Friday, April 28, 2017

Coming Out As Chronically Ill: Yes, I am a Zebra

They say that when you hear hoofbeats, you should think horses, not zebras. But I am here to tell you, that some of us are zebras. I am a zebra. You need not be scared. You need not be cautious, but you must be understanding.

Recently, my chronic illness has been flaring up. I've had a lot of pain in my hands this time a symptom that I hadn't ever experienced, and for the first time ever, I've had to express my limitations to pretty much everyone in my life. And that has been scary, so I'm here to give you some advice on talking to someone who has just told you that they have a chronic illness, and that they are struggling in the moment.

When someone comes to you in pain:

Don't Say: Oh I understand, I hurt my knee/hip/hand playing soccer last week.
Do Say: I can't understand, but I want to try (and if you can understand, please please please share in hospital stories and morbid jokes with me).
It's okay that you don't understand.  I don't need you to understand, I just need you to be there. And frankly, you're probably not going to understand. I need you to acknowledge that right now, I'm not doing well, and I need you to let me be selfish, at least for a little bit.

Don't Say: How are you feeling? (If you don't want an honest answer)
Do Say: Can I help you with anything?
Obviously, if everything is hurting, I am not okay, and I hate having to lie, so that people don't have to deal with my problems. And I'm probably not going to be your definition of "okay" ever. I have a chronic illness that has become my "new normal." I'm used to the knee pain and all of the other things that come along with my rare disorder. But asking if you can help makes me feel a little less alone, one of the hardest parts of having such a rare disorder.

Don't Say: You're so strong.
Do Say: I admire your courage.
It's scary to tell people that you are sick. I was incredibly terrified when I had to tell my professors that I was struggling, and I'm a little bit scared to write this blog post. We live in a productivity driven culture that implies that you are "weak" if you aren't getting things done. And I don't feel strong when my chronic illness is flaring up, especially when I'm feeling quite alone and scared. Telling me that I'm strong is negating what is actually wrong. Affirming my courage makes me feel supported and hopeful for the future. Because I do feel brave. I feel brave for learning how to navigate Massachusetts General Hospital and for getting myself to the emergency room when I need to go and for calling my doctors. Thank you in advance for affirming that.

Thank you to all of you who have supported me so far, and thank you to those who will support me and others in the future. The only way one can survive is with support. Thank you for affirming my stripes. 

Friday, April 14, 2017

Ancient Prostitutes: Single Women or Slave Women?

In both of the languages that I study--Hebrew and Latin--there are many words for prostitute, from zonah and kadesha in biblical hebrew to meretrix, scortum, and lupa in Latin. But what can these words actually tell us about who these women were and how their systems of prostitution worked--if there were systems at all.

More specifically, I want to talk about whether these prostitutes were slaves or single women. The answer to that question depends on a lot of things including which culture you want to look at: Roman or Ancient Israelite: Ancient Israelite/Biblical prostitutes, at least from the research that I have done so far( and I'm probably writing my final paper for the year on this topic) were the only women in Ancient Israelite society who were free from the control of a man. Before marriage, women belonged to the oldest man in her family, usually her father, but sometimes the brother would take control if the father had passed away. After marriage, the woman belonged to her husband, and if the husband died, she would be sent back to her father's house. The prostitutes in 1 Kings 3 came to Solomon because they didn't have a man to make the decision that they were looking for. I'm sure there are other examples.

But Rome, on the other hand was a little more complicated. Prostitution was an extensive industry: looked down upon, but at the end of the day, relatively common. There were brothels on every corner at least according to the archaeological record at Pompeii. There were essentially two categories of prostitutes in Rome. The first, called a number of things, including a mulier, a woman, or a scortum, or occasionally meretrices in the plural, were prostitutes, owned by a man, a pimp, a leno,  who worked out of inns or taverns or in a brothel.  These women, often foreigners who were captured by pirates or in battle, were sold to the pimps as slaves. They rarely made enough money to buy their own freedom. The second category was the meretrix, a word that literally means, the one who earns. These prostitutes were generally Roman women who chose this profession. She walked the streets and acquired her own clients, and she in fact wasn't under the control of any man.

So what's the verdict? I think it's still out. The Zonah and the Meretrix were certainly single, independent women, who didn't need a man, but does that make up for the pimps, the lenones that enslaved many helpless foreigners? You tell me.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017


Perplex. Confuse. Complicate.
I am perplexed. Why do we act in the way we act? Why do we choose what we choose?
Why did I wake up in pain?
But there are also good things that I am unable to explain.
What exactly makes a person or piece of writing inspiring?
Why can people be so kind?
 I am confused.
But I am content with being perplexed.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

#BlogExodus: Expand

Take a deep breath.
Let your lungs expand and then deflate.
The magic of the human body.
Stretch your arms.
Take up space.
What will you expand into?
Who will you be?
The future has yet to come.

Monday, April 3, 2017

#BlogExodus: Read

The things we read influence us. They change our lives, shaping how we look at the world and how we look at other people. Everyone's story can be pulled, at least to some extent from the things that they read, whether that be the Bible or anything else. My story is intertwined with the Animorphs series, Harry Potter, and so many more pieces of writing. My story is intertwined with the Shakespeare plays and poems that we grandfather reads me at the breakfast table. My story is intertwined with Crime and Punishment, one of my favorite books that we read in my high school career. And my story is wrapped in and out of books by Abraham Joshua Heschel and liturgical supplements and every prayerbook that I can get my hands on. And by the Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, a poem that I truly think changed my life. There is so many pieces of writing that I have read that have shape my story. My hope for the future is that someday, I will have the chance to write something that will shape someone's story just like so many pieces of writing have shaped mine.

Sunday, April 2, 2017


Judaism does a lot of retelling. Retelling of our own family memories and of the stories of our people. This got me thinking about why do we retell these stories so often? What can we learn from retelling the stories of history? I think about this a lot when I think about why I study Classics as well. And I think we retell for a couple of reasons. First, we retell stories to bring people closer to their ancestors and to their descendants. Shared stories are often what make communities strong. Second, we retell stories with the hope that history will not repeat itself if we remember it. Whether this always happens is a different issue, but ideally, we can learn from our mistakes and we can learn to speak out if injustice arises.

Saturday, April 1, 2017

#BlogExodus: Seek

I found myself seeking something that I could not find.
A place to be at home.
To be myself, to feel less alone.

Last night, or two nights ago if you are reading this on the day that it comes out, I had the opportunity to participate in a Well Circle with some lovely people from my university, organized by one of my close friends, and I was incredibly moved and excited by the energy there. This was a part of a grassroots organization called At the Well. We began the circle by lighting candles and then holding hands and offering intentions, things that we wanted to seek from this space: words or ideas, ancestors who we wanted to call into the space. We proceeded to discuss a few quotes that were presented to us, and this is where I found something that I didn't know I was seeking. The quote that my group focused on was "Remember this day, on which you went free from Egypt, the house of bondage, how the LORD freed you from it with a mighty hand"(Exodus 13:3). And in the discussion of this quote I found a space where I could use my own vulnerability to interpret ideas in a way to help other people. This is precisely why I want to be a rabbi, but on that night, I didn't know that was what I was seeking. But I found what I was meant to find.