Many thoughts about the world, meditation, parenting, Judaism, pregnancy, teaching, cancer survivorship, moving from West Coast to East and more.

Sunday, April 25, 2021

A Calm COVID Sunday

It's a quiet rainy day today, perfect for keeping me focused on household things like cleaning instead of eagerly wanting to rush out and spend my energy. 

All is generally well in my immediate world -- no crises of my own, but between my Caring Bridge updates, the awareness of some suffering that a friend at work is going through and an email I got last night from someone special who has lost a dear one to COVID, I feel acutely aware of pain floating in the halo around my own world. 

I am often affected by others suffering. Sometimes it activates me. Other times I'm crippled by it or become tense in its vicinity. Today I'm trying to marinate in the calm of my own home and nurture myself to be a solid witness for others. 

Sunday, February 21, 2021

Purim and Simcha during COVID

A year ago on the Jewish calendar, our world turned upside-down. We expected this to a certain degree. The month of Adar that brings in the celebration of Purim, is a month that commemorates the euphoria of the overturning of a death sentence when Haman is hung on the gallows he built for us. “Vehanofochu”-- upside-downness -- is the theme of the day.

Last year’s Adar, however, was also accompanied by another turning upside-down. As before a hurricaneor snowstorm, people hoarded toilet paper, prescriptions, food and water and listened to the news of the mysterious virus coming closer and closer to our shores. The last large gathering my family attended in 2020 was the Megillah reading. When Naomi and I each took our turn to read aloud to the congregation, we watched our friend sanitizing the yad, the small pointer used to help us keep our spot while chanting aloud the story of Esther and her triumph, a tiny gesture that would be magnified in the coming weeks as we learned to wipe down everything we touched.

The next day at school was costume day. Administrators filled the day with programming for the 
students while we teachers met in panicked meetings, deciding what assignments to send home. The Jewish day schools were waiting for the final say on whether we’d go on lock down, no one knowing how long. It could be a week or two, maybe more, we were told, and we quickly copied papers and stuffed them into folders for our students. There was an online program called Zoom we would be using to direct our students towards their work. We were offered a video to help us learn its features.

How little we knew about the changes coming. Since that time, the entire world has learned new ways of living, adjusted to changes in our life and has adopted the annoying catchphrase “new normal.” In my own school we taught out the remainder of the school year on Zoom, and my family mourned the cancelation of summer camp and visits to both sets of grandparents. We nested at home, learned how to function online, set a new rhythm of visiting friends outdoors and made decisions about what outings were safe enough, or warranted risk, or weren’t important anymore.

My colleagues, friends, and I have all been coping with this in different ways. For me, I’m fine most of the time, until I’m not, and sometimes have just shut down thoroughly in a state of trauma, becoming distracted or tired suddenly the way I did after the day, years ago, when my house was broken into, or like the time I was attacked by a dog.

In this month of Adar, when we are asked to express joy, there are some who just aren’t feeling it. I know it feels phony, sometimes, to smile when there is so much pain, uncertainty, and fear. It’s not uncommon to hear the metaphor of wearing an actor’s mask — showing the world your happy face while inside you only feel a frown.

Purim, though, celebrates the wearing of masks and turns it into something holy. We wear costumes that have the potential to translate a part of our inner selves into the language of the outside world for all to see. If we show what is inside of us, it is entirely possible we will show our pain. However, isn’t it also possible that the smile we’ve been showing on the outside, could also then be directed inwards and, with the fire of true joy, actually ignite something so that true joy is on the inside too?

Happiness and joy are not the same. Happiness is a feeling that implies everything going right and us being grateful for all that is good. Joy — simcha — is about something that is more nuanced and deeper. Joy is the realization from deep in the gut that the world still is, regardless of anything that has come in the way. A simcha, besides meaning joy, is the name for a celebration — a wedding, a birth, a bar or bat mitzvah. These days inevitably include some sense of loss… the ancestors who aren’t there to celebrate with us, the knowledge that this day comes only once, the wisdom in knowing that none of us will live forever and that’s precisely why this moment matters. One Simchat Torah — a day whose very name is about simcha — I danced with the Torah on behalf of my friend who I knew was dying. I dance with the Torah every year, but that year it meant more. Sorrow + the continuation of life’s cycles = Simcha.

There is no contradiction in celebrating during a pandemic or in being commanded to find joy on the day that might have marked our destruction. In this year, many have died and all of us have suffered. This is the very thing that will make us sing louder, pray harder and dance more.

Thursday, October 22, 2020

Remission Anniversary #17

Life during COVID starts to feel routine: the mask wearing, smearing of purell of cracking hands, obsession and tension of listening to the news. I never thought I'd adjust to returning to school, but we're doing it.

There are times, though, when it feels like the earth has cracked open beneath my feet. 

My dad had surgery on Monday. It was necessary because of the radiation he 22 years ago when he had cancer. It saved his life, but eventually wore down his heart. So this week they opened up his heart to fix it. 

He survived.

And 17 years ago today was the day my doctor said I was in remission from cancer. 

I had survived.

Most of the time, we just live out our routines, with or without drama. This week is different for me. I'm getting up in the morning, teaching, going home, but I feel like I do it while balancing on a tightrope over a canyon that somehow wasn't opened before. 

Opening up. A canyon. A heart. 

Holding onto a rope. 

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Shofar

It's always fitting that the month of Elul and the beginning of the school year align. Elul is a time of returning to Gd as we prepare for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. It's a time to re-commit to what we know to be true, and to lay bare our vulnerabilities.

Returning to the classroom brings the same drive. If a person doesn't feel vulnerable and afraid with the abstract concept of facing Gd, they certainly can while counting down the minutes to prepare a classroom, welcome a new set of students and preparing to face any number of challenges and tension that a new school year has in store. 

This year is no different, but the stakes are higher. It's so much harder to plan now, what will the year look like? What sudden shifts will we need to make? What an awesome responsibility to be a captain on a ship in these waters for a group of vulnerable children who might not only be afraid of the voyage, but might demonstrate their anxiety in all sorts of ways that make the navigation that much more challenging.

In 30 minutes I'll be "back at school" but starting the day from my couch and attending first meetings on Zoom. Strange. I'll go to school but be asked to distance from colleagues. Strange. I will bring back with me some of the books I brought home when we went virtual, but not many of them. I don't want to have to lug them back again afterwards. Strange.

I'm also blowing shofar daily for myself and family, driving our experience of Elul and drawing down strength from above. Not so strange. 

But powerful. 

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Saturday, August 22, 2020

How To Be A Teacher During the Summer of 2020

Step 1: Collapse

Despite all your years, and all of your experience, you started from scratch, you gave it your all during the time of year when you were supposed to be winding down. You deserve this.


Step 2: Veg

Whatever way works for you...


Step 3: Worry

If you aren’t good at this, try taking stock every day of every symptom you might have. Make sure to read articles about well-meaning selfless people contracting the disease and dying fast.


Step 4: Commiserate

Make sure every conversation includes words and phrases from the following menu:

“What is the _____________(Governor/principal/president/camp office) thinking?”

“How am I supposed to... 

Mask

Plexiglass

Social distancing

Antibodies

Fatality


Step 5: Revisit steps 3 and 4. 


Step 6: Learn

You’ve provided yourself on professional development courses or classes every summer. You need it again more than ever. 


Step 7: Practice

Classes taken, what new skills do you need? Schoology? Google Tools? 


Step 8: Reignite

Visit Pinterest such as the beautiful beach scene classroom created by the teacher who put colorful umbrellas on top of the new plexiglass surrounded desks. Don’t read the downer wet blanket comments from people who are still on Step 4.


Step 9: Inspire

Don’t let someone else put out your flame. Share your enthusiasm with others. Fake it until you make it if you’re still lagging behind. Commit to protecting your own health as you blaze forward.


Step 10: Teach

This is what you’re made for. This is what you love. This is what is needed.


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Tuesday, August 18, 2020

End of August

 My former writing group invited me back for an August Write-A-Thon. Write something every day. I'm sharing this one here:


End of August

Yesterday I saw an airplane, the kind of airplane I usually would have boarded by now to visit my parents across the country. 

Tonight I went for a walk on my street, the same neighborhood I’ve walked almost every day for the past six months. I heard crickets, the same kind of cricket sounds I usually hear by now when we meet up with my college roommate from out of state and go camping, a camping trip we promised ourselves annually as soon as I moved to the east.

Just now I had a hug, a hug I’m grateful for, from my husband, the only person allotted to giving them to me right now. 

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Sunday, July 22, 2018

Tisha B'Av 5778

Today is Tisha B'Av. Today I'll be fasting and remembering Jewish tragedies of all kinds from destruction of temple and subsequent exile thousands of years ago to the recent horrors of the Holocaust.

There are some things I really appreciate about this day. I appreciate finding my place in the line of history and knowing my life is a miracle after so many times Jews might have been wiped out. I appreciate honoring individuals who might not be remembered otherwise. I appreciate that we concentrate all of our tragedy into one day instead of spreading it too much throughout the year. Difficult as it is, I appreciate the reminder that hatred exists towards Jews today as well.

I have some questions too, though. When we as a people focus on our victimhood, what does that do to our collective psyche? At times it takes us to the place of healing the world when we are bidden to treat others well because "you were slaves in Egypt." At other times I think we use our history to fuel distrust and anger towards those on the outside of our community because we feel they threaten us. If we think about ourselves as victims, do we neglect the suffering of other groups?

It's a real balancing act, to be united with your family, and yet also to allow ourselves to open and risk vulnerability to those outside the family.

Is this true in all communities? Not just Jewish, but Muslim communities as well? Christian communities? Atheist? What about political communities?

Catching up...

Once again it's been a ridiculously long time since I've posted. This time I partly want to blame a technically problem I was having through Blogger.

That said, I want to shift my use of this blog at least a little. The Bergen County chapter of Sisterhood of Salaam Shalom is going strong. We are trying to use our private Facebook page too as a way to stay connected and keep communicating big ideas together. In the past I've used my blog with mostly a Jewish audience in mind, but now I want to think of it sometimes with my Sisterhood in mind as my audience. Should I start a new SoSS blog? Probably. But right now I like having all of my posts in one place. I'll ask my group about that. 

Today I want to post something about Tisha B'Av, knowing that my Muslim sisters may read this and will need different background knowledge or will have different associations than my Jewish audience does. 

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Action #39: Unexpected encounter

We just came back from a wonderful Thanksgiving away in Washington D.C. We did all kinds of wonderful things:
* The National Archives (highlight of which was not seeing the Constitution, but instead, seeing Charles Ingalls' Homestead Receipt.
* The Newseum
* Saw Changing of the Guard at Arlington Cemetery
* Best of all, watched A Christmas Carol  at Ford's Theater.

What came unexpected was Shabbat afternoon. I was taking some time to rest and sit by myself in the lobby of the hotel, reading. A woman greeted me and we started to talk. Turns out she wasn't even staying at the hotel... just needed a place to rest since the hostel where she was staying didn't have much leisure room. She was a retired diplomat visiting from the Congo with a group of women. These woman regularly find children on the street, ask who their mothers are, and then give those mothers $8 to start a business so they can get the children off the street. She helps child soldiers, prostitutes, gang members and other homeless children. She and her friends were in town to speak to the U.N. about being more proactive about engaging forces to stop fighting in the civil war, instead of reactive by trying to clean up messes from it. Her meeting was a disappointment. Trump has no one appointed that can help her at this point, not even an ambassador.

She was selling bracelets that some of the women she worked with had made to raise money. I told her that if she was still there after Shabbat, I would buy from her. A Christian herself, she understood that, and told me what she knew about Judaism from her pastor. And sure enough, I was able to buy two bracelets from her. 

Such a stark contrast from the things I'd been engaging in.  I wear those bracelets now to give me perspective, and to share her story if anyone asks about them. (So far, there has been one inquiry.)

Action #38: Salaam Shalom Conference

It was awesome.

Exhausting too. Came away with new appreciation for our group and with ideas of how to better our own chapter.

Action #37: Conference Call for Tzedakah/Sadaqa Event

I'm not going to write a lot about this now...