Friday, March 31, 2017

#BlogExodus: Rise

Sometimes I hear the demons outside
And inside my head
Trying to pull me down
To get me to shatter
Like a glass vase across the tile floor
But even if my back hits the ground
Still I will rise
Like a phoenix from the ashes
Like the son from the horizon

It's less important how many times you get knocked down
Than how many times you get up again
I am a bouncy ball that will bounce away from you
I will rise each time I hit the ground
Even if I need to stay there for a while first

I am a Jew
They tried to kill us
But they didn't
Moses, Esther,  and many others
Rose up
They fought for themselves
For their people
To rise.
I learn from these figures
To continue to rise
Despite the pressure
Despite any pain
Despite the people who tell me I can't
Because deep down I know
I will rise.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

#BlogExodus: Cleanse

Recently, I've been thinking about going on a sort of cleanse. Maybe it's because Passover is come up and I'm going to have to actually cleanse my room at school and then my house at home or maybe its because sometimes, all of the constant hum of social media and the news is just a tiny bit too overwhelming. I think that in some respects, I need to clean out my brain more than I have to clean out my room right now. So I started a bullet journal. I've been working to cleanse my mind by writing everything down. No more mental to do lists for me. No more social media in the time that I'm trying to do work. A clean start each day on a clean page of my notebook.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

#BlogExodus: Exalt

"As I grew up, I came to learn, that life was not a game, that heroes were just people that we called another name.."--Debbie Friedman

I think a lot about the idea of mentors and heroes, mostly because I am so grateful to mine for helping me through the worst times in my life, and making me smile on the worst days, and taking care of me when I was unable to take care of myself. And as this lovely song (And the Youth Shall See Visions) states, "childhood was for fantasies": I exalted my heroes, holding them up as perfect people above everyone else who had no problems whatsoever. But, this is not how people work. Every since person is complex, and I learned that God is the only one who should be exalted, but that the complexity of my human heroes and mentors was what made them worth honoring. My mentors taught me that it is possible to be successful even after going through hard times. My mentors taught be that sometimes, when it comes to confidence, you have to just fake it until you make it. My mentors taught me to be grateful for what I have. Because of those who I used to exalt and now just love and respect, I have learned who I am and who I want to be. And I couldn't be any more grateful.

"Today’s the day I take my stand, the future’s mine to hold.
Commitments that I make today are dreams from days of old.
I have to make the way for generations come and go."--Debbie Friedman

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

#BlogExodus: Launch

The word "launch" will forever remind me of my swim coach when he was trying to teach me how to dive off of the starting blocks. I was so scared, and he kept saying to "launch myself" off of the block, and to keep my head tucked into my chest. When you dive, you're supposed to kind of throw yourself into the water at a particular angle. Thinking back on this, learning to put my head down and launch myself into the next steps of what I'm doing was an incredibly important lesson. Yes, it's terrifying, especially if you don't know what exactly lies in the deep end. But if there are people next to you ready to support you and water that will break your fall if you hit it with enough moment, it is generally worth it. This idea of "launching" is about trusting that the step you are taking into a new place or off of the starting block is a new beginning that will turn out well even if it's a little bit scary to dive in.

This week, we are "launched" into a new book of the Torah: Leviticus. And we will continue forward. Trusting in God and the fate of the Israelite people, no matter how deep the water lying ahead is.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

I've Been Sick For A While: Why We Need to Change How We Talk About Illness

We think about illness in our society as something that we need to beat. In fact, the slogan of one of the premier cancer charities in the country is celebrate, remember, fight back. I am not criticizing Relay for Life by using its slogan as an example. It's been an important part of my life for many, many years. I am criticizing the way that we think about illness and especially chronic mental illness. We think of illness as a mountain that can be summited and then climbed down, or as an obstacle that can be beaten. When I had the stomach flu last month, I had a few days of feeling really terrible, but by the end of the week, I was almost able to eat normally. I had beat the stomach flu. But this isn't how chronic illness, whether it be physical or mental, works. The word "chronic" essentially means incurable. There are generally ways that chronic conditions can be managed, but they aren't something that we can just beat. You don't beat depression or hypothyroidism. That's not how those illnesses work. They are an everyday struggle, and there are good days and bad days and good hours and bad hours.

I'm going to be honest: when I say I haven't been feeling good for a while. I'm saying that I've been sick. Sick is the way to describe how I've been feeling, but why do I feel so weird using that label? And this leads into the next point I want to make: that mental illness should be treated the same as physical illness. When I say that my lower back is hurting me (stupid hiking pack from 7th grade), people understand that I can't help set up chairs for an event or move around a lot to schmooze at Shabbat dinner. Or if I have a bad cold, people understand if I can't attend five events in a night or lead services. But when I say that I'm anxious or that I've been depressed, I tend to get two reactions most of the time--I'm not blaming the people who act these ways; I think that we should be taught how to deal with this stuff because it isn't necessarily innate. The first is that people don't want anything to do with me. Mental illness, because it is so stigmatized and because it is not often visible to the naked eye scares people. The second, which is related to the first reaction, is that people tiptoe around me like I'm a fragile glass bowl that will shatter if you even poke it.

If you are tempted to have either of these reactions, I want to say this to you: I am still me despite my illness. I am still resilient. I need your kindness, not your pity or your fear. I need you around. I need you to treat me with the same love and care that you would if my back was hurting. I know that it's hard because you fear and you pity because you love me. I get that. But please try. And yes, there are a few who know this innately; who cannot be scared away by anything. But those are the ones who are struggling themselves. And I thank them and all of you, no matter what because just by reading this you are learning and you will be better to the next person struggling with depression or any other mental illness. Thank you again.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

"I Tried to Write a Drash On Harry Potter": Harry Potter and the Sacred Text

I struggled with how to approach this topic because in my mind, Harry Potter and the Torah are both sacred books, but I know that many people would disagree with me putting a book series, supposedly intended for children, on the same plane as a set of texts that is approximately 2000 years old. As such, I will start with this disclaimer: I am a deeply religious person; however, I do not believe that God Godself wrote the Five Books of Moses. I agree with the majority of biblical scholars that the Torah is a conglomeration of literary works by different human authors over a period of time.

This being said, I was inspired by a recent episode of Harry Potter and the Sacred Text to approach a chapter of Harry Potter like I would approach a parsha (section) in the Torah (Old Testament): as if I was going to write a speech, a drash looking more carefully into a piece of text, on it, so I went step by step.

To start, I had my friend choose a random chapter from one of the books for me, just as if I was given whichever parsha was on the calendar for this week. We came up with Book Five, Chapter 17. Then, I proceeded to read the chapter and write down quotes that resonated with me and find themes that I thought I could talk about. Then, I waited for inspiration, as I do most weeks that I write a D'var Torah, and I came up with a few themes and quotes and then began to write.

A lot of Book 5 is about secrets. There are secrets related to the prophecy, secret Defense Against the Dark Arts groups and many more, and while this chapter is mostly about the founding of Dumbledore's Army and the dangers of Umbridge finding out about it, but I want to focus on two moments that aren't directly related to this topic. The first is when Neville got angry at Malfoy because he brought up the topic of St. Mungo's. It is a secret at this point that Neville's parents are in St. Mungo's after being driven to insanity by Bellatrix Lestrange. Neville holds this darkness inside because he is ashamed of them. This secret is kept because of shame. Mental illness really isn't talked about in the Wizarding World, and I personally don't think that it's talked about enough in our own society. Neville's parents didn't do anything wrong. In fact, they were actually doing something heroic  when they were attacked. In addition, while not in this chapter, Harry's PTSD is present in most of Book 5. While this may be obvious to some, it is not talked about nearly enough. It is harmful to those of us struggling with mental illness for it not to be talked about. And that's what I think we should take away from this parsha, oh wait, chapter.

Honestly, I think that sacred text is about learning from the text. Additionally, faith, rigor, and community are what make a text sacred (thank you Harry Potter and the Sacred Text), which will be addressed more specifically in my next blog post.