Tag Archives: personal development

Where The Riches Are

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I took a bite of the steaming hot, four-cheese pasta I had ordered in mid-town Manhattan and nodded my head. Yes, I agreed with my friend sitting across from me, this was too delicious to be true. We were out for a girls lunch. A work/pleasure hybrid of a lunch break as my companion was evolving in her Judaism and wanted to talk about her next steps in learning and growth. She was pretty, composed, and very down-to-earth. I had liked her the minute we met weeks before at an outreach event I helped run in NYC. We were about the same age and instantly hit it off with easy conversation that balanced giggles with depth.

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A little background for the buildup. While I’m pretty grounded, I have this weird sixth sense and I believe that I see people’s auras…just a little bit. Just sometimes. The color, the energy. It doesn’t happen often but I have experienced the phenomenon. (Oy. If I’ve freaked you out and you want to stop reading, I totally get it.) Once, many years ago, I told my roommate in school that a black energy appeared to be radiating from her. The words tumbled out of my mouth and I realized mid-stream how strange and offensive they sounded. She got very quiet but spoke after a few moments. “I was institutionalized”.  Then quiet again. Gulp. I wasn’t prepared for that. Since then, I’m more cautious about sharing my observations though I still get into trouble occasionally.

I share this with you because I felt I really had a grasp on my lunch date’s energy. She was admirably calm. She was patient and it was as if nothing could phase or stress her. She spoke deliberately and slowly; she paused before answering. She was like… a warm blue. (In contrast, I speak quickly and often kick myself mid-sentence for not filtering more. Over the years, I’ve conditioned myself to lock my jaw shut and pad my responses with “Can I process that and get back to you in the next couple of days?” I have yet to regret that answer and use it liberally to ensure that I am thoughtful and not rushed.) I digress but don’t worry, the bombshell is coming.

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So there we were, indulging in carbs, enjoying girl talk, speaking of personal development and lofty ideals when my friend cleared her throat. She wanted to confide in me about something from her past. Of course, I gladly obliged and assured her that my lips were sealed. Whatever she wanted to tell me surely wouldn’t shock me. I knew my friend was on her journey in spirituality and connection to Judaism. It was clear that she hadn’t been particularly sheltered though she came from a solid family and a good home. Whatever was in her past couldn’t be so bad.

Then, with her reflective, collected disposition, she described how she became addicted to cocaine and battled to stay clean. She had a stint in rehab and was a real ‘mess’ (her word) through college. I used up every bit of control I had to show no signs of shock. I knew addiction existed and I had met addicts before but her? I just couldn’t reconcile it. How could this composed, even sophisticated, soft-spoken young woman have such a dark, out of control side? I thought to myself, maybe I don’t know her that well. Perhaps she was unstable? Could it be?

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“I hope I haven’t changed the way you look at me”, she said. I vigorously shook my head and worked hard to convince both of us that she hadn’t. As I walked to the subway from the restaurant, I reminded myself that an addiction shouldn’t define a person and that her future wasn’t hinged on her past.

Fortunately, my friend didn’t vanish from my life. We actually grew closer and stayed in touch for many years. I absolutely adore her and she has taught me a lot about how complex human beings truly are. Looking back, I so admire her confidence that day. She fully accepted herself and felt comfortable to talk about choices that would bring most people shame. Since then, she’s married and had many children. I wonder if she would tell anyone what she told me all those years ago but it doesn’t matter. She has a depth of self-acceptance that most of us would and should envy. Perhaps hitting rock bottom and having to climb out of that pit builds self-acceptance.

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Fast forward ten years to the opposite scenario. I was working on campus and had developed a relationship with one of our students. She was a sorority girl who would do coffee with me from time to time. She joined our weekly learning program. Her etiquette was always on point. Based on her Facebook profile, she seemed to have an exciting party life but never spoke of it to me. I always had the sense that she was holding back in the hopes of making a good impression.

One day, after about a year, she and I met at the Starbucks on campus. I could see she was going through something but didn’t want to share. In the hopes of convincing her of the importance of vulnerability, I said to her, “Y’know…you don’t have to be perfect all the time. That must be really draining.” She started crying despite valiant efforts of staying composed. Suddenly, she was mortified that she had dropped her guard, apologized profusely, and excused herself. This poor young woman really wanted to reach out, she spent so much energy acting like everything was okay, and she just couldn’t make peace with herself. She couldn’t accept that she was flawed, like the rest of us.

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I’ve quoted this line before but it bears repeating. My very favorite verse of all time from the Torah is one pertaining to offerings. While I can’t say all laws of korbanos (ritual offerings) are my favorite area of Judaism to explore, this particular point is so profound that (even) I cling on to it. All meal offerings, the Torah demands, must be offered with salt and not honey or yeast (Vayikra 2:11-2:13). Yeast inflates and honey sweetens. G-d doesn’t need us to offer falsely inflated or sweetened versions of our true selves. Rather, we are required to use salt, something that brings out the natural flavors and preserves. (Rabbi Mordechai Gifter)

What a gift. G-d, who is perfect by definition, is requiring us to be as we were created. Flawed. Broken. Vulnerable. Makes sense. After all, He created us that way. But why?? Why can’t we achieve perfection? Why can’t I love myself…once I’m perfect?

The whole point of this life, the one that begins the moment we are born and ends the moment we die is our quest for correction, our journey to perfection. I’m awed by people who try to make an impact and be an “influencer” under the guise of perfection. I have no desire to emulate that. I want to embrace this life, accept every part of myself, and understand that the creased, bent, and fractured pieces are where the riches are.

Adult Friendships

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Adult Friendships
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Some friends and I in Jerusalem, 2011 (I’m on the far left)

Well, this is embarrassing. For years, I’ve been telling a few choice family members and acquaintances that I find it extremely difficult to establish friendships as an adult. Sometimes, I smile facetiously and announce that I have no friends at all and sometimes, on a good day, I concede that perhaps I have one or two. I must be the only person in the world who feels this way because, so often, listeners respond with an air of disdain. It’s as if they’re thinking: Sorry that you have this problem. Luckily, we don’t.

What was easy at 13 seems so daunting at 33. Do friendships have an expiration date? How much investment is required in a friendship? If we talk this much, share this much, connect this much…are we friends??

How did I have so many friends before adulthood? For me, adulthood began when I got my first full-time job in New York at 21 years old. Before that, I was able to prioritize friendships above all else with nearly endless time and care. Once I began working, I just didn’t have the energy to stay awake late with a friend on the phone. I was too tired to go out with friends unless it was the weekend or a special occasion.  I would often get home from work very late and the thought of using up my little downtime on socializing was too much to bear. I just wasn’t interested. After all, I had to wake up the next morning and work a long day! I was leading a very full life, albeit alone.

Marriage and children only served to reinforce my challenge. Today, now that I work full-time while juggling a young family, I’m thankful for a bathroom break undisturbed (still a rare occurrence). Showering and sitting down for a meal are luxuries. I don’t walk into a store unless it’s for groceries (don’t worry too much though, Amazon has cured me of my other shopping needs). Friends?? Impossible!

But maybe we need to define our terms before I write myself off as a recluse. What are friends anyway? Are they the people who will bail you out of jail or pick you up from the hospital? I would argue that any kind soul would do that for you, friend or foe. Here are three reasons you may call someone a friend and a little push back on that definition from yours truly.

You’re friends because of….

  1. Shared interest, stage of life, or community. Examples: We both have babies and we spend lots of time together on the playground. We love sports and play basketball every morning. We are next door neighbors. In all three cases, these friendships likely take up most of our quota for “friend time” and, I would argue, count the least. Why? Because they’re dependent on something external to exist. Judaism teaches that a love dependent on something is only as strong as that thing. Move out of your neighborhood, stop playing basketball, no longer go to the park and your friendship will disappear.
  2. History. I have friends who I rarely/never speak to but love and they have a special place in my heart. We went to school together or we spent summers together, we talked and talked, sometimes about nothing and other times about everything. While these friends are very important to me, many of them play a big role in my rear-view mirror but don’t really know me as I am today. If I was in trouble, I wouldn’t call them because there’s a lack of familiarity with our adult versions of each other. I have tried to rekindle these friendship over the years and end up awkwardly stumbling in and out of connection.
  3. A safe space. These are the friends that we can really spill to, feel safe with, and share our innermost thoughts without fear of being judged. This category is the one I am most inclined to give credit. There’s just one problem. In a time when privacy is as undervalued as it is today (how many times have you signed off on the privacy terms and conditions of your favorite app?), we may indeed feel “safe” with any supportive, open people in our lives. Also, feeling safe or confident to share is a function of our own self-confidence and not a reflection of friendship necessarily. I have seen some gut-wrenching posts on Facebook and I continue to be surprised by people’s raw vulnerability on scaled social media sites.

You may disagree with me and consider any of the above definitions as entirely reasonable. If that’s the case, I too have friends (yay!).

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Two special friends who visited me in San Diego, 2007 (I’m on the far left again)

Until I have an intuitive understanding, I will have to rely on my intellectual understanding of how the Torah defines friendship. Judaism has a lot to say on the subject but the most compelling teaching, for me, is the story of David and Yonatan. Yonatan was the son of King Saul whereas David was just a young shepherd from a large family who became prominent through a remarkable series of events. Their backgrounds had no overlap, they didn’t have similar interests, yet the Mishna describes their friendship as loyal and devoted, dependent on nothing, and everlasting. Even more remarkable was that Yonatan was the heir to his father’s throne but David took it over- a move that should have made Yonatan jealous and yet he was entirely supportive.

So the Torah defines friendship in very simple terms.

Friendship is simply an outpouring of constant love and loyalty. It may start out as connecting with someone because you both love golf, attend the same school, or share cubicle space. But that does not make a friendship. Spilling your deepest, darkest secrets doesn’t make a friendship either. Being friends with someone in your childhood or teenage years of angst is also not the magic bullet.

The answer comes down to the question: Will you allow your relationship with this person to exist superficially or will you opt to go “all in” and choose to care for him/her deeply? Do you choose to love that person? Do you choose to help that person and invest in that person? Will you allow them to help you?

The lesson for me is that friendship is a choice to prioritize a person outside of myself or my family. In this light, I am starting to wonder if maybe I have more friends than I thought.

It’s Not About Me (but I think it is)

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I really should make a video about this because I love telling the story. I laugh every time (horrified). There I was, in downtown Jerusalem, enjoying frozen yogurt with my sister, who was visiting me for the week. Somehow the cold stuff that was meant for my mouth lands on my skirt. The nearest paper towel was a good 50 feet away back in the yogurt store.

As I walk, holding my skirt,  a man sitting on the ground gesticulates at me. Embarrassed, I react in a broken Hebrew, “I know, I know. there’s a stain on my skirt. Don’t worry, I’m going to clean it now.” He doesn’t respond so I hurry past  him.

Two minutes later, my skirt is drenched but clean. I turn around and find my sister laughing. “What’s so funny?” I smile wanting in on the joke. She says, “Rachel! That man wasn’t pointing at your skirt! He was holding out his hand for charity!”.

I take a moment to process what she tells me. I am mortified by how preoccupied I was with my Number One Focus- me! I laughed, shocked by my own behavior.

Thankfully, my quick-thinking, generous sister had already offered the bewildered man a few shekalim (Israeli money) for his trouble so there was nothing left for me to do but reflect on my own self-absorption. My little splotch compared to his challenges? I was too wrapped up in my spilled snack to think about his empty stomach? Our minds are so fixated on our own personal narratives that we end up missing out on so much color and character, pain and joy, richness and texture from the the world around us.

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I’ve come to see that thinking the world revolves around me is a recipe for misery. Why does my colleague hate me? Why did that driver cut me off? Why is my friend not calling me ? Maybe, just maybe, the answer has absolutely nothing to do with me.

Now, I’m well aware that I write this in an age when the “selfie” is a socially acceptable photograph to share with thousands of strangers. Sales revenue for the selfie-stick back in 2014 was about $6 million. If our self-absorption is so blatant on the outside, imagine the monster within.

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I attended a workshop on running a home with happiness and energy a few years ago. The teacher shared an insight that sticks with me today. People who are masters of their study don’t ask themselves how they can appear to be masters. They just are. For example, an authentic community leader doesn’t ponder on what clothes best position him/her for leadership. Rather the lenses are pointed outward. How can I better serve these people?

Our Patriarch, Abraham, reversed human nature. Usually, we concern ourselves with our own physical and emotional well-being. Am I hungry? Thirsty? Hot? Cold? Tired? Sick? Sad? Happy? When we think of others, by default, we consider their spiritual well-being. She really shouldn’t talk like that. He has an anger issue! I guess they don’t keep kosher- a shame! Incredibly, Abraham did the opposite. He worried about his own spiritual health and took care of others’ physical and emotional well-being. Even when in tremendous physical pain, he hosted guests with gusto that most of us can only dream to attain.

Bishvili Nivra HaOlam The world was created just for me. V’Anochi Afar V’Efer I am but dust and ashes. In a world where self-absorption is the new normal and our minds are programmed to focus on ourselves, it is critical that we re-calibrate. Let’s together turn our attention outward and invest in the needs of others. The others in our home, the others in our community, the others in our world.

Made or Broken: We didn’t sign up for this life. Now what?

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Made or Broken: We didn’t sign up for this life. Now what?

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I was the only woman in an office filled with rabbis when the phone rang. Someone was calling. I picked up the phone.

At 23 years old, my job was to create inspiring programs for Jewish women on the Upper West Side (I was elated). The caller was female and would only speak to a woman. She sounded upset and I wanted to help. I’ve replayed that call many times in my mind over the last decade and know that the responsible thing to do would have been to ask someone older and wiser to call her back. Luckily, I was irresponsible.

Sarah was brought up in a religious home. She was a sweet little girl with her family and a good student in school. She was kind to others and had friends. As she got older, she volunteered in after school activities. She knew that she was a “good girl” and expected to have a good life in return for her efforts. Sadly, in her teenage years, she was exposed to an adult male character who was no good at all. Following high school, when she traveled to Israel for her gap year, she experienced another negative incident.

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Sarah was a good girl and wanted a good life so she tried to shake off her unpleasant encounters. At 21, she was set up with a nice Jewish boy and married him. They had a few children and she tried to build her home and move on with her life. Despite her best efforts and what should have been a happy stage in her life, she felt trapped in her pain and sadness.

Why had God put her in a position to suffer? She was a good girl, after all.

Despite my youth, I knew to validate Sarah’s pain and listen. When she was finished, I told her what I was sure she already knew. Life is not meant to be a stroll in the park. We’re here to work. Life is full of pleasures and we should savor every one but we are meant to climb and develop, rung by rung, to reach the greatest heights we can reach. At times, those rungs come in the form of painful circumstances. We are made or broken by those circumstances.

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She asked what happens if that’s not the kind of life she signed up for? It was not the life she wanted. She preferred to follow the rules and, in exchange, be granted shelter from sadness, anger, and pain. She came into this world with an expectation of an unspoken deal with her Creator. If she’s obedient, then she’s protected from heartache.

We spoke for a long time and ended up keeping in touch for years. I relate to Sarah in that we both share a false expectation. The human experience seems to be hard-wired with a cycle of process, milestone, and then process again. We think we have everything figured out and in that very moment of confidence, the rug is pulled out from underneath, leaving us disoriented and forced to adjust to a new reality. It often comes as a shock and just as often humbles us to our core. I would argue that the rug-pulling may be for the express purpose of jarring us from our feelings of security, confidence, and (perhaps) complacency.

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So many examples come to mind.

  1. Dating- You work so hard to meet The One. When you do, no matter your education, a part of you is sure you’ll ride off into the distance together. Details for the ride are fuzzy. GPS not included.
  2. Parenting- You spend your childhood (just me?) sure you will be the best parent. Then you have a child and realize you are clueless and the most knowledgeable experts in the world have less insight than you do about your child. (Note: That shouldn’t stop us from consulting them).
  3. Personal Development- I finally figured out how to be a good person after years of study and practice only to realize that I’ve mastered an exceptionally narrow lane and I have miles to go.
  4. Reputation- After significant effort invested in community service or professional endeavors, I make a mistake or suffer a humiliation in the presence of others.

I’m really glossing over these big categories but you catch my gist.

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Sometimes, nothing goes wrong but the things that were supposed to go right just never happen. We wake up and look at our lives through the eyes of our past selves. This is NOT what I signed up for. 

If you’re reading this – or if you’re not reading this- you did NOT sign up for your life. You were supposed to have kids by now. You weren’t supposed to get divorced. You were supposed to have a great job that you love. You weren’t supposed to be this old. Your finances were supposed to be better. You weren’t supposed to suffer with physical pain or illness.

So what now?

Dear family, friends, and me: Our lives are not what we signed up for but they are exactly what we need. Your life is tailor-made for what you need right now. The big gaping holes and the terrible messes are by design. So what is life asking of you right now? What are you supposed to be doing?

Maybe you need to focus on healing. Maybe you need to focus on sharing. Perhaps more time doing and less time thinking (perhaps more time thinking and less time doing). Move faster. Invest more. Slow down. Be deliberate. Whatever circumstance you have in front of you, there is something important being asked of you. Someone is calling.

Pick up the phone.

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Potentially Fabulous

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I really want to make something of myself. I know people who have. I know a guy who doesn’t quit. He works around the clock to build up his non-profit organization that he’s passionate about- all while holding down a job to support his family. Another example is my friend who almost never sits down. Not kidding. She seems to feed off of an undetectable energy and works incredibly hard to make her home warm and happy, constantly helps members of the community, hosts countless meals, and somehow has endless time to listen attentively to all sorts of people she encounters.

Another fabulous woman I know – I wish you could meet her because there’s no way to do her justice here- is incredibly generous with her time, energy, and talents. A fellow teacher, since the beginning of the year she has constantly tried to help me navigate through projects, students, parents, and colleagues. “Oh, I’ll do that” is her motto and she has quickly become my first stop when I need help at work. Peeking through her classroom window showed me I’m not unique- this lady gives to many with a full heart. Those who are close with her know that if you need a sympathetic ear, sage advice, help with cutting and pasting, or even a kosher (she’s not Jewish) snack – she provides and a relationship is built. When teaching at a public school in a “bad”  neighborhood, she nearly adopted one of her young students who was neglected and abused by his parents. This might surprise you but if you knew her, it wouldn’t.

Don’t get me wrong- none of these people are saints. I’ve actually seen them when they’re not being fabulous. There’s no point in sharing their flaws but, rest assured, they exist. What distinguishes them for me is that most of the time, these people have captured something. A generosity of spirit, a strong work ethic, they’re LIVING LIFE and not just living. Thinking of them moves me off of my couch and towards real-world activity and connection.

You know the classic report card guaranteeing that a student is full of potential? That she or he would be FABULOUS if only…. Well what happens many years after the report cards have been signed and the parent/teacher conferences (strategizing about how this vague potential will be actualized) are long over? Do these little rug-rats, exploding with potential, actualize, maximize, LIVE?

Until recently, I considered my life as an extension of my childhood; I felt I was a (incredibly blessed) Youth of the Nation. It took me three years to figure out that the real Youth no longer view me as one of the Nation. Maybe it was my age, or my children, or my maturity (ok, maybe not the maturity) but clearly something changed. This is the next chapter of my life, the one where all the supposed potential unleashes…right?

Childhood and adolescence is often marked by living in the moment (hopefully joyful ones) and self-absorption. As children, we thought the world revolved around us, that our parents’ lives began when we were born, that our needs should come first. As teenagers, we just didn’t think (should I only speak for myself?). Our decisions were shaped by our whims with no forethought to consequences or aftermath. To fulfill our potential as adults, we’d have to break free of the narcissism and selfishness, simultaneously maintaining the joie de vivre that most children have in spades. For me- if not for all of us- it is that happy spirit, appreciation for life, selflessness, and ACTION that largely defines “actualizing potential”. These are the hallmarks of people who are LIVING. Like I said, I really want to make something of myself and not get stuck just potentially fabulous.

Into the Fog

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I remember my friend being jealous of me at 19 which was fair. She called me lucky and I was. I had figured myself out; what direction I wanted my life to go. I knew that I wanted to reach out to other Jews as a career. I knew I wanted to raise a religious Jewish family. My friend, on the other hand, wasn’t sure of what she wanted or who she was. Come to think of it, I had been blessed with complete clarity from a very young age. I knew for certain at 12 of who I wanted to be at 24. I made decisions at 14 that were based on goals for my 18 year old self.

Imagine my surprise to wake up at 30 in a fog. That’s what I feel I have been walking around in for the past year. A haze of thoughts, circumstances, and postponed decisions circling me and for the first time since I can remember, I lack the certainty I’ve always taken for granted. We’re supposed to ask ourselves what God wants from us given the situations we’re presented. Want to know what happens when you ask yourself the same question over and over again? Disconnection from the original question. A white noise whitewashing any hint of my inner voice.

Ironically, I’m jealous of myself at 19 too. Where did that assured girl go? The unadulterated idealism that wasn’t shadowed by responsibility and practicality? It’s as though someone put a thick pair of glasses over my eyes when I could see just fine before. Or maybe someone just took my much needed pair of glasses off.

There is an upside. I’ve learned to live in the moment. It’s the only way to be happy. If I find myself  contemplating the future, I remind myself that worry and stress is counterproductive. So now I just push (shove) thoughts of the future out of my mind. I look around at my wonderful family, my nice -rented- condo, the food in my fridge, my health and the health of those I love. But what if I can’t feed my family tomorrow? What if I can’t afford to pay next month’s rent? These questions are monsters hiding under my bed. They only exist in my mind.

There’s another upside. I’ve also learned that if I turn outward, if I refocus my attention toward people in need (emotionally or otherwise), I stop feeding my negative thoughts. There’s no space for self-absorbed negativity when you are put in the position of being someone else’s cheerleader.

I’m in a fog about many things but of one thing I’m crystal clear: Life is for living and living well. We only get one chance to live this life the way we think best and I’d much rather soak up my blessings than panic that they’ll disappear tomorrow. This silver lining is my lifeboat as I wade through the fog.

What I Don’t Tell My Spouse (and what you shouldn’t either)

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I probably should start by saying that my husband and I are always talking. I have a close friend -with a wonderful marriage- that is completely different from mine and I don’t understand it at all. She tells me that while she’s home with her husband they don’t see each other or speak to one another much. For the record, they live in a small apartment with young children. Each one of them, though, is busy doing his/her own thing and there’s very little contact. I believe her when she says that they have a great marriage- but I can’t wrap my head around it! My husband and I don’t stop yakking. I consider my marriage pretty great and I understand marriages come in different shapes and sizes- no one necessarily better than the next. It just so happens that our dynamic is, well, a pretty verbal one.

That said, I do try very hard to not speak to my husband about some things (admittedly I fail at least as much as I succeed). I avoid topics of negativity that take the form of kvetches, sadness, bitterness, irritation, anger, etc. The upside is that with all our shmoozing, we avoid bringing up lashon hara (negative/damaging speech). The advantage that I’d like to highlight here is that I don’t spread the negativity. Again, this is a work in progress.

So, to wrap up, do I (should I) vent to my husband? In a generation that glorifies full self-expression, I’m proud to report that I have censored(!) myself many times this past week in an effort to keep our atmosphere at home upbeat and cheerful. There were a few challenging moments (totally not connected to my family) that I opted to keep to myself. Y’know what? I don’t feel repressed or squelched or stifled or inhibited. I feel liberated. Taking control of my mouth in the face of strong emotions leaves me completely empowered, in the driver’s seat.

While my friend says she doesn’t talk much to her husband (and hey- if that works- gezunterheyt!), most couples I encounter TALK. A LOT. While our cultural standard is to give couples carte blanche to disclose every thought passing through (sort of like Twitter…), I propose we utilize a little good judgement before we communicate to our spouses. 

Two Ethical Problems with Facebook

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I joined Facebook (as I was recently reminded on an un-posted automated anniversary video) in 2007 in order to connect with students all over North America for a non-profit’s marketing department. I stayed on Facebook after I left that job because it was a convenient way to track old friends’ lives without the hassle of remembering to call them for an update (you know you relate!). I still peruse Facebook regularly- primarily for those same photo updates that keep me feeling connected to long-lost friends and family.

It’s nice to see that you just had a baby or what you ate for lunch and I usually enjoy the pearl-of-wisdom cliche or funny observational meme. I can tolerate the extreme opinions that posters feel necessary to publicize and though I’ve tried to remove myself from long threads of lively conversation that often deteriorates into personal insult, I admire when the controversy stays clean and unemotional.

I have no plans at this point to close my Facebook account for the reasons above and more but I do feel compelled to call out two big moral dilemmas users of Facebook may share with me. Like many (all?) things in life, Facebook can be used for good or bad. To me, here’s the very bad that hasn’t been outed officially (Facebook bullying, in contrast, has drawn plenty recent attention thankfully).

1. Many, many users opt to use their walls as bragging rights for a great relationship, career, or body. Brandished #Fakebook by an insightful blogger years ago,  Facebook still consistently serves up everybody’s great news and filtered pictures. Does a a long fluffy post dedicated to a “fabulous” spouse not cheapen a marriage? Even if it doesn’t, how are singles struggling to find Mr/Mrs Right supposed to feel when they read such posts? How about someone in a difficult marriage? Same applies to the  posts and pictures of children (mea culpa).

There’s an idea in Judaism called “evil eye” which is often defined as a superstition but the true meaning of an evil eye is a pair of eyes watching us and wondering “Why does S/HE get that, but I don’t?”. Truth is, everything in our lives- the health, the family, the prosperity- it’s all a gift and none of us deserves it.  Bragging on Facebook is purposely attracting attention for our undeserved blessings and that attention can turn negative- a dangerous prospect.

I don’t propose anything extreme- just perhaps an added dose of sensitivity (I’m talking to myself as much as to you) about posting lovey-dovey statuses and super adorable pictures. We can sometimes choose to keep pictures private (gasp!) or at least we can temper statuses into something mildly more modest.

2. I thoroughly enjoy debate- sometimes and under the right conditions. Assuming all parties are respectful and intellectually honest – no small feat- debate is a very worthwhile and Jewish endeavor. Problems brew when names are mentioned of any kind since invariably someone will post a negative comment in which case:

a. The person who mentioned the name originally is responsible for Avak Lashon Hara, the brand of negative speech that start with an “innocent” remark but provokes malicious responses.

b. The people reading the negative/destructive comments and possibly believing them.

c. The one commenting negatively.

Facebook, and the internet for that matter, may be an open exchange of information but we are responsible to put fences up, for our own dignity and humanity’s sake. I’ve seen wonderful people (who I obviously won’t name) getting character assassinations on Facebook by posters who are otherwise very nice themselves. We all make mistakes, is it necessary to publicly analyze even leaders in this forum? It’s a no-holds-barred zone and the viciousness I’ve seen on Facebook in the name of “intellectual debate” is unparalleled.

This is food for thought directed as much at myself as it is to you. I wrote an article recently that I took down because I was asked to- and the reason I chose to delete an article I worked hard on is because, ultimately, I want my blog to impact positively. If there’s even a chance it would do the opposite, I’d rather not publish anything.

Ultimately, the choice is ours like all mediums in life, how are we going to use this? Are we really thinking carefully before we hit “post”?

Are you choosing good or evil RIGHT NOW?

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Every stage of life has its unique challenges. Teenagers struggle with autonomy vs dependence. Singles may worry about finding a companion or loneliness. Seniors can struggle with empty nest syndrome and/or mortality.  Are there Variances and Variable? Oh Yes. But there are some themes too. For me, as a parent of young children, I struggle with lack of sleep and time. Practically, this means that prioritizing is Do or Die.

What makes the top of the list? Anything urgent for starters which could take the form of a check due NOW or a dentist appointment at 4:00pm. Urgent items are non-negotiable.

Self-discovery comes after the urgent times. To unveil our true motives and values, we must dig past the urgent and get to the next category: Important To-dos. In my life, important to-dos (not including health/safety) are quality time with family/friends and anything work related.  I’m opting not to publicize what I don’t get done in this forum (our religion doesn’t glorify person-to-person confessions!), but it’s plain to see what I shuffle to the bottom of the list.

Truth is, our time is limited and there will, of course, be to-dos that don’t get done. As long as our choices of what does get done reflect our actual priorities, then we’re being authentic.

Actually I’m pretty sure God said this…

Divine Providence constantly creates opportunities for us to choose between what we feel like doing (in black/white terms: evil) and what we know we should be doing (good). It’s strange to frame seemingly small moments of our lives into dramatic choices between good and evil but, in fact, that’s exactly what they are. Everyone’s challenges look completely different, of course, due to differences in culture, generation, age, personality, preferences, DNA, nurture, economic strata, and choices up until this very moment.

With all this in mind, I’m choosing to spend the remainder of my evening cleaning my house and getting as much done for tomorrow morning as possible so wake-up/school/work transition time is harmonious. These are my priorities. Dull, sure, but important- absolutely. What do I feel like doing? Pouring myself a nice hot cup of tea and looking at Yahoo’s headlines (my milder confessions do make it here!). How about you? When motivation lags, let’s remember that every moment is made up of a choice between good and evil.

Bedtime or BUST

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For many parents of young children, the most feared and anticipated portion of each day has a name. It’s alive and we wait for it. You guessed it…Bedtime.

The complexity of  bedtime lies in its duality of good and evil. The evil?  Bedtime takes place at the end of an exhausting sequence of events that are likely to include driving, working (at home or in an office), errands, laundry, phone calls, bills, homework, meals, bathtime. We, I speak for all parents now, are TIRED. Maybe more tired than the kids. Worse yet, the kids are tired- and tired often means cranky (for both parties). To boot, it’s a transition period and transitions are always rough.

The good? There’s a preciousness to bedtime when the children are clean fresh out of a bath, teeth brushed, hair combed. They look so sweet when we give them that final kiss and exchange “good night” and “I love you” to one another. I was chatting with my girlfriend just before I put my kids to sleep the other night and she admitted that a tranq gun would be a helpful weapon at bedtime. (Agreed.) Children have this annoying tendency to be demanding – especially so at 6:45pm- but in those jammies?? Irresistible. The Parents’ Paradox. So there you have it- the scene that repeats itself day-in, day-out. Kids, around the world, are forced on a train heading towards Dream-Land, most children’s least favorite destination point.

One sobering video comes to mind when I think about bedtime that straightens me out quickly. An interview with Chava (Eva) Sandler, a woman who lost her husband and two sons to a horrific act of terror in Toulouse, France nearly two years ago.* The interview was conducted during her first week sitting shiva (mourning) and is incredibly powerful. In it she describes her last night before the attack:

“It’s funny, because when I went to sleep the night before the attack, I told my husband, “Oh no! Tonight was busy and I didn’t say Shema Yisrael (Jewish prayer) with my children (before bed).” Every night I would make sure to say Shema Yisrael with them. Even on Shabbat I would leave the guests behind in order to say Shema Yisrael with the children. That very night I said to my husband, “I wasn’t here on Shabbat because I was with my parents (in Paris). I didn’t say Shema Yisrael with the children since Wednesday, in fact.” And I said, “Okay, tomorrow I’ll get back into routine. This is important!” I see now that even when we are busy, we need to take time.”

The full interview is worth the 5.5 minute watch (link below) and sucker punches my (our?) crabby musings about bedtime in the gut. Bedtime is when we leave our final kisses and comments lingering in a bedroom for ten plus hours. It’s Important. Let’s (attempt to) wipe the exhaustion away from our eyes and savor the last beautiful moments of our little ones’ evenings with infinite gratitude.

*The interview was conducted in Hebrew with English subtitles. Full version can be found here: http://www.chabad.org/multimedia/media_cdo/aid/1816172/jewish/Tragedy-in-Toulouse.htm