We argue over how they are addressed, and that is an entirely different issue.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Blog Elul: Awaken

Wake up.
Wipe the film off of your eyes and use your senses to see what is happening around you.
From the tragedies of the world to the bad grade on your homework
Don't just sit there.
Do something.
Pray. Learn. Write. Speak.
You are not alone in waking up.
But your voice is the only one that occupies your head.
Make the choice to help yourself. Or to find someone or something that can.
Make the choice to be empathetic and loving.
You could change someone's life.
It's a beautiful and broken world we live in.
Wake up.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Blog Elul: Pray

I pray that God has control of that which I do not.
I pray that God instills me with hope and with kindness for myself and others.
I pray that God protects all who I care deeply about.
I pray that God helps my mind to think and my body to function.
I pray in doctors' office waiting rooms and sitting in the wilderness.
I pray in bed before I fall asleep and as I walk up the stairs to class.
Prayer is something I can do. Prayer isn't easy. Prayer is giving up control. But prayer is what I have.
So I pray. So I pray.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Blog Elul: Change

 Every summer at camp is life-changing, but as I've gotten older(most specifically this past summer and the preceding one), I have found myself learning and changing huge amounts. I grow up a little each year. I learn how to do my job better; I change based on my evaluations and based on my mistakes. I change because I am older. I saw this when i was a kid as well, but it wasn't as obvious. But one of my favorite things about camp is that very few things change--and by this I mean major things, not the addition of the pool or anything like that. The traditions of camp, especially in Tiferet, the arts unit in which I found my home, have not changed since I was a camper, and from what I hear, they have endured from well before that. We sing the same combinations of melodies of L'cha Dodi every single week; we decorate the walls of the Beit Am; we dance during Miriam's song. And there's something magical about getting to go back home to that. There will be a longer post specifically on why Tiferet is so special after we get through High Holidays, but I have to say, the melodies of Oseh Shalom may change and there will always be new faces, but the comfort of home remains. I am in a period of my life when a lot is changing, so I'm unbelievably grateful to get to have camp as a place that doesn't change in the important ways.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Blog Elul: Learn

I spend most of my day learning. Learning about the Ancient Greeks and Romans, their language, their culture, how they were and weren't like us. Every day, every struggle, I learn a little more about who I am. I learn a little more about my body, my limitations, my capacity for love. I learn to forgive and to help and to take care of myself. And I hope to never stop learning. Because learning, whether it be in a Jewish context or otherwise is one of the the most important things in my life. Fittingly, the day that this will come out with be Shabbat, which I will spend learning Torah with our rabbi and my friends and learning about how I can use Shabbat as a way to take care of myself.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Blog Elul: Remember

I spend too much time remembering, but I think to some extent, it's really important. It's really important for us to remember where we have been so that we can have some idea of where we are going. And really important to keep those who we no longer see every single day in our minds. Because just because I now live halfway across the country from many of the influential people in my life does not mean that they are any less important to me.

I think a lot about influence. The people and the places and most of all, the experiences that have led me to where I am today, whether they be good and bad. And we can't ignore the past, especially in these days of reflection because ignoring the past will do us more harm than good. Instead we must remember the journey we have been on, but still look forward to the next great milestone.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Blog Elul: Forgive

This whole High Holiday season is supposed to be about forgiveness, although for me it has mostly been(so far) about finding Torah readers and handling logistics, but never mind that. Forgiveness scares me because forgiving means the pain has disappeared. I know longer feel the wound, but that does not mean I must forget about it. We must forgive not for the other person, but for ourselves because we cannot move on from something if we have not made peace with it beforehand.

And we must forgive ourselves. This is the hardest part. We must forgive ourselves for not being perfect. We must forgive ourselves for the pain we've inflicted upon our own bodies as well as on others. We must forgive ourselves for all of the shoulda coulda wouldas over the last year. Because forgiveness allows us to heal and to step into the new year determined to not make the same mistakes again.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Blog Elul: Trust

Trust is hard to form and easily broken. 
Trust is a careful balance between too much investment and fear that everything could just fall apart. 
Trust is vulnerability.
Trust is showing someone the parts of you beneath the mask. 
Trust is difficult.
Trust is terrifying to me. 
But trust is important.
Because those people you trust, the good ones, they are the ones that enrich your life.
So fear is to be expected. It hurts because they matter.
But I matter too.
So trust is worth the work. 

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Blog Elul: Count

I spent so many years counting down the days. Counting down the days until the next NFTY event or the next time I got to go to camp. Every day that everything hurt, i would open the app of my phone and find out how many days there were until my next respite. But if you only count down, you lose time. You lose the small moments in every that make every day count. Even if it's just a chocolate bar that you forgot was in a drawer or a friend sending you a text asking you how you are, every day counts. And I am so happy that I stopped counting down the days and started making the days count, or more accurately, realizing why every day should count.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Blog Elul: Observe

This weekend, I helped to run the first year Shabbaton for Hillel which was a marvelous experiences is many ways, but some of the conversations that I had really related to "observe."

Observing the way that others practice their Judaism is positively fascinating to me. And I really try to just observe, not to judge because you learn so much less if you judge while you watch. And this weekend, I got the opportunity to watch many of these incoming first years, who have only been at college for a few weeks, figure out how they want to celebrate Shabbat and how they want to be Jewish on campus. I observed many of them leaving their comfort zones and talking to someone from outside of their denomination for the first time.

I've always been a very observant person. my friend joke that I can read minds because I can read mircoexpressions(which for the record is reading emotions and not minds, and I don't read micro expressions just for the fun of it). I see a lot, which is exhausting, but it's also a gift. A gift I am very grateful to have as we step into this season of reflection.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Blog Elul: Hear

Voices from all directions.
Inside and outside of my restless mind.
Someone needs me. So does someone else.
Who is suffering more?
How do I choose what to hear?
Can I choose what to hear?
Why do I have to hear so much?
I hear so much pain that has no solution.
All I can do is hear. And try to listen.
But can I listen to everyone?
I can surely hear their cries, but how many voices can my mind truly hold?
and how will I know when I am hearing too much and acting too little?

Friday, September 9, 2016

Blog Elul: Choose

Everything is about choices. This kind of hit me as I was running from one thing to another all day today, and I realized that everything, not just my social life, is about choices. And I could talk about the choice of how to think about things, but we have David Foster Wallace for that, and I don't think I'm doing such a great job at that whole thing right now anyway( if you have no idea what I am talking about, read DFW's brilliant commencement address This is Water here).

I choose who I want to maintain relationships with. I choose who is important to me. I choose who and what to worry about (although sometimes anxiety chooses that one). And I choose how to spend my time. I don't think whole thing was as clear to me this year because I came in to sophomore year with an incredible group of friends. I felt like I didn't need to "choose" anything; I was just lucky. But I need to choose to maintain those relationships especially as we approach the most celebratory and also some of the most meaningful times of the Jewish year. I can choose to be a little bit less anxious about High Holidays, and a little more excited to be spending them with my best friends in one of the best places on earth. I can choose to be grateful for the mentors and resources that are helping me to stay sane as I plan the services I have to plan. I can choose how to look at the things in my life. And in some ways, even though that means I have to make more decisions, that's freeing.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Blog Elul: Believe

I've been thinking quit a bit about belief in two ways recently. The first one is in an academic setting: we spent a large part of my Ancient Greek History class yesterday talking about whether we can take the Iliad and the Odyssey as believable sources for history, that is, are they true? This question gets very messy, partly because we don't actually have much else to go off of from that time except for a couple pieces from the archaeological record that haven't proven themselves all that helpful, and partly because they are literature. To some extent, at least, they are myths that can tell us something about the people who wrote them, but can we believe them completely? That's your decision because I don't really want to get in to that debate right now, and I want to talk about the other thing I was thinking about.

I believe in God. It's no secret to anyone around me or who has talked to me, and I'll talk about that in a later blog post if you want, but that's not what I've been thinking about. I've been thinking about how much I believe in other people. How much I cheer my friends on and try to make them see that they can get over whatever seemingly impossible hurdle they are facing at the moment. And as I've been thinking about this, it's hit me how truly horrible I am at believing in myself. And I should try to work on that, as cliche as it may seem. But how do we believe in ourselves when there is aways another hurdle to jump over or mountain to climb? How do we fight the urge to compare ourselves to others? I guess I should talk to myself like I talk to my friends and take my own advice...

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Blog Elul: Understand

I don't understand my life. And I think that anyone who says that they do understand their life is either lying or quite delusional(or lucky, I guess). I don't understand a whole lot of the things I read for class--granted quite a few of them are written latin and greek, but still. But more importantly, with all joking aside, I don't really understand why many things have happened in my life. Don't get me wrong, I am very grateful for the people and things I have, but sometimes I feel like I don't deserve them or like I'm faking it. And I don't understand the bad things that have happened either. I'm not saying that they have happened to me because many of my trifles are not about me, and my perspective on many of them have changed over time.

I don't understand what's good or what's bad. I don't understand what's going on in American political discourse at the moment. I don't know. And in a way, it's kind of freeing to say that. We live in an age in which most pieces of information can be accessed just by picking up one of the tiny computers that we carry in our pockets all of the time. But we don't know the answers. I don't mean to questions that can be accessed with a quick search. I mean the answers to the big questions, the overwhelming ones. Will we every learn to accept the fact that there will always be so much that we don't know?

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Blog Elul: Search

Searching. The first thing that comes to mind when I think of searching is google searching, and that's not exactly spiritual or anything even though I do google questions about the Torah and Talmud occasionally. But I don't think that we should be searching in the way of just typing something into a query box and receiving an answer just like that.

And you can't google search what really matters in life. You can't google search who you can turn to in the case of an emergency or just needing to talk. You can't google search how to live a meaningful life. You can only find and seek for those things in a way that is a whole lot harder than just typing some words into google.

But at the same time, i think that sometimes, we need to take a breath and stop searching. We need to realize exactly what we have in front of us before we can go out and search for something new. I spent this whole first Shabbat at school realizing this. I was talking about searching for God's path and thinking about all of the things that I needed to get done and all the relationships I need to keep or get rid of to have a "good year," but in the middle of a crowded room filled with people eating and talking, I stopped. And I realized that at least, for Shabbat, the comfort that I was searching for was right in front of my eyes. It was in the people who hug me as a way of greeting me. It was in the new friends that I made and the songs that I sang. It, like God, was all around me. I just had to stop searching in order to find what I was looking for.

Monday, September 5, 2016

#BlogElul: Act

I really can't act. By acting, I mean the kind when you get up on a stage in front of people and say the lines that someone else has written for you. I've never been able to do this. This summer, I watched my campers preform a play that they had written themselves, and I was in awe of these children. I can remember the lines in my head, but they never come out right, and I never really enjoyed being the one in front of the crowd anyways. That was always my friends' jobs. But recently, I have been thinking about a different kind of acting, one that's a little less obvious, that I'm pretty good at, and that's acting like everything is okay. There has been quite a few times when I have had bad things going on in my life or I didn't get something I wanted or my anxious brain was acting up, but nobody, except for those very close to me knew. I am very good at acting like I am okay, happy even. It's a kind of weird, yet useful talent.

But I want to make one thing clear: you should never feel like you have to act, in front of me or in front of anyone who is close to you. Pretending is not authenticity, and authenticity is one of the most important foundations of a healthy relationship whether that be a family relationship, romantic relationship or friendship. Acting is an art form, not necessarily a method by which one should be living their life. And I would do well to remember this as well.

Sunday, September 4, 2016

#BlogElul: Prepare

I spend a lot of time preparing for things. Perhaps a little too much time in most peoples' opinions, but preparing is how I stay sane throughout my busy life. For example, before I left the cabin every single morning at camp, I made sure that I had both sunglasses and a headlamp with me because I never knew when i would get back and I always need to be able to see. I made sure that I always had bandaids and neosporin and hair ties in my backpack because if I didn't need them the day, you could be sure that someone else would. For school, I sat down with my planner and chose colors for my school supplies and decided which days I wanted to do laundry on. This may all seem like a bother to you, and sometimes, it feels like a bother to me, but I do it because I know my future self will be better for it.

This year, for the first time, I am spending a kind of ridiculous amount of time preparing for the High Holidays because I am planning services for my group at school. This makes the whole high holiday thing both enthralling and stressful. I love what I do, but I couldn't stay sane without preparing is I guess what I mean. And doing nothing makes me anxious, so I prepare when i have nothing else to do... oh well. 

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Looking Before I Leap: My Resolution for this Year

I've spent a lot of time looking before I leap. I'm a planner; it seems to be in my genetic makeup. I don't do most things unless I know exactly how they will turn out because I'm scared of uncertainty. But that strategy forced me to spend a lot of time and effort figuring out why I shouldn't do things. Now, I don't mean dangerous, YOLOy things like skydiving; I mean things like going to a new club or quitting an activity that I truly didn't enjoy. But this summer, I learned to ask for forgiveness, not permission (at least a little bit). I am not a daring person. I like to plan and I don't think that's a bad thing, i just wanted to start leaping a little more.

That's what my resolution was, coming back to school. If there was something that I wanted to do, I jumped in. I jumped and declared my majors that I have been talking about for the last two years. I joined a new club, and offered to help work on a new project. I said yes to the opportunities that I actually wanted, and I hope to keep this up. I think, in general, I have trouble deciding when to say yes, and when to say no. And I hope to keep saying yes to spending time with friends, talking about things that are interesting to me and learning new things-- as long as I can put them in my planner. But I need to say "no" as well to things I don't have time for or things I simply wouldn't enjoy.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Missing Home: The Shabbat In Between

It feels weird to say that I'm missing home tonight because I should consider myself home, and sure, I do. I am sitting on my couch in my childhood house, a place where I have watched full TV shows(as in multiple seasons), had conversations with my best friends, and written hurried essays. But there is some sort of weird nostalgia feeling that I can't quite place. Perhaps it's because it's currently Friday night, Shabbat, and I am sitting here, writing this blog post instead of going to services. Perhaps it's because the longest period of time that I have spent in the last year in this house is less than a month. Sure, much of my stuff and my immediate family are still here, but my friends, my memories, and all of my winter clothing reside in different places.

Last week, I was at camp, emotionally bringing in our last Shabbat of the summer. We sang the songs that had become traditions; we danced like it was our last moment as a community, because in a way it was; we laughed together; we talked late into the night, sitting on the floor eating instant macaroni and cheese. I don't have the proper words to capture my experience this summer. It was religious, but not just that. I learned about myself and about community and about art and so much more that I don't know how to type out. And I miss my campers, my friends, and my mentors so much that I have a hard time not crying when I think about them.

On the flip side, next week, I will be at school for the first Shabbat of the year. I remember my last Shabbat at school in the spring, I was just as emotional as I was at last week's service, so I'm very much looking forward to next week. I'm looking forward to hugging my boyfriend and all of my friends, and leading services with my boyfriend. I'm looking forward to Shabbat dinner as one Brandeis Jewish community. I feel like I'm going back home (something I would have never said a year ago). I guess what I'm saying is that I don't know what home means anymore, and I think I have to be okay with the fact that the word home means ore than one place in my life right now.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

The Boy Who Narrated: What the Harry Potter Movies Got Wrong

WARNING: MASSIVE HARRY POTTER SPOILERS AKA I'm not even going to try to keep this spoiler free because it will

I want to talk about how the movies got it wrong, specifically with regards to some of the concepts in Harry Potter that really shaped my life when I was a kid. This is primarily because the books were from Harry's perspective, and the movies seem to be produced from the perspective of an omniscient narrator. This whole post was inspired by the podcast Witch, Please, which is a nuanced, progressive, and incredibly amazing Harry Potter podcast that I have gotten quite addicted to lately.

I watched all of the Harry Potter movies for the first time in the month before I came to camp which is where I am when you are reading this. The first thing that I noticed, which is slightly irrelevant to the point of this post is that these movies are scary, even for me as a 19 year old. I am so happy that I didn't see them while I was reading the books.

Harry, in the movies is greatly simplified, which I believe does a disservice to the viewer. For example, in Chamber of Secrets, there is a large amount of Harry wondering if he is going crazy because he is hearing things in the walls, and in Order of the Phoenix, he is having random pangs of anger towards Dumbledore and within his mind. These feelings that your mind is betraying you os something that greatly comforted me as an anxious child. They taught me to ask for help (harry eventually spoke to Dumbledore) and that everything would work out in the end.

Another thing that was lost in the movies was some of the lessons about friendship. For example, in Order of the Phoenix, Ron and Hermione both become prefects and Harry tries to reconcile his feelings of being left out and his desire to be happy for his friends, something that every child has had to deal with. This contributes, in my opinion to his self doubt when it comes to his leading of Dumbledore's Army. Every single person, including myself, doubts themselves at points.

My point is that the books were written to teach lessons and the movies try to simplify these lessons and end up losing some things. I think this is also why people who have only watched the movies don't get how crucial Harry Potter can be in peoples' lives. So read the books if you haven't yet. Please.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Rebellion and Gratitude: My Bat Mitzvah Portion Six Years Later

Six years ago, I read from Korach at my Bat Mitzvah. This portion is not a pleasant one and I did and do not enjoy re-reading it. It involves a bunch of people, led by Korach, starting a rebellion against Moses and it all results in a bunch of people getting swallowed into the earth because God wants to teach them a lesson. I'm not going to say that Korach, nor God was right in this situation; I know better than to wrap myself up in that debate, but I think the idea of challenging what is happening in the world and challenging leadership(to a certain extent) is an important thing to do.  We need to, at least occasionally, question what we are told by the ones who lead us, and to do this, we may have to risk ourselves for the rebellion--  I'm not expecting anyone to get swallowed up into the earth anytime soon, but you know what I mean.

On a more encouraging note, I have evolved a lot in terms of Judaism over the last six years. I improved my Hebrew through  seven weeks of immersion at camp. and then more so through a year of college hebrew. I planned four Youth Group services, and led countless others alongside my former cantor. I attended over 20 regional youth group events and even more temple youth group ones. I spent six more summers at camp(if you count the one that we are in the middle of).Judaism has saved my life over and over, from the singing of Od Yavo at my Israel Trip orientation in 8th grade after months of devastating friend drama to the arrival at every NFTY event.

When I planned to write this post, I had no idea that it would be so hard to express how thankful I am for the Jewish experiences that I have had since my Bat Mitzvah. I would like to extend my thanks to every single advisor in NFTY who hugged me when I was crying or taught me to play a song on guitar, and to my regional advisor who I hadn't met at the point of my Bat Mitzvah, but would change my life for the better in so many ways. To all of the clergypeople who have taught me tidbits of knowledge and served as sounding boards, thank you especially to Rabbi London who has been there for me since before my Bat Mitzvah, Cantor Luck who taught me  for my Bat Mitzvah and became my role model and teacher for the six years between my preparation for my Bat Mitzvah and my Confirmation year,  and thank you to Rabbi Winick who has been so incredibly supportive this past year. Thank you, BESSY, for becoming my forever home and teaching me that acceptance and social justice are two of the most important things in the world. Thank you to Hillel at Brandeis (I already have a whole post on this). Thank you to all of the random people who have made me smile and taught me that kindness is truly the most important thing. Faith is wonderful, but in my personal opinion, faith is nothing without community, and Judaism has given me that and all of the people and organizations I just mentioned have as well.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

DBT and Judaism(Part 3): B'Tzelem Elohim and Radical Acceptance

Radical acceptance is the idea of taking what you have(in your life and in your brain) for what it is and accepting it without judgement. By no means is this easy to do, I counsel people to do it all the time while I myself am very, very guilty of judging my own feelings and judging people in my life.However, when it is possible, it can be an incredibly freeing thing. So now you are thinking, Emily, you said this had to do with Judaism, how in the world does this have to do with Judaism?

B'tzelem Elohim literally means "in the image of God." Humans, according to Genesis, were made in the image of God. This one of my favorite Jewish ideas in general, but I think it can be especially helpful in the use of Radical Acceptance(see, I told you that they would connect). We need to remember that all of us, even the anxious parts and the parts that we like to pretend don't exist, are in the image of God. Accepting ourselves is a lifelong pursuit, but I think remembering that you are made in the image of God can help quite a bit.

Remembering that every other person in the world, even the ones who we think that we hate, are also made in the image of God is also an important takeaway from these two concepts. No person is less than a person, not even the ones who do things that are absolutely terrible. And every person, even the ones who seem like purely terrible people "contain multitudes," and are more complicated than they seem. We need to keep this in mind with our friends, our enemies, our mentors, and anyone who are in danger of seeing from a one-sided perspective regardless of whether or not we believe in God.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

DBT and Judaism(Part 2): Mindful Eating and Keeping Kosher

Disclaimer: This blog post is not meant to shame anyone who doesn't keep strict Kosher(go ahead and argue with me about whether there are degrees of Kashrut), rather it is to show how it made my mindful eating process a healthy one.

I never really made an effort to keep Kosher until my senior year of high school. We never ate pork or shellfish, but I would eat non-kosher meat all the time and mix milk and meat. Since coming to Brandeis, I still don't keep strict Kosher, but I certainly think about it more and that intentionality in food choice is what I want to connect to mindfulness (if you haven't read last week's blog post, go read that first).

A few weeks ago, my mother offered me a piece of turkey with my lunch. I was having ravioli. I pointed it out to her that it wasn't Kosher, and I tried to make clear to her that it wasn't a big deal; I just wanted to make her aware that it was present. I am now aware of what is kosher and what isn't, and when I break the rules of Kashrut(usually when the dining hall would not have provided me with a sufficient meal if I did not mix milk and meat), I am keenly aware that I am doing it.

Being mindful about food is something that I did in a very unhealthy way in the past. Another principle that they teach you about in Dialectical Behavioral Therapy is called walking the middle path(essentially, nothing is black and white), and that's how I used to treat food. i used to treat certain foods as "good" and certain ones as "bad," and I would feel guilty and make myself absolutely miserable if I ate those foods, so eating mindfully can be done in a bad way. However now, since it is connected to Judaism, something that I very obviously adore, I can eat mindfully in a healthy way and be a bigger part of my community in general.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

DBT and Judaism(Part 1): Blessing Your Food Mindfully

The intersection of Dialectical Behavioral Therapy and Judaism has been on my mind for quite a bit of time. In this particular post, I will examine the relationship of mindfulness  with regards to food in connection to saying a blessing before one eats. The next post will be on mindfulness and Kashrutand the one following it will be about the connection between B'Tzelem Elohim (being made in the image of God) and Radical Acceptance.

Mindfulness, according to wikipedia is the practice of bringing one's attention to the internal and external experiences of the present moment. Take this scenario (which is one that our Jewish chaplain has mentioned many times, so it is not mine): You are running into the house after a long day; you haven't eaten in hours and there's mail on the counter next to a bowl of fruit. What is the difference between grabbing on apple with one hand and the top piece of mail with the other and taking a bite out of it while you read said mail and picking up the apple, saying the appropriate blessing and then taking a bite out of it and grabbing the mail? The end result is basically the same. You have to wait an extra, maybe ten seconds before eating the apple, depending on how fast you can say the blessing. So what does this have to do with mindful eating? In DBT, one of the exercises is a mindful eating exercises. I've seen this done with a grape, a hershey's kiss, even a piece of chicken, but we are going to work with an apple because that will make the comparison easier. Basically, what you do is you eat, in this case the apple very slowly, trying to use all five of your senses to take in the food. While you do this, you think about where the food came from and truly appreciate all of the properties of the food. This serves the same purpose as the blessing does, making them extremely related.

The most important part of this connection, in my opinion, is the idea that you are thinking about what you are doing instead of just operating on your "default setting"(moving through the motions without any focus on the intentions behind your actions). Perhaps if saying the blessing is natural to you because you have done it your whole life, this concept would not apply, but for someone like me who has become more observant more recently, I know that it takes a lot of thought. This involves actually figuring out which blessing is appropriate for the food that you are about to eat or admiring it properties with mindful eating. Regardless, the experience is strengthened by the act that you do before.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

The Purge: What I Learned From (sort of) Redecorating My Room

Going home for this month, I had two goals: see friends/family/mentors who I wanted to stay in touch with and redecorate my room. I began this second objective by taking everything off my walls and throwing it on my floor. Then, I sat down and went through the pile and sorted it into three piles; things that I wanted to let go of but not all  the way that would get put into a scrapbook, things that could get filed away because I might need them for future programs or classes, and things that got thrown out. I was surprised at how many of the things that were covering my walls had lost their significance. Either I had lost touch with the people in the pictures or the event no longer meant a ton to me.

And most of all, I had spent hours after fights with my mom, or bad report cards staring at all of those wall decorations, so the very items that were supposed to illicit pleasant memories, ended up with bad associations, so I took them off. The things that I wanted to keep, I put in the scrapbook where I can look at them when i want to live in the past, but I don't have to live there all the time. I finally organized all of those school papers and let go of the things that I was keeping for stupid reasons.

You wouldn't think that just taking some photos and quotes off your wall could be so incredibly freeing, but I feel like I have a fresh start just because there are no longer posters from 2010 on my wall. And in the process I got to relive all the happy memories and wash away the bad. I don't think I could have done this a year ago; it would have been too emotionally taxing to let go of things. This is a time of transition for me. I no longer completely live at my house, but I don't really live anywhere else either, so it was time for a change. I am in the present, accepting my past and incredibly excited for my future.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

A Summer of Fun, A Lifetime of Friends: An Open Letter to OSRUI

Dear Olin Sang Ruby Union Institute,

Thank you. When I stepped out of the car ten years ago, almost to this day, I had no idea that you would become a crucial part of my life. I don't think I would want to be a rabbi or have ended up at Brandeis if I hadn't come to camp. Camp was where I fell in love with Judaism and with prayer, two things that are incredibly crucial to my rabbinic aspirations.  I had no idea that the counselors who I would meet would become my role models. These counselors would teach me how to take care of myself, how to make friendship bracelets, and most of all, they would inspire me to want to become a rabbi. They would sit with me while I cried and hug me when I was successful in some endeavor whether that be passing my lifeguarding test in Chalutzim or finishing my hiking trip in Moshavah. Those counselors made me want to be a counselor, as I will be beginning next week. They made me strong and determined and perseverant, and a good friend. We do truly share a "bond forever more."

As I constructed my scrapbook over the last few weeks(see last week's blog post for more about this project specifically), I realized how important camp has been to me. From the first year with our cabin night at Jerry's to pranking Mosh during my Chalutzim summer to being welcomed into Tiferet as a Machon, I treasure every single memory that remains in my mind. From Music Studio to Songleading Sicha, I have learned so much, and I truly couldn't be more grateful. The friends I made at camp remain some of the closest people in my life to this day. Who would have thought that one of my friends from A Capella Chug in Moshavah would end up three doors down from me on my freshman hall, and that we would become very close friends? Summers may not be able to be stretched out all year, but the relationships that I created during them. Those relationships are some of the most rewarding and wonderful ones in my life to this day.

At camp, I found a place where I could be myself away from all of the pressures and complications of being home, and I can't thank you enough for that. Thank you for providing me room to grow and to make mistakes and picking me up when I fall down. Thank you for challenging me and laughing and crying with me. The incredible thing is that ten years after that first day, I still get obsessive over what I'm going to pack and I still get goosebumps when I watch camp videos(and recognize the voices of my former song leaders even though I cannot see their faces). The magic of that first year never faded for me. The last night of camp, every single year, there were tears streaming down my face without fail.  I still look forward to all-camp events( but I am thankful that Tiferet usually gets to where black because I own very few other colors). My face still lights up when I think about the summer. Surprisingly, even though I now go to a college that is very much like camp, I still have pangs of missing it when we sing a song or talk about something that reminds me of OSRUI. I truly couldn't be more grateful to call OSRUI my home. Shalom Union Institute, Shalom. 


Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Counting: The Omer, Minyans, and our obsession with numbers

Jews are obsessed with counting. We count days, people, everything has a specific day and every thing has a number associated with it. There are so many examples of this that I could write a whole post with just the list, but I wanted to address two because they seem contradictory.

For the first time in my life, I have successfully counted the Omer(thus far). The Omer is the period of time between Passover and Shavuot or the time between when the Jews were freed from Egypt and when we received the Torah. It never seemed significant to me, but this year, I decided to try it anyways, and what I realized is this: while the actual counting is not incredibly significant; I'm writing this on the 27th day of the Omer, having that ritual to do every night has become important. At school, my friend and I would say the blessing together if we were together at whatever time the remind popped up on my phone or when the rabbi told us to count(whichever one seemed more convenient), and on Friday night, we counted the Omer as one Hillel community. The ritual has coincidentally also marked the days between when I came home for Passover to when I leave for camp: the day I leave being the second day of Shavuot. It is a time of transition for me, and the counting of the Omer has helped to provide a ritual consistency at the end of each day and that has been comforting.

Many Saturday mornings first semester I got woken up by banging on my door asking if I could get up and come to services to make a minyan (the ten people needed to say certain prayers). I admit it, once and a while I rolled over, ignored them and went back to school. People frantically running around trying to find a ninth or tenth person for a minyan is not an uncommon occurrence and service leaders are constantly counting, but I recently learned that jews are not supposed to count people. This is apparently because when we are counted as individuals we lose the unity that is created when we are counted together. Instead we are instructed to all give a half shekel or find some other way of counting. This is kind of a beautiful idea even though it seems quite contradictory to many of our traditions. We are stronger together as I've talked about before, and we'd do well to remember that as we argue within the community.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Make New Friends But Keep the Old: The Combination of Past, Present, and Future

Saturday morning, I sat down to create a list of people to see in this next few weeks when I am home, and I realized something: I had spent so much time worrying about leaving all of my amazing friends and mentors at school that I managed to forget how many amazing people I had at home. As I have spent the last few days exchanging texts, Facebook messages, and emails with old teachers, friends, and mentors--the lines blurring between those titles as I get older--I felt the past, the present and the future beginning to combine. In high school, you build relationships with the people around you, and while you do have some choice in who that is, the relationships are more limited by circumstance. But now that I am out of high school and 25% of the way through college, I realize that choosing who from your past you want to bring with you in a real way into your future is a very important task.

Looking back, a year after graduation, to quote John Green, "I see a life that I am now very grateful to have beginning to happen."But I didn't know who I would end up needing to thank.  And I didn't realize how much I would need to thank them for. And I don't think I could've known without the amazing people who I met this year who will become part of my future as well. I am so grateful to have so many coffee dates and meals scheduled with such amazing people over the next few weeks. My heart is filled to the brim with gratitude for the people who have helped me and loved me.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Hold Me in Your Heart: Hillel at Brandeis, Year 1

Yesterday, our rabbi talked about the concept of "bilvavi mishkan evneh" or building a mishkan (vaguely translated as a place of spirituality or prayer) in one's heart. The point of this was to describe how each of us, as we go on our way, whether it be just for the summer or for good, will hold the community that we have built here at Brandeis in our hearts. I want to take this as my kavanah, my intention, as I get ready to leave Brandeis after my first year, but I also want to talk about the Mishkan that I have built, just as the Bible does for portion after portion. Let's see if I can make it through writing this without crying. So here's the story of my first year at Brandeis (the Jewish part, anyway). 

I grew up in a Reform Synagogue, going to Reform camp, and doing Reform youth group, so my expectations of Jewish life at Brandeis were blown out of the water when I stepped into my first shabbat dinner, but we are getting ahead of ourselves. During orientation, I visited the Hillel Open House. I don't remember much about this except for the fact that everyone was super nice. But my journey at Brandeis really began when I walked into Shabbat services for the first time this year and saw people who I recognized. We sang songs that I recognized and I don’t remember this well, but at some point in the night, I was adopted by Alyssa into BaRuCH, the Brandeis Reform Chavurah. I would say that the rest is history, but I want to talk more about it, so I won’t. My first Hillel Dinner is a blur. I don’t remember much, but I assume that Julia and Rafi stood up in front of all of us and told us what we were going to do because that's the routine.

 I then reluctantly signed up for the Hillel First Year Retreat. Abi and I got on the bus and sat and talked only to each other. I really don't remember much except for meeting the Hillel Associate Director right before she had to drive me home because I got sick. We laugh about this now. 

High Holidays are filled with the memories of Julia and I setting up the Lurias and then a bit later, the Sukkah next to Sherman. I remember the Yom Kippur breakfast with people who I didn't know all that well. Most of all during that time, I remember being so happy that I went to a school that was so culturally Jewish. I loved the fact that life got to revolve around the holidays. 

A few weeks into the school year, I went to my first Lunch and Learn—I was terrified. I had always been surrounded by Reform Jews and I didn’t know what to expect. Luckily, as many others can attest to, jokes and random questions about zombies in minyans cross denominational boundaries pretty quickly, and soon, I would look forward to Lunch and Learn and be so challenged, but at the same time, so grateful that I chose to come to a place where these kinds of conversations happen on a regular basis. The community and the friends that grew out of this group occupy an indescribable part of my life. They are the ones who I turn to when I'm down and the ones who's doors I knock on when I'm bored and just want someone to keep me company.

I'm going to skip over some things because they are important, but it's too hard for me to write about them right now and go to the creation of Havdallah Nashira, the joint havdallah event between the Conservative and Reform groups on campus(at some point I'll write about the other things, but this post is already way too long). It started out as some people from the Conservative minyan coming regularly to Reform havdallah and it grew into a solid group of people eating, talking and singing every other week. Last night, when we had our last Havdallah Nashira of the year, which concluded our last Shabbat of the year, I had to fight back tears. That's a lie, I was definitely crying, but I was trying hard not to. We sang the Shecheyanu, the prayer for beginnings and endings and I was taken back to the very first days of the semester. I have no idea how people who I didn't know nine months ago could end up as such a huge part of my life. And ultimately, I was grateful. Grateful to have this community that has taught me so much about myself. Grateful that I still have three years here, and most of all, grateful to be a Jew because the beginning of my college experience would certainly not have been nearly as incredible without Hillel at Brandeis. 

I haven't even mentioned being on BaRuCH Board which has been an adventure all on its own. I applied for Freshman Rep mostly because I was one of like two people who came to BaRuCH who weren't on board and I wanted to be a part of their crazy family. After countless services planned and frantic Facebook messages, I don't have a good way of expressing any of this in words. It's funny because this is usually a medium in which I have control, but I don't seem to right now. All I seem to be able to do is get sad and sappy and not end up writing anything that makes sense outside of my brain.

Recently, I've started spending more and more time in the Hillel Lounge. In fact, I'm sitting there as I write this. Partly because it's one of the three places on campus that I can actually do homework and partly because it feels like home. No matter who is there, they are always happy to just sit or talk about absolutely anything. There is people to get meals with, something that I didn't have before I came to Brandeis. As any of you who knew me in high school know, I spent a lot of my free time sitting in hallways, back up against the wall, watching youtube videos by myself. Not being alone is the greatest blessing that Hillel has given me. And I love every single one of the people involved in this organization for that. Thank you for being my home away from home and thank you for being my family. And thank you for making it to the end of this ridiculously long post.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

It's Real For Us: Harry Potter Impact Tag

This post is inspired by this video by Lauren Fairweather, a youtuber who I love dearly. I spent a large part of my afternoon today, after finishing some homework, thinking about what Harry Potter means to me, partly because I happened upon some old videos from some you tubers I like: Jackson Bird and Lauren Fair-weather. They are wonderful, you should definitely check them out. 

SPOILERS: Harry Potter Books and Movies (Have you really not read them yet/)

1.Has Harry Potter changed you as a person in any way? If so, how? 

I don't really know how to put into words how HP changed me as a person. I think I am a more confident and caring person. I say that my spirit animal is Molly Weasley because of her desire to make sure everyone else is comfortable...oh wait, maybe I should save this for question #4. I think I also learned a lot about friendship and about the fact that friendship can come from the most unlikely sources, like Harry and Dobby or Harry and Luna. I learned that love, rather than hate, tends to triumph in the end and that relationships are really important. I could go on and on, but it you aren't as obsessed with Harry Potter as I am, I assume you've already gotten bored.

2. Have you ever made a friend because of Harry Potter? 

Harry Potter was really the first fandom I was at all active in, so I made some friends in various places because of that, but mostly, Harry Potter has built my friendships in real life and made them stronger. When you meet another over obsessed HP fan, the excitement that builds as you recount your favorite spells (I'm a huge fan of those cause I'm a Classics Major) and your favorite moments in the book and debate over whether the epilogue was terrible or wonderful.

3. What is the most important thing you've learned from the Harry Potter books? 

I think that the most important thing that I've learned is that it's okay to be different. I learned this from Luna as she continued to be unapologetically enthusiastic about things that most of the people around her though were fake. Another important lesson that I learned from the books was the fact that your family can be composed of many different people. I learned this from Harry when he was stuck in the his cupboard being incredibly mistreated by the Dursleys and when he basically became a part of the Weasley family. And I learned it from Luna when she was so surprised to have friends by the time she got to her last year at Hogwarts. 

4. Which character inspires you the most? Why?

Molly Weasley. She is a caretaker, someone who usually puts other people before herself. One of my favorite moments is during the final battle of Hogwarts when they are fighting Bellatrix Lestrange, and Bellatrix goes after Ginny and Molly calls, "not my daughter, you b****!" The amount of motherly love and loyalty in that statement is inspiring to me.
5. Have you ever created something inspired by the books? 

Quite a few friendship bracelets and my roommate and I are making a Weasley clock. I think everything I do, now is in a way inspired by the books because they are so intertwined with my life.

6. Name one cool thing you've done that never would've happened without Harry Potter. 
I can't come up with one relationship or one thing that would not have happened without HP, but I wouldn't be a part of any fandoms or have joined HPA if I hadn't loved Harry Potter so much.

Friday, April 22, 2016

#BlogExodus: Praise

Today I flew from Boston to Chicago, and while I was on the plane, I was thinking about how grateful I am for the people who have supported me. I feel like we tend to feel like we can criticize people all we want, but in a way, praising people is substantially less socially acceptable. It is less socially acceptable for me to tell people how great of a job they are doing than it is for me to correct their grammar. This is a problem, but not one that I know how to fix, but I try to fix it in my own little way. If you have known me for a long period of time, you know that I tend to write notes to people at the end of things or on days that I think with be very hard for them( i.e. unit heads on the first day of camp, etc). I absolutely love doing this, and I'm a little mad at myself that I haven't done it more this year--although I have plans for the end of the year-- because those little praising notes seem to mean a lot to people.

I think that this prompt was intended to be about praising God for bringing us out of Egypt, which i will do when I lead my seder tonight, but I don't think, at the moment, the it's nearly as important as recognizing that the people around us are also worthy of praise. I want to keep this appreciation in my mind as I approach Passover as well.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

#BlogExodus: Accept

"May God grant me the serenity to ACCEPT the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference."

Acceptance is one of the hardest things that we must do. Part of being a part of a community is accepting the other people around us, not as who we want them to be, but how they actually are. No human is perfect. Not even the ones who we place on a pedestal.

Accepting ourselves is hard: it requires holding ourselves to a high standard while still keeping in mind that we are human. It requires accepting the fact that there we have feelings and sometimes those feelings may be complicated and not what we think that we should be feeling, but that's okay. There's a concept in Dialectical Behavioral Therapy that really relates to this: it's called radical acceptance. Radical Acceptance is the idea of accepting everything that happens as a thing that happened and everything that you are feeling as a thing that you are feeling and letting it be part of your life without feeling the need to judge yourself for it. This is a skill, that like everything else, requires practice. It requires practice to stop blaming the world for the final that got moved up two weeks or the fact that you broke your headphones two days before traveling and accept that those things happened. The only way we can actually deal with problems is if we accept that they are present beforehand. Accepting the reality of a situation turns a reactor into an agent. We now choose what to do.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

#BlogExodus: Discover

The Jews have spent a long time wandering in their history. Sometimes it was running away and sometimes it was just well, wandering. We have spent a whole lot of time looking, but what I can't seem to wrap my head around is what we found. Have we become a stronger people? I think that we have. At this point, the Jewish people can survive almost everything (although I wouldn't want to test that). I talked a lot about this is regards to Purim, but I think it applies a fair bit around Passover as well: We had a past. We spent time wandering and being persecuted. And to an extent, we can never fully escape persecution. But living in the mindset that we held when we left Egypt is not a good way to discover life. Avadim Hayinu. We WERE slaves. We are no longer slaves. What we choose to seek out now is our choice. And we need to be conscious of what we are discovering even as we try not to forget how we got here in the first place.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

#Blog Exodus: Rejoice

It's applicable to this week, the fact that the first thing that I think about when I hear the word rejoice is Miriam's Song after crossing the Sea, the rejoicing of the Israelites after being freed from Egypt. And we always rejoice after we are freed, however, the question that I'd like to ask is where do we go from there? Where do we go after the initial happiness at the freedom from Egypt has left our bodies? Sure, we can try our bests to hold on to a peace of that joy, but by definition, one cannot be in a place of rejoicing all the time.

We celebrate, but then what? Do we go back to our normal lives? Do our attitudes change? I think our attitudes really do need to change, and that's something that we can certainly learn from the Israelites' mistakes on. The Israelites ended up wandering in the desert for 40 years because they couldn't get themselves out of their slave mentality. I don't know about you, but I'd like to get to my Promised Land in less than 40 years. So how do we take off the shackles of the things that have been enslaving us but no longer feel the metal against our wrists? Looking to the future helps. The future holds promise and a new land away from the slavery. But we must, at the same time, not forget our past. And in turn, living in the present seems to me to be the best option(keep in mind, I am absolutely terrible at this). We really, really need to learn to be here now.

Monday, April 18, 2016

#BlogExodus: Unite

I apologize for the lack of blog post yesterday, life got in the way of writing and school took priority. That being said, on to the post for today:

Unity. Unity is an absolutely beautiful concept in general. It's the idea of coming together whether because of a common trait or a desire for a common goal. Its the feeling that we get when we join our hands together and dance in a circle. I felt the unity within my community last night as we made complete fools of ourselves dancing at Hillel formal. I realized how many incredible friendships I have made. I realized how much I have changed and how much we really can come together when we put aside the disagreements of the day and just agree to have a good time. And it feels wonderful.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

#BlogExodus: Deepen

There's a beautiful poem by Adrienne Rich called Diving into the Wreck which reads: 
I have to learn alone
to turn my body without force
in the deep element.

We have to learn to deepen our lives in a way that makes them more meaningful. This could mean both staying up all night talking to a friend or going on a trip across the world to deepen one's understanding of a place. We need to delve into our identities in order to deepen them. Going deep in the ocean is scary. After all, the further you get away from the surface, the darker it gets and the harder it gets to know where you are or where you're going. But in the deep is the treasure. The true meaning of one's life. The true identity that you were not allowing in because of fear. And traveling to the deep is terrifying alone or with others. Being alone in the deep cn lead to a spiral of self blame and despair, but "diving into the wreck" with others is terrifying because the deeper you get, the more vulnerable you become. And vulnerability is important, but that doesn't make it easy. I challenge you, as we go into his new week leading into Passover, to go just a little bit deeper with someone in your life. Perhaps you'll even find some treasure. 

Friday, April 15, 2016

#BlogExodus: Examine

Examine sounds so clinical to me. What are we examining? Our health? The cleanliness of my room(sorry, I just spent 2 hours cleaning for Passover/Shabbat)? Or should we be examining our lives? Our relationships? Biblically, Nisan, the month that we are in right now, is a new start. For me, its also an end. Last programs, last Shabbatot spent with my community here at Brandeis, last days of classes. It's the end of my first year of college.

When I started this blog, I had no idea how much I would have changed by the time I ended my year. I had no idea that I would end up with this incredible support system and incredible mentors. I had no idea I would become the kind of person who was able to tell my friend what time Shabbat ends without looking it up. Don't get me wrong, I'm thrilled at who I've become. I just hadn't gotten perspective until I started comparing my journey through #BlogExodus to the journey I took through #BlogElul.

But I don't want to examine my life too much. Because then I'll miss the beauty of the moment. Anyone who knows me can tell you that I am a compulsive planner. But I realized that especially this Shabbat, I need to temporarily forget about the two papers and piles of homework that I need to do and focus on the love that surrounds our community. May you have a restful and rejuvenating Shabbat if you celebrate.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

#BlogExodus: Recount

Most Jewish holidays, ultimately are about recounting. On Hanukkah, we recount the story of the Maccabees, on Purim, the story of of Haman tried to kill the Jews, and on Passover, which is approaching much too quickly for my liking, we recount the story of the Exodus. Interestingly, the word "recount" not only means the telling of a story, but also the idea of "adding up again." Most often, this is used in a political context, but i would argue that it could also be used in a spiritual one. If we "retell" and add our experiences up again, we can sometimes get a new outcome. In perspective, we can learn from the hardship instead of cursing those who placed the hardship upon us. This is by no means easy. All of the grappling that we are doing as the lead in to Passover is not easy. But it is truly important to recount or enumerate the wonderful things that have come upon us especially as we begin to discuss the fact that we were strangers in the land of Egypt.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016


I spent a long time hiding
Cooped up in the confines of my ever-moving brain
Beginning to go insane
Until one fateful day
The mask that I had chosen to hide behind
Was ripped off

I was forced to confront
The fact that I was hurting myself
But not letting people in
To the prison of my anxious mind
And soon I would find

That living in a carefully armored
Shell of a human being
Is not only exhausting, but unpleasant as well
So I began to take the armor down
Sliver by sliver, piece by piece
And some days, it stays up

But my Exodus was not 
The parting of the sea 
But the ability to stop spending so much time wondering
"What is she/he/they find out?"
What if they find out I am human?

I am no longer a slave to my own mind
And perhaps I still have binds
But I have let people in among the wreckage
And because of their kindness
I am ready to stop hiding 

Monday, April 11, 2016

#BlogExodus: Purify

For all of first semester and most of this semester, during our Saturday Lunch and Learn, we talked about the concepts of tumah and taharah, impurity and purity, over and over and over again. At the beginning of the year, I was disturbed by the fact that we, in the modern world, are all "spiritually impure," but at some point between the mishnah (short teaching from the rabbis)  about apples and rivers and the mishnah about leaning out of the window over a funeral procession (keep in mind, this was advertised as "strange stories in the mishnah"), I realized that accepting our brokenness is a real blessing. We can either try to purify ourselves so much that we are walking on eggshells all the time or we can live in the holy in between space that is created in a world with no temple (the original purpose of the laws of purity were to dictate who could and couldn't go into the temple).

 And this thought reminded me of a song that I taught at Saturday Morning services this week. The English part of the song which also happens to be the relevant part goes like this: I thank you for my life, body and soul. Help me realize, I'm beautiful and whole. I'm perfect the way I am, and a little broken too. I will live each day as a gift I give to you. I thought, when I first heard this song, how can one be whole and broken at the same time? But we can be. The fact that we are still here and trying to purify our lives as much as possible while accepting our brokenness is truly one of the biggest blessings I can think of, so maybe its a blessing to be impure by the laws of the mishnah. It takes the pressure off.

#BlogExodus: Grow

Growing up. As a kid, I always wanted to be older than I was. I always had friends who were older than I was. But once I got to college I didn't think about how much I had grown really until yesterday. I realized that things that I once thought were incredibly difficult, like taking care of myself and having social interactions are now somewhat effortless. By no means am I saying that I don't struggle with things still, I definitely do. But what has changed is the fact that I can now ask for help when i need it instead of spending day after day holding pain inside of me. When things happen, I tell people about them whether the events are good or bad.

As I watched the NFTY CAR Election results come in on Sunday, I realized that I don't miss NFTY. I'm not saying that I don't miss my friends in NFTY. I do, so much, every day. I'm saying that I don't miss the feeling that I got in that community because I have that here. I have it in Hillel and I have it among my friend group at large (although, to be fair, most of my friend group has come from Hillel). And as I talked about them today, I realized that I am starting to trust people here, something that used to be so hard for me. I'm not saying that it isn't hard and that I don't still worry. Of course, I worry, have you met me? But I'm saying that it is worth it. So if you are reading it and thinking that getting older and moving through your life is not going to help and not going to give you any more hope, I urge you to keep holding on because letting people in, while it may be the hardest thing to do, is also one of the most rewarding experiences I've had.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

#BlogExodus: Honor

I'll be honest, I am struggling with how I want to talk about this word. You'd think that I could come up with something about the Julio Claudian dynasty or about honoring Shabbat and keeping it holy, but I struggle with the idea of honor. The word honor implies an obligation to the person or thing to which the honor is directed and I don't know how I feel about that. I understand the idea of respect both in the sense that you respect those with authority and respect that we have for one another, but I think that honor has a slightly different connotation than that.

Saturday, April 9, 2016

You Are Not Alone: Parshat Tazria

This portion is quite off-putting to the modern reader. It first lays out the rules for purifying one’s body after childbirth and after a woman’s period which are a little odd, and to honest with you, quite sexist. And then this parsha addresses the idea of sickness, often translated as leprosy in the text. The Israelites are instructed to isolate those with the ailment from the rest of the camp. This whole parsha uses the words tumah and taharah, impure and pure over and over again. It puts people into boxes. In the parsha, the idea of “sickness” can be used to describe any “not normal” physical condition, any box that is out of the ordinary. Any box that we put people in.
Two thoughts on this: Firstly, this reminds me of the isolation that people who suffer from mental illness often end up in. Because people see us as sick, or more likely a burden, they leave us alone. But that’s not the way out. That’s not the way of healing in any scenario. One cannot save themselves from their own mind by themselves. Believe me, I speak from experience. We would hope that our views on the inflicted have changed since the time of the Torah. Unfortunately, we are not much better than the Israelites. There may not be a certain period of time prescribed in which we don’t text our friend with anxiety back like there is for the isolation of a person with leprosy, but at the end of the day, those who suffer end up alone all too often. I’ll admit, I’m guilty of this too even though I’m often on the other side of it.
We also have a really hard time understanding disease when it has no cure. To start with, we as humans, are terrible at talking about pain. We don’t have the language needed to express it.  The only way to understand one’s pain is to be inside of their consciousness which is simply not possible. Think of it this way, when your friend gets sick, you go to the “get well soon” section at Walgreens to buy them a card. There is no get well soon for so many chronic illnesses, so there is no card. There is no prescribed way to treat them, so instead, they are isolated. There is nothing you can except help them mitigate the symptoms and support us during the good days and the bad days. And this is not easy.

So what can we learn from this parsha? There needs to be a change in the way that we look at those with chronic illness, both mental and physical. We need to accept that it isn’t easy to help in a world with no cure, but that doesn’t make it any less necessary. As we sang the Mi Shebeirach and as we sing it tomorrow, we need to seriously think of what actions of healing we will take along with our prayer. How will you reach out? A card, a call, even a facebook message. Isolation is one of the most painful things that humans can experience. Noone should have to go it alone. And if you are suffering, you are not alone. I am not alone. We are a community committed to one another and to learning from the text that guides our tradition and holding one another up because of it. Shabbat Shalom.