Friday Feature: What Are You Thankful For This Week?

It’s time for the Friday Feature again, where I ask you what good things happened to you this week. This is direct from Telushkin’s Book of Jewish Values, Day 69.

This is a regular Friday morning feature for this blog. Telushkin intended his book to provide topics for Shabbat discussions for at least a year, as each “week” is composed of six values (one per day) and then Shabbat, where he encourages us to talk about those values at our Shabbat dinners and services. I feel that the idea of gratitude is so central to Jewish practice that we should be reminded weekly of what we might be grateful for.

While I know that this might seem a little self-centered, I’m also doing this so that people will have some food for thought for their own Shabbat dinners about what they might be thankful for. I generally talk about the following areas of my life: work and career; family and friends; health; household; my conversion studies; miscellaneous life; and the wider world. Feel free to add or subtract as necessary for your own use.


I have a lot to be thankful for going into this coming week, and finishing this past week. For starters, as long as enrollment holds up and funding holds up, I’ll have classes in the fall. I’m also almost done with my preps for those classes, except for their exams, which I’ll be tweaking and polishing over the next week or so. Today I plan to work on editing the final groups of Powerpoints so I’m all set to go on Monday. 

There are a number of possible jobs that I can apply to for full-time work starting next fall, and that’s the other major thing on my plate work-wise. There’s one in Los Angeles that is especially tempting so I’m going to work on that next week. 

I presented a paper with my co-author at a conference a week ago today, and it was very well received. My partner and I then spent the weekend with friends in the Bay Area. We stayed at a friend’s house; she’s also a convert and we had a very meaningful Shabbat dinner with her. Afterwards, she gave me my very first Havdalah candle, and I was very touched that she would think of me that way. Overall, the weekend last weekend was a very good (and Jewish!) one, spent with people I care about. (Completely coincidentally, my co-author is also a Jew, although a secular one.)

My kids are healthy and happy, my partner is healthy and happy, and most of my friends are in a good place right now, which is good. 

My health is reasonably good at this point. I’m trying to pay more attention to what I put in my mouth (I tend to be a stress eater) and that’s helped me have fewer pains and problems. 

Getting to talk with the new rabbi was a really big deal for me. I’ve arranged for the services I want to attend for High Holy Days, so that’s also in the works, and that makes me really excited. Now that the stress of the preps is winding down, I’ll have more time to crack the Hebrew studies again. The rest of my study is pretty much “on hold” until formal classes start in the spring. My partner has also expressed some cautious interest in going to the classes and, perhaps, converting with me. (This makes me tremendously excited.) Right now, my conversion is largely focused on practice, as it should be.

In terms of miscellaneous life stuff and the wider world, I’m trying to focus always on the positive, while still being realistic about it. I had a bad bout with depression last week but it got better once I was able to throw myself back into prepping and working. Also, Robin Williams’ death, while a horrifying thing in itself, has raised public awareness of depression, bipolar disorder, and Parkinson’s disease in ways that I don’t think he would have expected it to. (And for his death: baruch dayan emet, and may his memory be a blessing.) I also admit that I’m meanly pleased that his ashes were scattered in San Francisco Bay the day after his death, and that the Westboro Baptist “Church” won’t have a chance to protest his funeral because it was done before they even began to plan to disrupt it. 

The situations in Gaza and Ferguson are upsetting, of course, but even there I can find things to be thankful for. I am thankful for all the community members in Ferguson who stood guard over stores to either stop looting that had begun or prevent it from happening in the first place. I am thankful for the cease-fire lasting as long as it did in Gaza, and hopeful that we will soon see a longer truce. And I pray, every day, for the victims in both of those places and hope for a speedy resolution to the tensions. 

And as long as I’m mentioning Ferguson, here’s some specifically Jewish food for thought. Why Jews Should Care About Ferguson

Shabbat Shalom, everyone. I’ll try to update again on Sunday. 

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A Complaining Fast

When you have depression (as I do) it’s very easy to fall into complaining. Not because you’re a whiner, but because the world really does look that bleak and it really does feel that bad. It’s hard to find positives when you are depressed, sometimes. 

I’ve had a rough couple of days with this year’s academic hiring cycle starting up, and realizing that my best choices for a tenure-track job application are not in the city I live in, or even anywhere near it. This troubles me because I do not like change and I’m afraid to leave the familiar area I live in. I also don’t travel well – I dislike vacations that involve Going Somewhere New, and don’t understand why people want to do that when they could stay in their home and relax. 

The academic job process for a professor hire usually involves a one- to three-day-long on-campus interview where you are on display all the time. From the moment your plane lands in the airport and you are picked up by one of the hiring committee or a graduate student, you are on stage. The only time you’re not is when you’re in the hotel room that the hiring school is paying for you to stay in. It’s a grueling process even for people who are not autistic. When you’re autistic and you have phobias about new places, though… well, let’s just say I’ve done this four times now and had no offers in two years, which is really, really depressing for me. 

This year I’m going to focus mainly on places I’ve been (to cut down on the terror of “this is a completely unfamiliar place”) and that are within two to three hours’ flight of where I live now, for several reasons: my kids, my best friend, and my brother and his wife and kids all live here. If there’s an emergency for any of them I want to be no more than three hours’ flight away from them. But that still means that (assuming I get an offer) I will have to face moving away from everything familiar, and that is not easy for me to face. 

Then there’s the interview itself. Again due to the autism, I freeze when I’m around strangers. I am going to work very, very hard on pretending that they are not strangers so that I can do what I need to do. But I do not expect that to work, because at my core I’m a pessimist and, well, I’m angry that I have to go through this just to get a job that will support me and my family. 

So there’s a lot of stressors, as you can see. Disclosing the autism is not an option. Neither is disclosing the depression. So I have to pretend to these potential future colleagues that I’m just fine, peachy keen. Which brings up its own set of issues, but anyway. 

When you’re under this kind of stress it’s easy to complain. It’s incredibly easy to get depressed. I am facing this right now. I want to complain, and I want to complain a lot. I can even justify it as part of my Yiddishkeit – as several Jewish friends have said to me, kvetching is a time-honored tradition in Judaism. But I don’t think I can afford to complain. It’s too easy to slide from kvetching into outright depression. So for the next 24 hours, I am putting myself on a complaining fast. I am going to catch myself and stop myself every time I want to complain – or at least try to (setting up an absolute is a guaranteed way to make yourself fail). And when I want to complain, I am going to instead find something positive and say that instead. 

There’s also the points that Telushkin makes in the Book of Jewish Values, about how asking cheerfully is not a choice, and that we should occasionally go on a “complaining fast” and remind ourselves of what we’re thankful for. Kvetching may be culturally Jewish, but being thankful is spiritually Jewish. And I need to remember to be thankful, even when things look dark or frightening or both. 

We’ll see how it goes, eh?

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Quick placeholder post

I’ve been out of town for a professional conference and seeing friends, and had no wi-fi access for that time period so this is the first chance I’ve had to come back and post. I’m going to be very busy the next few weeks with school starting up again, but I have a lot to be thankful for. Sorry about missing the Friday Feature this week – it couldn’t be helped. When I have the chance to post again, I’ll write about the meeting with the new rabbi in more detail, the Shabbat dinner I attended at my friend’s house up in San Jose, and my ongoing study and practice. I hope you’ve all had a pleasant and restful Shabbat, and I’ll see you around the ‘net soon. 

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Gaza update: Five-day ceasefire extension.

I’ll just leave this here. 

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-28782224

Let’s hope the ceasefire continues and that somehow we get what needs to happen out of it. 

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On a happier note… met with the new rabbi

I feel much more comfortable with this rabbi than the previous one.

For starters, he was patient with me and understood the issues I was bringing to the table. He also invited me to attend High Holy Days as a guest. (Now I just need to check with the partner and clear September 25th from work calendars.)

They use the same mikveh as the other temple does, so no change there. But my best friend can be my witness if I want and if she’s okay with it. This is a huge relief for me.

I love the sanctuary of this new temple – they apparently leveled the old building and built a brand-new one a while back.

If I go through the 18-week classes in the spring and then convert, I get a complimentary one-year membership in the temple. And my partner can attend the classes with me if he wants to. Also, they can help people with the cost of the class if they have financial issues. 

The rabbi also said that I seem to already have a lot of basic knowledge but that if I want to take the free Taste of Judaism class in November I’m welcome to do so. I am leaning that direction.

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On Robin Williams and Depression

This post might look like it has nothing to do with Judaism, but bear with me. It does.

Ever since I found out about Robin Williams’ death yesterday I’ve been sort of in a state of shock. The man who created Mork, Garp, Airman Cronauer, the Genie, John Keating, Armand Goldman, Peter Banning/Pan, and Vladimir Ivanoff dead? Impossible.

But even worse: his death was by suicide? Incredible. Unbelievable. This brilliant, vibrant, funny, successful man killed himself? How can that be?

And yet. And yet.

Finding out that he suffered from depression makes all of that completely believable – both his successes and his death.

You see, I have depression. I have always had it. I always will have it. It doesn’t go away. It doesn’t disappear. And I have heard that inner voice saying in a very calm, rational, completely believable way: “Nobody would miss you if you died. They’d celebrate if you were gone because you’re a waste of space, energy, and air. You’re worthless. You’re pointless. Anyone could have done the things you did. You’re not that special. You deserve to feel this way because you are scum. Your partner could do better, and probably is doing better. Your kids are ashamed to be seen with you. Your family thinks you’re an embarrassment. So why don’t you just give them all a break? The knife is right there on the kitchen counter. The pills are in the medicine cabinet.”

Life with depression is a constant fight against that voice, because that voice never shuts up. I’ve had three suicide attempts in my life. The first one was when I was fifteen. The second one, I was sixteen. The third one was in my thirties and very few people knew about that one until just now. Thankfully none of them were successful, but at the time I was just disappointed (and ashamed) that I couldn’t even kill myself correctly.

It. Never. Stops.

If you have depression you find ways around it. You find ways to shore yourself up against it. Comedy is a big one. Music is another. Publishing a book. Writing a screenplay. Getting a doctorate. All of these are bulwarks against depression and the lies that it tells. But even those ways don’t always work. Sometimes the levees break. Sometimes the foundation crumbles.

To this day I still have far too many times when I don’t think I’m a very good or important person. Despite all my accomplishments, I still have depression living in my skin. It tells me that my doctorate is no big deal, that the students I’ve reached would have succeeded anyway, that my family and friends see me as a bother rather than a blessing. Sometimes I believe it. Sometimes I fight it. Not always.

If you have never known true, clinical depression, be thankful. It is worse than being sad. It is worse than being “blue” or down in the dumps. It is worse than feeling grief when a loved one dies. Depression is the sense of total worthlessness, of feeling that you deserve every bad thing that happens to you and that you don’t deserve any good that is part of your life. Depression is an endless black hole of suck, like a tar pit. On a good day you might be able to claw your way up to only waist-deep in it. On a good day you might be able to draw a few breaths thinking that you will be able to keep breathing without a struggle tomorrow.

But it never goes away. Medication can help manage it for some people. Therapy can help manage it. Learning strategies to cope like cognitive behavioral therapy can help manage it. But it never. goes. away.

Robin Williams’ death and the circumstances surrounding it serve as a stark reminder that we must address this problem as a national public health issue, just as Philip Seymour Hoffman’s death reminds us that we must address addiction as a national public health issue. But in the meantime, until our policymakers get off their collective asses and start doing something about depression, here’s what I have for you. And here is where Judaism informs my approach. When I am in pain nowadays, when that low, rational voice is telling me that I’d be better off dead, I turn to G-d as well as to my friends. I cry out for help instead of holding it in. I pray. And when I see someone else in this kind of pain, it is a mitzvah to reach out to them and help.

If you have a friend in pain, reach out to them. Reach out to them. Reach out to them. Send them a note, an e-mail, give them a hug or a phone call. Take them to a movie or out to lunch. Don’t let them struggle alone in the endless black hole of suck that is depression. And don’t be fooled by their shiny happy exterior – it’s a front. Let them know you’re here. Let them know you care. Let them know they matter. And say it again, and again, and again, because depression can be louder than you are.

If you are in this kind of pain, if you think that ending it would be better than going on, if you can’t see the point any more, please, please get some help. Please reach out. Please call a suicide helpline -http://www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org/ even has an online chat program if you can’t handle a phone call. But don’t wait. Don’t give up.

Because my life is better because you’re in it.

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http://abcnews.go.com/International/wireStory/palestinians-quit-gaza-talks-israel-show-24917164

Apparently another ceasefire is in effect for 72 hours from Sunday morning at midnight.

Hamas wants an end to the blockade in order to extend this truce. Israel wants Hamas to disarm and won’t lift the blockade due to the risk of arms smuggling if they do.

And, of course, there’s still that little problem where Hamas wants to eradicate Israel and all Jews.

So I’m not celebrating yet, and I’m not holding my breath.

 

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Friday Feature: What Are You Thankful For This Week?

It’s time for the Friday Feature again, where I ask you what good things happened to you this week. This is direct from Telushkin’s Book of Jewish Values, Day 69.

This is a regular Friday morning feature for this blog. Telushkin intended his book to provide topics for Shabbat discussions for at least a year, as each “week” is composed of six values (one per day) and then Shabbat, where he encourages us to talk about those values at our Shabbat dinners and services. I feel that the idea of gratitude is so central to Jewish practice that we should be reminded weekly of what we might be grateful for.

While I know that this might seem a little self-centered, I’m also doing this so that people will have some food for thought for their own Shabbat dinners about what they might be thankful for. I generally talk about the following areas of my life: work and career; family and friends; health; household; my conversion studies; miscellaneous life; and the wider world. Feel free to add or subtract as necessary for your own use.

 


This week, I’m thankful that I finished my lit review and presentation slides for the conference coming up in one week. I’m thankful that the job interview I had on Tuesday produced an offer for an eight-week online course in the fall (later in the fall, so I can train for their system and set up the course well in advance). I’m thankful that I am feeling almost ready to start applying for full-time positions again, which is a place I wasn’t sure I would ever come back to after last year’s experience of being on the job market.

I’m thankful that my younger daughter has a great day planned with her friends for her birthday today, even if it means I don’t get to see her (there was a miscommunication, and I’m not going to derail her party with her friends). I’m thankful that my partner has had another story published this morning and that he’s working on a new one. I’m thankful that I got to see several friends again this week, including my co-author for that conference paper. I’m thankful that my partner has the day off and can spend the day with me. I’m thankful that my best friend is safe on the ground in Philadelphia after a two-week trip to Europe and will be home soon. And I’m glad that our friends from Chicago made it here safely and that we have a great day planned tomorrow with them.

I’m glad that my health is doing all right and that I’ve been able to walk better than 5,000 steps a couple of times this week (for me, that’s a lot). I’m thankful that we have healthful food in the house and that I can cook. I’m thankful that today is Shabbat and I can make a grand dinner for us for tonight. I’m thankful that the bills are paid.

I’m very glad to have heard back from the new rabbi and to have an appointment with him for next Wednesday. I’m glad that I am finally no longer in a mentally dead state and can get back to work on my Hebrew studies. I’m glad that the new rabbi has a structured program for conversion and that it looks like my work schedule will allow me to actually go to the classes.

I am very grateful for the pro-equality court decisions in the past week. I’m grateful that justice was served in the case of the young woman who was shot by a homeowner at point-blank range simply for approaching his house for help after a car accident. I’m thankful that my town elected a gay man as mayor. And I’m thankful that this blog and this blogging community exists.

What are you thankful for as we go into this week’s Shabbat? I’d love to know.

Shabbat Shalom. See you on Sunday.

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I would love to be wrong, but…

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-28687379

There has been a ceasefire since Tuesday. In Cairo, there are attempts to extend it into a long-term truce.

Israel is willing.

Hamas is not.

I would love to be wrong here. I would love for Hamas to prove me wrong here. I would love for my friends to be able to say “I told you so.”

But the other day I said that Hamas will not negotiate. And of the two parties involved here, they are the ones refusing to negotiate or extend the truce.

I wish they would prove me wrong.

I do not approve of what they’re doing. I do not approve of them firing from civilian areas and using civilians as human shields (never mind that it doesn’t meet the UN definition of using people as human shields by force; they fire from civilian areas and thereby make those areas into targets). I do not approve of Israel not trying to find better ways to handle this problem than firing back into civilian areas, but I understand why they’re doing it. I get it that Gaza is a heavily populated area and that civilians have no place to go, but Hamas had the construction materials to create bomb shelters and instead they used that material to create tunnels under the border into Israel. So don’t tell me that they couldn’t have taken care of this. They could have. They chose not to. If they were a legitimate government, they would have built bomb shelters for their population. Instead, they fire off rockets from residential neighborhoods.

As I said, there is no 100% clean place to stand here. But Hamas is not a government. Sure, the Palestinians elected Hamas to run the country, but Hamas is not doing that. They are not providing food, water, shelter, or safety for the citizens of Gaza – quite to the contrary. So don’t tell me that they were legitimately elected and that therefore they are the government of Gaza. They’re not behaving like a government. If they were, they’d provide their citizens with food, water, shelter, jobs, air-raid sirens, and bomb shelters. They’re not doing any of that, now are they? No. They’re behaving like what they are – a terrorist organization propped up by Qatar and other Arabic states that want Israel wiped off the map. They are putting the citizens of Gaza on ground zero and ignoring the real human consequences while exploiting those consequences for political gain around the world.

Also, let’s not forget that the Arabic nations were entirely supportive of Hitler’s efforts to eradicate the Jews. That’s also an issue here. History does not go away just because the current situation is horrible.

Again, the Palestinians are caught in this crossfire. That is horrific and unacceptable. But let’s also be clear here: Hamas has the ability to stop this, and it is refusing to do so.

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About Israel and Palestine and Hamas.

I know that for many people in the blogosphere, the issue of what’s going on in Israel is black-and-white, a struggle for freedom by a subjugated people against a big bad nasty evil government that has superior firepower and military strength. Subjugated people in the form of Palestinians in Gaza: check. Evil government in the form of the Israeli government that is dropping bombs on innocent civilians in Gaza: check. Hamas as freedom-fighters for the subjugated Palestinian people in Gaza and the West Bank: check. That’s the narrative. Oh, and let’s add in here: Israeli government refusing to negotiate with those freedom-fighters, which makes it even worse and more despotic and so forth. Check.

If you read most news right now, that’s the story you’re being told about what’s going on in Gaza.

But let me ask you this: does the fact that nearly all of the nations which surround Israel (except for Egypt and, possibly, Jordan) want Israel wiped off the map because it is a Jewish state matter in this black-and-white debate? Hamas is yet another iteration of Arabic terrorism against Jews and another attempt to eliminate Israel as a nation. Does that matter? Does it matter that Palestine was offered 95% of the land they wanted as well as independent statehood, and rejected it because the offer did not include the elimination of Israel as a nation?

Also, please note the distinctions between “Israelis” and “Jews,” as well as the distinctions between “Hamas” and “Palestinians.” If you fail to make these distinctions, I’m going to dismiss what you have to say. Not all Israelis are Jews. Not all Jews are Israelis. Not all Jews who are Zionists are okay with what’s going on in Gaza. Not all Palestinians are supporters of Hamas.

This is not a black-and-white issue. It can’t be.

There’s also the fact that Hamas is hiding munitions in civilian spaces on purpose, to create civilian deaths when Israel moves to eliminate those munitions, as good, bloody, splashy, horrific PR for Hamas’ side.

I am NOT okay with civilian deaths in Palestine. I am not okay with death generally. I am not okay with war. But I don’t see a way out of this that preserves Israel as a state and also preserves the lives of the people in Gaza unless Hamas agrees to stand down and get out of Gaza, which it’s already made clear that it will not do.

I also see this as fundamentally different from other scenarios where a small group of “freedom fighters” fight against a large, established nation. Normally, that nation is not surrounded by other nations that want it to disappear. Israel is. You can blather on that Hamas is fighting the big bad Israeli monster, but that monster pales compared to the monsters Israel has to fight (every Arabic nation except Egypt and possibly Jordan, for starters).

Let’s be clear, here: Hamas is not a set of freedom fighters struggling to liberate a subjugated people. It is an opportunistic terrorist group that is using a subjugated people as cannon fodder to make itself look like a set of freedom fighters. The Palestinians are the main victims here – that’s not in dispute. But Hamas also has Israel over a barrel because Hamas will not negotiate.

Meanwhile, the international community is coming down on Israel for not being open to a peaceful solution. Well, until Hamas (and the neighbor Arab states surrounding Israel) give up their demand that Israel cease to exist, there can be no peaceful solution here. And folks, that is not Israel’s fault. If I told you “The only negotiation token I’ll accept is if you agree to commit suicide and cease to exist,” it’s not your fault if you reject it. You would be crazy if you didn’t.

There is no good, 100% clean place to stand here. I cannot support the elimination of Israel. But by supporting Israel’s right to exist, I appear to also support the deaths of Palestinian civilians who have been placed in harm’s way by Hamas. I do not support their deaths. But those who support the Palestinians also, by definition, appear to support Hamas.

Let’s be clear here. Hamas is to blame for this entire situation. It is Hamas and its supporters who could easily end this if they would accept the presence of a Jewish state in the region and a two-state solution for Gaza and the West Bank. It is not the Palestinians’ fault. They don’t deserve what’s happening to them. But what is happening to them is Hamas’ fault (and the fault of all of its supporters in the area).

So, don’t be a supporter of Hamas, please. If you are, I will think less of you. Support the Palestinians all you like and I’ll agree with you. I support a two-state solution in Gaza and the West Bank. But be aware that Hamas does not support a two-state solution, and it never will support a two-state solution. And factor that fact into your position when you post on this topic.

So, given that Hamas will not negotiate – keep that in mind, now – and that their ultimate goal is the elimination of Israel as a politically recognized state – again, for Hamas this is not negotiable – what, exactly, would you do as the Israeli government? Before you answer, consider that most of the Arabic states that surround Israel also want Israel wiped off the map. Also consider that many Israelis are not Jews.

Tougher than it looks, isn’t it?

Please stop making sweeping condemnations of Israel for what’s going on in Israel. Yes, what is happening to Palestinians should not be happening. Yes, it’s awful. But the fact is, Hamas will not negotiate, and Hamas is setting Palestinians up to be targeted by using civilian locations like schools, and hospitals, and mosques for the storage of arms and armaments, while also telling Palestinians to ignore Israel’s bombing warnings and refusing to give Palestinians any sort of safe shelters (although it could have and has not). Short of a full-on ground invasion of Gaza and the arrest of every last member of Hamas (which is kind of like trying to spear every last bit of Jell-O with a fork – try it sometime), what else is Israel supposed to do here? Roll over and die? I have not seen any viable suggestions, only condemnations. A suggestion that they should negotiate with Hamas fails from the get-go because HAMAS WILL NOT NEGOTIATE HERE.

So given that Hamas will not negotiate, what’s your solution? When you have one, let me know.

And in the meantime, please acknowledge the full reality of the situation, instead of supporting a terrorist group that created this situation in the first place.

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