Chanukah & The Inner Battle

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It’s a truly amazing and mind-boggling fact that every year on and around Chanukah I get more materialistic. I all of a sudden obsess over things that most of the year don’t burden me. For example, why is it that every year around Chanukah, I suddenly hate my makeup regimen and need to change it? Why am I suddenly convinced that my downtime should be spent looking up makeup tutorials on YouTube and ordering new makeup on Amazon? Why do I suddenly feel a strong desire to “amp up” my look, one that had previously not bothered me? I can assure you, as much of a girly-girl as I am, I do not think about this much most of the year. Usually, its just same old, same old, apply makeup, buy more from CVS when I run out and repeat. Same with clothes, hair, weight. However, suddenly Chanukah arrives and I find myself obsessing.

Let me take a step back. Like clockwork, every year, right around Chanukah, I suddenly get this one-track mind about improving my external self. I remember last year when the light bulb about this first went off. I realized that I was suddenly much more interested in beauty tips, makeup etc than I was most of the year. That was when I realized it was Chanukah and that it had been Chanukah the previous year when I was began immersing myself into this stuff too.

Then this year, a few days ago I started thinking about upping my make-up game…and my sheitel…and my nails…and my wardrobe. Slowly this became more and more on my mind – until today. Today I was home with my kids, and I wanted to watch a makeup tutorial (something I probably haven’t done since last year) when I remembered it was Chanukah. “Maybe I should listen to a shiur instead,” I thought and then Aha! The lightbulb, previously lit last year, went on. It’s Chanukah! What hadn’t I thought of this before?? Let me explain…

In the time of the Chanukah miracle, the Jews lived under the rule of the Greeks. The Greeks at this time worshipped one thing – the human body. They had statues displaying naked men, muscular and strong, the epitome of excellence in their culture, and they had battles, between man and man, celebrating the physical strength of the victor. Their whole culture and belief system revolved around the idea that those of greatest physical strength and external beauty were to be glorified, while all else was to be discarded. For the first time in Jewish history, it was not just about killing Jews, but about influencing them to believe as they did- not in a spiritual being, but in a human being. The true battle of Chanukah was one of the physical versus the spiritual.

 

Jews confronted the problem in their own lives; were they to be drawn in to the culture around them – one glorifying physicality and externality – or were they to stay committed to their previous ideals – one that emphasized a spiritual and internal connection over all else?

This problem is not so different than the one we face today.

For myself, I don’t have an easy answer to this. And I’m not looking for one. Rather I like so see it as an awareness. An awareness that we are constantly living on a battle ground. One where we are pulled both towards physicality and spirituality, almost simultaneously.

On Chanukah, for me at least, Hashem makes my battle super apparent. There is an understanding that during each holiday, the energy that illuminated the world during the time that holiday originated, becomes present again. Apparently for me, the energy of that battle – the inner one that the Jews themselves faced in that time – resides over me.

Perhaps all of us have this “much more obvious inner-dance” around Chanukah. Maybe we all find ourselves being drawn to the YouTube channels on fashion rather than to the TorahAnytime shiur during these 8 holy days. I don’t know.

All I know is:

1. How crazy is it that this happens literally every year?!

2. The greatest way to self-transformation is to struggle. So each year, at least for now, my physical side and my spiritual side will do a dance. Sometimes my physical side will win. Sometimes my spiritual side will win. For now, for me, thats OK. Just so long as I’m aware. (Oh and that I look good while doing it 😉 )

 

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A little note on how it all started…

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When I first started this blog, I was hoping to do a few things. I always loved writing and I had this passion to help girls – to show them how valuable and worthwhile they are. I also had recently come back from seminary in Israel, and wanted to connect what I knew about self-esteem to Torah. And that was how it began.

I felt like (and still do feel) my purpose is to help girls learn to love themselves. Not in the cliched way I see is so popular now (not to say these people are insincere), discussing self-love, because it’s a pop-culture word now. But in a deep and meaningful way I have, since I was a little girl felt that this was a purpose and calling I was given. I decided from a young age, that many of the experiences I went through were for the purpose of one day drawing on these experiences to help others. I don’t know where I first  got this notion, except to say that it has been fueling and propelling me towards this goal ever since. I continuously feel, after going through an experience, it will now just help me help others.

Hashem made me, thank God, very human. What I mean by this is, that I feel many things and I think about many things. I am extremely (maybe to a fault) aware of other people, their emotions, their reactions, and how it all relates to me. This intense awareness, sometimes leads me to be overly emotional, insecure, worried, or anxious. It also, however, makes me knowledgeable…I understand how it feels to feel. I understand what it looks like to want too much out of life or yourself. I am deeply and consciously aware of the human experience. I relate to much of it (even events I myself haven’t experienced) in a concrete and real way. I understand people’s experiences of self…a lot of times, because I too have experienced them. And while many of us experience our self and how we relate to the world and others, not everyone reflects on these experiences, internalizes them, and finds growth opportunities within them.

After all these years of storing up experiences, I actually do find that I relate to many girls who come to speak to me. All different types of girls, from the “cool girl” to the “intellectual”. I find that when they open up about their feelings about themselves and their internal world, I relate.Like I said, I’m very human.

Home Is A Sanctuary : A Passover Tale

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A few months ago, I was at a new friends house for Shabbas. After we lit the Shabbas candles and sat down to shmooze, I noticed that on the inside of their front door was a piece of yellow “danger” tape with the words “Chametz” written on it. When I inquired as to why they had it, she said it was just a joke, but to me, it was genius.

On Passover, chametz is the “no-good thing” we cant have. It’s the “keep away from or else.” It’s so clearly “dangerous” during this time of the year, that we want to make no mistakes of reminding ourselves – in big, bold letters – that this is not for us and to stay away.

Seeing chametz written on her door like that made me think…what if we all had “chametz,” written on our doors? What if that little piece of danger tape was there to remind us of the stark contrast between “out there” and “in here.”

In the first few moments of Shabbas, with the light of the candles illuminating the room I felt in complete understanding of the meaning of “chametz out there” and “sanctity in here.”

We know, that our homes are meant to be sanctuaries. They are supposed to be little havens of holiness away from everything else. In any home, this should be true, and in a Jewish home, all the more so.

According to the Torah, our home is a sanctuary. It’s a place of peace, harmony, and connectedness. In our homes, we illuminate our children with stories of special people and beautiful songs. When our spouses come home, we speak to them with kindness and respect. We live like the daughters and sons of a king. While out there we coexist, but while in here, we create.

There was a time where the message, “chametz is out there, but holiness is in here,” stood out in complete vividness to me. It was actually the first time I was ever in a religious Jewish home. I was in college in Indiana, on a campus of fraternities and sororities, football teams and cheerleaders. To me, this was normal life and I’d gotten used to it. But one day I was invited to the Rabbi’s house. It was a Thursday night and I went with a friend to speak with him about Birthright trips.

I’ll never forget walking into that house. In the middle of a college campus in Indiana, right across the street from my old freshman dorm, was a home of a religious Jewish family living just as they would be anywhere else. The Rabbi invited us into his kitchen, where his wife was kneading challah dough. The smell of the challah wafted into my nose and the warmth from the oven radiated around me. They offered us hot cocoa and we settled into a window seat around their kitchen table. The house was quiet, their children asleep in the back rooms. I remember thinking how simple the house was, and yet, there was something beautiful about it.

In that moment, something in me changed. I felt like Alice in Wonderland falling down the rabbit hole. I had somehow stepped outside of one realm and into another. All around me had been nothing but college students and keg parties, or so I thought. Little did I know, there on IU’s campus, was also a home. A real home.

I had never met these people before, but to me, their home felt like my home. It was instantly the most comforting place I’d stepped onto on campus. Right outside their door, on a late Thursday night, there was partying and craziness, but inside, there was only peace.

The beauty of a Jewish home is that wherever they are in the world, among any type of people, the house is a beacon of light. A home is to be filled with love, comfort, kindness, and holiness. In a Jewish home we embrace what we believe among people who may not. We bring in messages that speak to the people we want to be and we live in accordance with that hope. In this way, we remind ourselves, there may be chametz outside, but in here there’s only light.

5 Ways to Gratitude

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Inside our busy lives, we may forget to notice all the precious gifts we are given each day. By developing an attitude of gratitude, we not only enhance the positivity in our lives, but we also strengthen our connection to our Creator.

Say Thank You

To develop an attitude of gratitude, it’s a good idea to “up” your thank you quota. This should be done in two ways; both in quantity and quality. To become a master gratituder, you should look for opportunities to say thank you. This can mean at the supermarket, in the bank, or on a service call. However, it can also mean by looking for areas you might normally take for granted. If your husband offers to help put the kids to sleep, while it might be his “job” too, say thank you. If your parents always call to say Good Shabbos, say thank you. If a neighbor hosts a class in their home that you attend regularly, say thank you. If you feel silly, remember that it’s not about the one receiving the thank you, its about the one giving it. Quantity, however, is only one way to enhance your gratitude. Quality is another. When you say thank you to the person bagging your groceries in the supermarket, how much are you really thinking about what you are saying? Dwell on the fact that without their help, the process would take much longer and you would be doing more work on your own. After taking it to heart, then say thank you. Not only will it be more genuine, but you gratitude attitude will double.

Schedule Gratitude Moments

To avoid the phenomenon of getting swept up in life without taking time to “smell the roses,” begin setting a timer on your phone. Have it go off twice a day and in that moment think of all the things you are grateful for. Make it specific to that moment. Many times we make sweeping statements of our gratitude, pertaining to things like family, health, etc. While these things are important, we forget to recognize the immediate gifts in our lives. By taking a minute or two throughout the day to express your gratitude, you tap into a deep and more present sensation of what you are grateful for in the moment. It might be that you are driving safely or that you are on time. It may be that you are eating and becoming nourished for the day. Whatever it is, these scheduled gratitude moments help you to find the positives in your life in the present moment.

Avoid Complaining or Passing Judgement

This might be an obvious one, but when we complain or pass judgment we are allowing ourselves to internalize the negative. Instead of seeing the wonderful gifts in our lives, we are dwelling in the mucky,more we complain ugly reality of that which we don’t like. In doing so, we are developing an attitude opposite of gratitude. The more we complain, the more
we bring that reality into sight. It is nearly impossible to be both grateful for the gifts in our lives while at the same time finding everything that’s wrong. In order to be more grateful, we have to turn off the complaint switch and tap into our well of positivity. When we do so, we realize all the good that surrounds us and become overwhelmed with gratitude.

Write in a Gratitude Journal

One of the stand-by methods for promoting gratitude is to use a Gratitude Journal. Each night, before bed think of all the events of your day and look for everything you can thank Hashem for. Be as specific as possible. By actually writing down what we’re grateful for, we accomplish two things. We create a structure to our gratefulness work, by making it something we do each night, but also we internalize the feeling of gratitude by writing it down. Just like when studying for a test, writing notes promotes our memory, by writing out what we are grateful for we remember longer and intensify our understanding!

Get a “Gratitude Partner”

Sort of like the buddy system from our earlier days, your less likely to “ get lost” or in this case, go off track, when you have a buddy looking out for you. If tackling the challenge of gratitude seems like a difficult task, look for a partner, someone who also wants to work on gratitude. Check in with each other and ask if they filled in their gratitude journals that day, kept to their gratitude moments, and said authentic thank yous. When you have a partner, you are more likely to stick to your plan. And when it’s all said and done, don’t forget to thank them too!

Article originally printed in FYI Magazine.

How To Fail Successfully

Failure is a part of life. It is an inevitable reality of existing in the inconsistent world that we do. On a practical level, it is impossible to be successful at everything. On a metaphysical level, if not for failure, where would our trust in God come from? Hashem put failure into the fabric of the world so that we would learn the lesson of true Emunah – faith in God. Faith in this way means, recognizing that everything that happens to us is for the good, and that God ultimately has our best interest in mind. This is not to say that because of this our lives are destined to be perfect or even filled with ease. This we know, from the stories of those who suffer tremendously. The guarantee, however, of Hashem looking out for us, does mean He has our best interest in mind.

When we accept and acknowledge that this world was not created as our personal amusement park, but rather as our training grounds to being successful human beings, new light is shed on what we ultimately live for. It is not for our own personal enjoyment, but for our chance to grow. When we see life through this lens, every situation looks a little different than it did before.

There was a job I really wanted. I had gone through two interviews and created a workshop. I created documents and spreadsheets, put in hours of effort, presented to the whole senior class and spent several nights praying that I’d get the job.

After the presentation, I spoke with the principal and although she said nothing concrete, I had an inkling the job had slipped through my fingers. Over the weeks that had passed since my first interview, the other principal, whom I had never met, started having a change of heart about the position. The principal explained this to me, and as my heart sank, I felt the inevitable failure approaching. She said she’d let me know.

I wanted to cry, but as I walked the streets, I told myself, what I had practiced: whatever Hashem wants will happen and this is for the best. I assured myself that I would be okay and that I had done everything I could. Now, I had to wait.fail love

Over the next week, I reminded myself of the many times I hadn’t gotten something I wanted, and how it turned out even better. By the time they sent me the formal email, informing me of my rejection, I had been so practiced in my belief that Hashem knows best, that I wasn’t surprised, just disappointed. Over the next few days, I would think of the failure, and remind myself, everything Hashem does is for the best, and I trust Him.

One day, I was brushing my teeth, and remembered my disappointing reality: I hadn’t got the job. This thought popped into my head several times over the past week or so, but this time, I had a response that shocked even me:

“I’m so glad I had the opportunity to fail that way.”

Over the weeks that followed my failure, I had learned the steps to failing successfully. Better I fail in this and grow as a person, than that I get the job, and remain the same. Failing gave me the rare opportunity to not get something I wanted and to trust Hashem anyway.

When we realize, that failure is not failure, but rather an opportunity to succeed, we create spaces in our lives to go beyond what we thought imaginable. We charge ourselves with the mission to accept that which we can’t control. When we see life this way, we see failure not as rejection, but as a conduit for creating a spiritual success.

My failure helped me to succeed at that which I actually wanted: not success in a physical way, but in a spiritual way, by becoming the best person I can be. Through my failure I succeeded. Who can ask for more than that?

The Secret to Finding Happiness (in Adar)

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In the month of Adar, we are told to increase our simcha, (happiness). There is a slew of reasons as to why we are told do this on this particular month: how it is a month of seeing G-d’s hand in the world and the joy that comes with Purim. Even so, how does one come to happiness? I have found a simple and direct way to lead to this precious thing we call happiness.

Let’s back track. Unfortunately in today’s world there are a lot of unhappy people.  If you ask almost anyone, “are you happy everyday?”, most people will answer that they are not. In Strive for Truth, Rav Dessler explains that after asking all people, from the wealthy, to the middle class, to the poor if they are happy, and finding the resounding “no”, that it would appear that the world is devoid of happiness. If no one from the wealthiest to the poorest person are happy, wouldn’t it then appear that the world just isn’t a happy one?

However, Rav Dessler continues, if the world was created by Hashem and Hashem is all good, then clearly He would not make a world devoid of happiness. Hashem, in fact, made a world of only happiness. If this is true, then it must be we who are extracting ourselves from the happiness of this world and not the other way around. The mishna states that there are three things that take us out of this world: jealousy, lust, and status-seeking. Jealousy is anytime one wishes he had that which his friend has. Lust is anytime one desires more of something they perceive themselves as lacking. Status-seeking is anytime one expects to be granted honor for their position, whether at a job, amongst friends, or just in general. If these three things take us out of this world, out of the world of happiness, then when we leave, we are in a world of suffering and despair. If you look at any recent time you were unhappy, it was probably due to one of these three things. What is common among all three of these examples, is a sense of lack. In other words, a sense that we should have something we don’t. In order to bring us back into this world and back into a state of happiness, we must perceive ourselves as lacking nothing and having everything we need. How do we do that?

Gratitude.

Now, I know you’ve heard this a dozen times and at this point are thinking- gratitude, really? But don’t stop reading because it’s not your typical sort of gratitude.

Many a time when we hear gratitude we begin to sift through the list of things we are grateful for: our home, our health, our family, etc. While all of these things are wonderful, they are not going to help you if what you are currently unhappy about is your small apartment!

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Let’s say you’ve just come home from visiting your friend, Sarah and you can’t stop thinking about her apartment. It’s amazing! It’s big and spacious, and that kitchen- wow! Now all you can think about is how you wish you had an apartment like Sarah’s! If you begin your gratitude list, telling yourself how happy you are for your health, it might work, but it might also leave you thinking- health shmealth, I want a bigger apartment!! Let’s be honest, we’ve all thought this way at one time or another.

In order to bring yourself back into this world, this world filled of only happiness, you will have to switch your gratitude attitude from a general one to a more specific one. Like this: If what you are feeling jealous of is Sarah’s apartment then your mindset should be: “I am grateful for the apartment I do have. It has wonderful natural lighting and is so bright,” or “I am so grateful that I have so much stuff! I have so much stuff, in fact, that it makes my apartment look small, but thank G-d I can afford this much stuff!” or “I am so grateful for my neighborhood. It’s a great neighborhood and I am so lucky to have found an apartment around such awesome people and great restaurants.”

So you see, the gratitude attitude we need when confronting unhappiness is one of parallel equivalence to that which we’re struggling with. We have to say, “I am grateful for that which I perceive myself to be lacking, right now.”

When we do this, we bring ourselves away from our perceived lack and recognize instead what we do have. We bring ourselves back into this world. And, when we’re in this world, we are happy!

Because You’re Worth It

lorealGrowing up I always had some questions: what is my purpose for living? What is the meaning of life? Why on earth do I exist? These questions would swirl around in my head, gnawing at me, as I searched for answers. I didn’t really study up on it much; I just thought about it…a lot. After mind twisting for years, the only answer I was ever able to come up with was this: I was obviously created for a reason, (and my father had explained to me the concept of Tikkun Olam: repairing the world). So I decided that it must be I was supposed to do something important in this world. But to do what? This was still unclear, but I knew I was put here to do something. Here’s the thing though, when one decides this, then the logical conclusion is: If my purpose in this world is contingent on that which I accomplish…then, if I don’t…will I still be worthy?

Unfortunately, many young people today are dealing with this same struggle: wondering what one must do to accomplish their worth. I even remember one person saying to me, that if they don’t accomplish something, they will be worthless. They said, “I’m only worth as much as I do.” If we think this way, where is our self worth along the way? In other words, do we have none, until we accomplish something?

My childhood solution: I was to be famous. That’s right. If my worth was based on actions, what better action than one that would be known by all?

I actually thought that it was just a matter of time before the whole world knew my name. I wasn’t sure for what exactly (writer? model? girl who saved the world?) but I was certain they’d know it. In the meantime though, I was troubled deeply. In what way would I make myself famous? What could I do to set me apart from the rest? This question tormented me because it meant figuring out some talent that would get me to the top. And on top of that, I hadn’t a clue where to start.

When I got to high school, I began to understand my urge for fame more. I realized that at my core, I had a need to be immortal. My definition of immortal could be summed up as one who achieved something worthy of still speaking about them even after they died. It became clear to me that I didn’t care what I did, as long as it linked immortality with my name. Hence, my need to be famous. So this became my “belief system”: if I did not do something worthy of being remembered, and by many, I was not valuable or worthy. As they say in CBT (cognitive behavioral theory) this was my cognitive distortion. I had made it a rule and I intended to live up to this truth.

Fast-forwarding some, I go to college, and I come to the conclusion that, actually, no, I did not want to be famous, after all. I mean, I liked the idea of being known by many, but famous people, seemed pretty miserable. They were always getting divorced and getting into drugs. No, that was not for me. However, giving up fame wasn’t the whole battle. I still wanted a meaningful life and to discover my purpose. So…I started learning things. Things like The Secret. I tried using positive thoughts to create my reality. I looked into Buddhism (only through reading) and spoke with people. It was the first time I was exposed to anything that used the word spirituality and an all-knowing Universe and I liked it.

Also around that time, I met the on-campus rabbi while inquiring about a trip to Israel on Birthright. For interviewing purposes, he invited my friend and I to his home. We began discussing concepts such as relationships, God, and a meaningful life. I remember the rabbi saying, “I am searching for my mission and my purpose in this world.” I couldn’t believe my ears! I had never met anyone who cared about their purpose in life, or at least not that way I did. I was thrilled just to hear the words come out of his mouth! Was this purpose thing actually in my religion? In the same Judaism I grew up with? Who knew?

I began to look into it. Over the next few years, I discovered The Real Secret. The one hidden in our very own Torah. The one that teaches us why we exist.

When I learned about our Creator and the world He created for us, I learned a lot about my own existence.

I knew, that God could have made any type of person in the world. In fact, He didn’t have to make people at all. However, He did. He created people and not only did He create people, but He created ME and He created YOU! The Infinite One, the Master Maker of our World, could have made anything He wanted, but He chose to make us!

When I learned this, I understood something I had been misconstruing for a long time: I didn’t have to accomplish something in order to be have self worth. I already had it!

Torah taught me that I have worth, just because God created me! That’s it. End of story. My self worth was innately within me from the very start. That meant, that no matter what I did, no matter how much I accomplished, I was worth something.

Even more than that, when Hashem created Jews, He created us in His image, in His likeness. If Hashem is All Powerful and Infinite, then He is clearly worthy. If we were created in Hashem’s likeness, then we too must be worthy.

Now don’t get me wrong, we still have a whole lot to do in this world, and plenty to accomplish- but that won’t determine our self worth. It’s already been predetermined. When we were born, we were born with worth! It’s a done deal.

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I share this, because I want YOU to know that you too have worth. Whether you get that CEO position you have your sights set on or you secure that place as senior editor, whether your band makes it to the top or you write five books…you’re worth it. You are valuable just because you exist. It’s time we stop placing our precious self worth on the things we do and start placing it where it’s meant to be placed: as an inevitable given. Just like the air we breathe, it won’t go away and it is contingent on nothing at all. It just is. Enjoy that truth. There are not many things in this life we don’t have to work for, consider it a freebie!

I still think about my struggles with fame and purpose sometimes. I even still struggle with them (a lot). But the thing is, being immortal isn’t my goal anymore. I now know that I am alive for a bigger journey; for a bigger purpose. I’m in this world for what I will bring with me to the next world, not what I leave behind me in this one.

More often than not, the things that are our true “accomplishments” according to the Torah view, are not necessarily grand or noteworthy to others. They’re usually smaller acts, like the ones we do to help us grow as people. Those accomplishments might not make the news or put us on billboards, but they’ll be plenty valuable when I’m facing Hashem at the end of my 120 years.

I love meditating on the fact that the Infinite One created me. It reminds me, even when I’m struggling, that I was created by Hashem and I am worth it.

Arm Yourself with Love

“Loving others starts with loving yourself.”

I know you’ve all heard this quote but I’m not talking about loving yourself to find your spouse or next boyfriend. I’m talking about loving yourself to love otherS, with a capital S. I’m talking about loving yourself because of why we fast today on the Tenth of Tevet. And we fast because of the siege on Jerusalem in 425b.c.e.- which was bred out of hatred.

What I’m talking about is the antidote to such hideous acts, to such evil, being love.

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Let’s put it this way, through a story: Once there was a girl named Ivy. She lived in a lovely house, with two adoring parents. She had clothes, friends, money, anything a 15 year old could ask for. But every morning when she woke up, she’d look in the mirror and think, “I hate the way I look…I’m so ugly.”

One day, a new girl moved to the school. Her name was Allie. She had a similarly lovely house, good parents, clothes, friends, money, but she also had long flowing hair, big blue eyes, and a tiny little nose. When Ivy saw Allie and how all the girls were swooning over her beauty, she grew green with envy. The following mornings, when she’d look in the mirror she’d think, “I’m ugly and I wish I looked like Allie.” This began to irk her so much that she had to act. She began starting rumors about Allie, telling lies and making up stories. Then she started warning people to stay away from Allie, or they’d be in trouble. Eventually she had a whole team of people against Allie. They’d leave hate signs on her locker and mean messages on her phone. This continued, until eventually, Allie was left virtually alone.

Now, what if instead Ivy loved herself? Let’s try this again: Once there was a girl named Ivy. She lived in a lovely house, with two adoring parents. She had clothes, friends, money, anything a 15 year old could ask for. Every morning when she woke up, she’d look in the mirror and think, “I love myself, my life, everything!”

One day, a new girl moved to the school. Her name was Allie. She had a similarly lovely house, good parents, clothes, friends, money, but she also had long flowing hair, big blue eyes, and a tiny little nose. When Ivy saw Allie she thought, “Wow, she’s beautiful too. I think I’ll welcome her in and invite her to be a part of my circle of friends.” And so it was.

This story may be simplistic but do you think the destruction of Jerusalem started so much differently? Destruction starts from hatred, from envy. It starts when one person wants what someone else has.

This is why, we need to be armed when we go out into the world. Armed with a blanket of love.

Love is not just a word, it’s a state of mind and it spreads. Loving yourself means thinking positively-thinking well-of you.

I implore you to go out and find your armor. Find something you absolutely love about yourself. Write it down, think of it often, tape it on your wall, wear it on your wrist. Arm yourself with love so instead of destruction, hatred and evil, there will be building, loving, and good.

Love yourself! You are special and unique- Hashem wouldn’t have made you if you weren’t!

Easy (end of the) fast!

The Jewish Woman and Chanukah

chanukah glow

Women are powerful. They have such a wealth of wisdom embedded inside of them, it is incredible. In the story of Creation, women were created last. It is explained that, each new creation was on a higher level than the ones preceding it. As Hashem’s final creation, women are the most closely connected to G-d. Within a women, is great potential and great kedushah (holiness), if only she knew it…

I am currently attending graduate school in New York, on a campus with lots of observant and nonobservant, Jewish undergrads. It happens to be that this week I finally found the kosher paradise that lies inside this international college bubble. I was so excited- sushi, pizza, deli! What more could I want? And on top of that, loads of Jewish undergrads filling the room. How nice! I got my kosher sushi and chopsticks and took a seat at one of the empty cafeteria tables. It was placed not too far from a boy in a kippa sitting next to a girl in leggings, schmoozing over this and that. I was at first, glad to be in proximity of them, enjoying any prospect of being around Jews when in a mixed environment. However, as I sat there, enjoying my food and my break from class, I couldn’t help but overhear their conversation. The boy was rattling on about this relationship and that “hook-up” in an ever-so disgraceful language, to the girl sitting next to him. When he quoted an inappropriate line from a movie, (one I assure you my life would be enhanced by having never heard), she just laughed, allowing the negative usage of female anatomy wash over her. Surely, she could tell this was inappropriate? Surely, she didn’t think it was funny?

Here’s the thing though, I knew that laugh. I knew it well. I went to a big university for college, one with parties and clubbing- the full college scene. There were sororities and keggers, tailgates and mixers. It was a breeding ground for that laugh. But what is that laugh? It comes from the way it feels when a girl wants a guy to like her, or when she wants him to think she’s cool. It comes when one falls prey to being told they’re “too serious” or “too prude.” It comes from being seen as boring or nerdy.

So, I knew that laugh. I’d heard it before. It was the “I don’t want you to think I’m not cool and laid back,” laugh. The one most girls have adopted. The one that makes them pretend that they’re O.K. with the ads of them half-naked, the movies with suggestive humor, and the use of language that was at one time only used by the lowest of low. It was a laugh that let them be “as tough as men,” or as “strong as men,” or as “thick-skinned as men.” It’s the laugh that’s projecting “we are feminist and therefore not weak” onto the world. Here’s the other thing though, standing up for what is right, saying what one really thinks, expressing how one truly feels, is not weak, is it?

Many people don’t know that the story of Chanukah had a heroine. Her name was Yehudis. The story goes, that in the midst of all the disaster being faced by the Jews, with killings and beatings by the Hasmoneans, the Jewish men finally decided the end had arrived. They were ready to give up, for in their minds, there was nothing left to do. When Yehudis heard this, she decided to do something about it. So, she devised a plan. She brought wine and food to the Greek general, got him drunk, and when he fell asleep, she cut off his head. She brought his head out for all to see, after which, the Greeks were distraught and felt defeated.

It was because of this and many other stories of women in Jewish history, that the Jews have continued to exist. These brave Jewish women who fought for the Jewish people when the men gave up, keep us alive today. However, had these Jewish women given in when the men felt it was time to, had they thrown in their caps with the mens, had they “laughed” along with them, the Jewish people as we know it would not exist today.

G-d gave women a special power. This power is binah. Binah is the special intuitive, innate wisdom that women have. And if you’re a woman, you know that innate, intuitive wisdom that I’m talking about. My husband always refers to this binah and says, “what does your binah tell you? You have this gift which will show us what to do.” It is this same binah that Sarah had when she told Avraham to banish Yishmael for fear he would negatively affect Yitchak. It was this same binah that Rivkah had when she told Yaakov to take the birthright from Esav. It was this same binah that Miriam had when she told her father not to separate from her mother and Moshe was born. Without the binah of the Jewish women, the Jewish people would not exist.

Unfortunately, many women today, are ignoring that binah. They are laughing along with the men instead of standing up to them. They are going along with their plans, instead of devising new ones. They are ignoring their own innate wisdom, and perhaps losing a bit of their femininity with that as well. If only they knew of their innate power then they could change the world. If only that girl at that table and all the other girls at similar tables, stood up and said, “I’m a strong Jewish women, and I don’t like that,” then perhaps the world we know would be a little brighter.

On Chanukah, women have been given a special present of sitting with the candlelight for 40 minutes while only the men work. Women are blessed with this gift because of their brave acts in the past. Since, women have an internal light, they sit with the light of Chanukah candles, the light of divination, and let it pour over them. While sitting with this light, they regain their strength, intensify their connection, and hopefully with renewed power, give this light back to the world. Hopefully with this revived light, women can find their femininity, the kind our Jewish foremothers had, and once again change the world. Happy Chanukah.