An Upbeat Take on Elul

Adam:

It’s Elul. It’s leading up to the High Holy Days. This song by the Maccabeats really speaks to me (thanks to Rabbi Adar at Coffee Shop Rabbi for posting it!) because it isn’t just about, or even mainly about, beating ourselves up for what we’ve done wrong. It’s also about mindfulness – about being aware and paying attention. It’s about noticing the person struggling with the stroller and the toddler as they try to descend the steep steps. It’s about giving joyfully to the street musician as he’s busking. It’s about participating in Jewish life – and in life more generally – wholeheartedly, unreservedly, noticing our fellow human beings and reaching out a hand to help.

May we all have a mindful, solemn, and yes, joyful Elul as we approach the New Year and the Days of Awe.

Originally posted on Coffee Shop Rabbi:

Feeling downbeat after a week of soul-searching? Feeling discouraged, knowing that there are three more weeks to Rosh HaShanah?  Here’s a video that both celebrates the joy of the coming new year and speaks to the task of making ourselves new in time for it:

It’s a classic from the Maccabeats. Enjoy!

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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.


Shabbat ShalomToday I have an enormous amount to be grateful for, both from the past week and going into the new week. 

I have been offered a class at a new school, and the hiring paperwork meeting will be this coming week, which will get that squared away and get me started on an online class for the last half of the semester. I’ve also got many students petitioning to add my classes, which is admittedly a big ego boost for me. And I’ve finished my first full week of classes, mostly unscathed! And I’ve been told I’ll have a full schedule in the spring at at least one school, which is also fantastic news.

My partner and I have moved towards our marriage plans – tentatively, but it’s still motion towards. My kids were here last weekend and that was simply lovely; the older one was a huge help with chores and the younger, although laid up with a sprained foot, was wonderful company. Tonight my partner is going to go with me to temple and the pre-service oneg, which has me very excited that he’s showing interest in my conversion. 

My health seems to be all right. Even though I’ve had a bad backache, I can still move and do what needs to be done, which is a good thing. 

I got in four hours of cleaning in my home today, including (finally) deep-cleaning the bathroom where our late cat, Mimi, had lived before she had to be put down. I have had trouble going in there but today I finally got it taken care of, which is an accomplishment. It’s now a usable bathroom again. I’m trying out a new smaller reduction of my challah recipe to see if it will work in the little pan. A half reduction still rose wayyy outside the pan edge when I last tried it, which resulted in a mountain of bread with a little challah on top. If this one works (I reduced my original recipe into one-third), I’ll take this small loaf with me to the oneg tonight and cook a larger one for here at home – or, maybe, the other way around. Who knows? (Edited to add: It worked! Exactly the right amount of dough for that pan. I’m making a second one as I write this, to take to the oneg. Whee!)

I’m also considering finding repurposed items to use as ritual items, instead of spending money on spendy items that I can’t afford. I am not sure what I’d repurpose for a Havdalah candle-holder, but I can see repurposing a spice jar as a Havdalah spice-box, for example. Some of my ritual items are already repurposed; most notably, a goblet a friend of mine gave me is my Kiddush cup. 

Now that my preps are done and my classes have started, I can start really working on my Hebrew studies again. That starts this coming week, with actual scheduled time for me to spend on it every single day. No more shirking!

I am very thankful for the new cease-fire in Gaza and the intimations that a longer peace may be coming. Long may it hold. 

What are you thankful for this week?

Shabbat shalom! I’ll see you on Sunday, most likely.


 

Image credit: “Shabbat Shalom” by Karen on Flickr: “Shabbat Shalom” by Karen at Flickr:http://preview.tinyurl.com/lbayfzu Used under Creative Commons License.  

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August 29, 2014 · 1:08 pm

Something I didn’t expect…

2 Elul 5774

When I was a (technical) atheist, I used to get really offended when bigots would use G-d to justify their hate. I found it offensive not just because it was hate, but because their reason for being hateful was so completely illogical to me. 

I didn’t expect it to become more offensive when I became religious, but it did. Today, my partner asked me if I’d heard about this: 

Pastor calls to imprison gays for ‘ten years hard labor’ with new constitutional amendment

Of course I had. And I was livid. My partner said “How can people believe that G-d believes that?”

And out of my mouth came words I did not expect. “That’s not the G-d I believe in, that’s for sure.”

For me that’s a sea-change. It used to be I was offended because they had a non-logical reason for their hate. But now, I’m offended because they’re besmirching the G-d I believe in, and love, and worship, and find meaningful. How dare they? How dare they take my G-d, or even their imitation of my G-d, and denigrate him that way? Who does that?

Hateful people, of course. They’ll do whatever they have to do to justify their hate. 

I just find it very sad that one of the things they do is drag G-d through the mud to justify their hate. 

I find that very, very sad. 

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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.


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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