Elul: Feeling, Believing & Knowing

We are approaching the high holy days of the year. Beginning on the first day of the month of Elul, many people begin a process of self-reflection that culminates on Yom Kippur.

In the past few years, I have had the privilege of participating in an Elul group. Basically, every day, I am now reading a different set of tehillim (psalms). In addition each member of the group is assigned a particular day to send out a d’var Torah (this literally means a “word of Torah” which is a lesson interpreting a text) and to make a contribution to charity in the  zechus (merit) of everyone in the group.

This is what I wrote for my d’var Torah for the group. I have tried to translate many of the Hebrew words, in order to make it more understandable for people who may not be familiar with them.

Hi Everyone!

I would like to thank Caryn and Ruthie for creating this group, and for their willingness to maintain it!  I really appreciate the structure that it creates for me to strengthen myself in my avodas Hashem (Divine service) during this auspicious time of year.

This is my third year participating in this Elul group. Like others have shared, I usually wait for a moment of inspiration to motivate me to write my d’var Torah.

This year, it has been a real struggle.

It is not that I haven’t tried to get inspired. I listened to shiurim (classes) on line and went to shiurim (classes) in my community. And still, nothing.

I feel like I should make a song out of it – “oh where oh where has my inspiration gone – oh where oh where can she be???”

On the bright side, I have done more learning and soul searching to write on absolutely nothing than ever before. It has been a humbling experience, to say the least.

Finally, at the very last moment, the content and structure of this d’var Torah emerged. At that moment, I felt a deep connection and gratitude, not only to Hashem (God) but to both my parents, who indirectly inspired this d’var Torah and gave me direction.

 

“אני לדודי ודודי לי”

I am to my Beloved [Hashem] and my beloved [Hashem] is to me. (Shir Hashirim 6:3).


דרשו ד’ בהמצאו קראהו בהיותו קרוב

Seek out Hashem when He is nearby, call out to Him when He is near.(Yeshaya 55:6)


According to Chazal (the sages) the pesukim (verses) above refer to the month of Elul. Beginning on the first day of the month of Elul, Hashem is extremely close to us. He is waiting for us to return to Him, repent and to strengthen ourselves in Torah, tefilah (prayer) and good deeds.

Our relationship with Hashem is two-fold. Hashem is our loving Father, and on Rosh Hashanah, we crown Hashem as our King.

The seforim (holy books or writings) speak about the 7 week transformation period between Tisha B’Av (The 9th of Av) and Rosh Hashanah (New Year). “On Tisha B’Av, we mourn the exiled Shechinah (the feminine component of God) and long for the restoration of His Glory. And, on Rosh Hashanah, we proudly and openly coronate Hashem as the King of the Universe.”

This year, during Tisha B’Av, in the midst of our mourning for the Bais Hamikdash, (The Temple) it occurred to me that there is a tremendous lesson of hope.

When the Bais Hamikdash stood, we had an opportunity to directly connect to Hashem and feel enveloped by His immanence.

On a spiritual level, the world was a different experience. We could bask in the glow of His presence and continually renew and repair our relationship with Hashem.

However, like spoiled children, we didn’t appreciate this beautiful gift. We felt scared and intimidated by the intimacy of this connection. We turned our backs on Hashem. We told Hashem that we didn’t want the connection and the responsibilities that it entailed.

Despite multiple warnings from the prophets, on the 9th of Av, Hashem gave us what we what we asked for. He distanced Himself from us. And now, Hashem no longer has a place to dwell in our midst.

Today, we must struggle through prayer and meditation to catch a glimmer of the Divine Presence that we once felt and experienced as a palpable reality. God is here, but we must work harder if we want to connect to Him and feel His protection and care. Our change in status was a rude awakening!

But, it also demonstrates our ongoing, dynamic and mutually reciprocal connection to Hashem. Since He listened to us when we turned our backs on Him, the opposite must also be true: He will listen to us when we call His name and seek Him out.

Hence, if we seek His guidance and comfort, we will find it. And, if we want to do everything on our own and without His guidance, and direction, He will let us do that too.

It always amazes me how in my moments of distress and pain, when I call out to Hashem, in ways that I could never have imagined, He answers me.

As an example, on a personal level, this year has continued to be very stressful and difficult. There were moments when I truly felt that my situation was intolerable and I didn’t know how I was going to manage.

During one of those moments, out of the blue, the daughter of a dear friend sent me this:

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“Life is amazing. And then it’s awful. And then it’s amazing again. And in between the amazing and awful it’s ordinary and mundane and routine. Breathe in the amazing, hold on through the awful, and relax and exhale during the ordinary. That’s just living heartbreaking, soul-healing, amazing, awful, ordinary life. And it’s breathtakingly beautiful.” ― L.R. Knost

 

Then, the daughter of one of my patients sent me this:

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“May today there be peace within. May you trust that you are exactly where you are meant to be. May you not forget the infinite possibilities that are born of faith in yourself and others. May you use the gifts that you have received, and pass on the love that has been given to you. May you be content with yourself just the way you are. Let this knowledge settle into your bones, and allow your soul the freedom to sing, dance, praise and love. It is there for each and every one of us.” …”  ― Saint Terese of Liseaux

 

Finally, my mother spontaneously sent me this text:

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“Hi! Yesterday, I was out walking and reflecting on whatever floated into my thoughts. Who came floating in? You! And I thought how competent you are. How proud I am of you. How well you are keeping yourself sane while keeping your ducks in a row. Love Mom”

I cannot fully describe how much this all meant to me. I felt like Hashem was holding me in His arms and telling me, “There, there, Carol … It is going to be OK… This too shall pass… You are doing a good job.”

All of us know, in our minds at least that Hashem exists. But, do we feel it? We know intellectually, that Hashem keeps us alive, but do we actually feel that way?

When we do any act, think any thoughts, feel any feelings, we should self-reflect deeply and feel that it is only because Hashem helps us. Hashem can be sensed in our hearts and we must willingly make the choice to align our will with His will.

So, this year, during this month of Elul, and these days of teshuva (repentance), may we all be blessed to feel Hashem’s love and protection. May we strive to feel His presence and align our will with His will, with simcha (joy) and with achava (love).

May we all merit a good year and be written in the book of life.

For my tzedakah (charity), I have made a donation to the Friendship Circle, which is a wonderful organization that provides programs for Jewish children with special needs.

With blessings,

Carol

 

 

References:

 

http://divreichizuk.com/id35.html

http://bilvavi.net/files/Ellul.Talks.pdf

thinkhashem@ateresshimon.org 8/16/2016

 

 

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Rite Of Passage: I Hope You Dance 🎶


Recently, we had a rite of passage. Although only Raizel had a graduation ceremony, both Yaffa and Raizel graduated from grade 8. In September, they will start high school.

Raizel was very excited! In honor of her graduation, I bought a new hair iron for her and straightened her hair. Oh my – was she so happy! A curly girl, Raizel loves to have her hair straightened.

straightening Raizel’s hair
My husband, however, was ambivalent about the graduation ceremony. But, not for the reasons that one might expect. It was not the wistfulness of watching one’s children grow up nor the nostalgia over the end of childhood.

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For us, the graduation ceremony was bittersweet. It was the reminder that as parents of special needs children, our path through life is different than other parents. Our children grow older, but they do not grow up the same way that other children do.

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When Raizel was in yeshiva, there were many social festivities and events to celebrate this rite of passage. Raizel enjoyed every one of them! My husband never complained about the expense, or distraction from academics that they entailed.

But, now in public school,  Raizel could not graduate with her classmates of the past 4 years.

Some of this was due to the decisions we made. In theory, we  could have let her finish out the year, as the school suggested.

But, we did not. Her needs were not being met, and the lack of attention was affecting other areas of her life.

I am grateful that she was happy about graduation with her new classmates. It’s a sign of resilience. As her mother, I want Raizel to adjust to change with grace and equanimity.
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And, although the circumstances changed, Raizel was still able to experience a graduation ceremony. It was different, and not what we planned, but equally good. 


This is one of my favorite songs. I feel that it captures some of the desires I wish for our daughters as they grow up.

My blessings for you dear Raizel and Yaffa is that you will be able to savor and appreciate all the gifts that you have been given. Always believe in yourself. May you always have hope for the future.


I pray that you will have faith in God and trust that He is always taking care of you. You are never alone.

Adon Olam
We love you!

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Congratulations Raizel and Yaffa!🎉

 

Educational Challenges With Special Needs Children 

Educational Challenges With Special Needs Children

Today, I had a conversation with a very dear friend, catching her up to all our news. I told her that Raizel is no longer in yeshiva. In fact, there was no local yeshiva that was even willing to accept her as a student for next year.

Often, I get criticism for this decision. Some members of my family, and good friends will tell me that I should have lied so that she could have been accepted SOMEWHERE.

This friend told me that better she should be in a class with lower functioning children than in public school. She said, “she will lose her connection to our faith.”

But, what will she think about herself if she is placed in a class with children who are not her peers and lower functioning? What would that do to her self-esteem and identity?

To my friend, and many others, it is better to be practicing our faith and integrated into the community, rather than to learn how to function at one’s maximum level of potential.


Other people I know, put themselves into huge debt, in order to finance a religious program. A religious program that in our case would not even meet our daughters’ needs and would require additional supplementation and expense.

I have learned though experience that everyone needs to decide for themselves what is best for their family. We all make choices in our life. Some of them will be good, and others will have consequences that we could not foresee. There is no one size fits all.


My husband and I made the difficult decision to place Raizel in a program that will hopefully maximize her ability to function in life, rather than feel socially comfortable.


Wrapping children in a cocoon will work in the short run. Eventually , however, all children grow up. At some point, every person needs to decide who they are and what they believe in.

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As parents, I believe that our greatest challenge is to teach our children how to function in life, be discerning and to think critically and independently. I prefer for Raizel to face these challenges while we are still able to have some influence over her, than in some unknown future date.

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When we spoke to many Rabbis about our dilemma, the advice we were given over and over again was, “you have to build a vessel (k’lee) for the Torah. Without a proper vessel, it will not matter how much Torah you pour in. It will be like a sieve, and just poured down the drain.”

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There are no easy answers. Every day, I pray and ask God to guide me and show me the correct path to travel. I hope and pray that I do what is right and pleasing in His eyes.

Reference:

I found this online and I thought others might enjoy it too:

prayer for one’s children

Here are the 2 links that I found this prayer on:

https://artscroll.com/images/siteimages/prayer.pdf

https://artscroll.files.wordpress.com/2010/05/prayer.pdf

The Power Of Prayer 


I have been known to joke that sometimes the only exercise I get is pushing my luck, and carrying too much weight on my shoulders. But, sometimes, the burden can be too great to carry.

Earlier this week, I had a mini-meltdown. I felt I was shouldering too much responsibility for managing the household and caring for the girls. I had very firm words with my husband and Raizel.

The resolution was that Raizel would start to take responsibility for washing the dishes and emptying out the dishwasher.

In the meantime, I wrote up a schedule for myself and shuttered as to how I could possibly do it all. Clearly, I needed help.

So, yesterday, on my way to work, I found myself driving behind a car with a vanity plate which said, “GODFIRST.” I was so struck by the message that I took a picture of it:


The whole day, I kept thinking about “GODFIRST.” What did it mean? How could I put God first?

And so, I began to have a conversation with God. Out loud, I spoke to God, and I asked him to help me. I told Him how everything was too much for me. I needed Him to carry me and find the solution for my difficulties.


Well, this is what I came home to:


A beautiful, clean kitchen!

When I came home, I texted Jay,

Did you clean up??? Wow! Thank you! That was true love.

Raizel and Jay together cleaned up the kitchen for me. I felt that was one of the most beautiful and loving things that my husband could have ever done.

I feel so grateful to Hashem (God). He took care of me. It brought tears to my eyes.


When we put God first, and really talk to Him, God listens. And, we never know what the solution will be. We have to place God before us always.

Acceptance and Happiness

Acceptance and Happiness
ד,א בן זומא אומר, איזה הוא חכם–הלמד מכל אדם, שנאמר “מכל מלמדיי, השכלתי” (תהילים קיט,צט). איזה הוא גיבור–הכובש את יצרו, שנאמר “טוב ארך אפיים, מגיבור” (משלי טז,לב). איזה הוא עשיר–השמח בחלקו, שנאמר “יגיע כפיך, כי תאכל; אשריך, וטוב לך” (תהילים קכח,ב): “אשריך”, בעולם הזה; “וטוב לך”, לעולם הבא. איזה הוא מכובד–המכבד את הברייות, שנאמר “כי מכבדיי אכבד ובוזיי ייקלו” (שמואל א ב,ל).

 

I had a fascinating group with the patients in both of my Positive Aging Groups this week. This is what happened in my first group.

 

The group began with patients discussing celebrities in the news. In particular, they talked briefly about a celebrity who changed from being a man into a women.

One patient reported that he read in the newspaper that the woman now regrets her decision.

Patients observed that even when people seem to have everything anyone could want, they are still unhappy and dissatisfied with their lives.

 

In response, I shared with the group an antidotal story about Michelle.

Michelle is a MHA that I worked with in the past. She was born male and changed from Michael to become Michelle. Now in her late 50’s Michelle also regrets her decision to change from a man into a woman.

 

During our shift together, Michelle shared that she was very unhappy as a man and she was so certain that she would be happier if only she was a woman.

Now, 20 years later, Michelle has a different perspective on the source of her mental anguish and pain.

During our conversation, Michelle shared, “I made a mistake. My problem had nothing to do with being a man or a woman or my external apparatus. The real problem was between my ears. I was the problem.”

 

Our discussion and the pain that Michelle shared with me that night has stayed with me since then.

Michelle had to come to the realization the hard way that true happiness comes from self-acceptance.


So, I introduced the topic of the group as: how is it possible to feel good about yourself and accept yourself as you are? And, if you could have everything you ever wanted, would that make you happy?

Patients observed that there is nothing outside that can make someone feel good inside. Patients also shared that it is impossible to ever satisfy another person’s needs or all of one’s wants.

 

As a group, the patients reached the conclusion that happiness is a state of mind that comes from comes from being happy with what you have, not from what you acquire. The goal is to recognize how much you do have and appreciate it and share it with others without over-extending yourself.


The group was very successful and even one of my most cranky patients actually asked if we could extend the time of the group from 1 hour to an hour and a half.

 

The next day I had a similar discussion with my colleagues.

 

The 3 of us are all in the process of moving or relocating. We shared tips on affordable communities that also have good school districts.

 

Then, Mabel, a fourth nurse that we work with joined us.

 

I find Mabel to be a challenging person to work with. Although she is very capable and competent, Mabel loves to be the center of attention and sees herself as the hardest working and the most burdened nurse at our work site.

I find the role that she has assigned herself to be odd. Mostly, because it is not true. In my opinion, we all work hard.

 

Generally, I alternate between ignoring her snide comments, or soothing her by validating her with a “there-there” or “Oh yes, you are so hard working…..”

 

Another difficulty that I have with Mabel, is that I find her snidely anti-Semitic. She will frequently make comments that imply that I am so much richer than her, or alternatively I am too cheap. Now, neither in my opinion happen to be true. I make less money than her, and therefore, I spend less money than her.

 

Our styles are very different too. I am not a flashy dresser. Our patients frequently have altered moods and thought disturbances. They can be unpredictable. Therefore, I prefer to blend into the woodwork.

 

Mabel, however, is cut from a different bolt of cloth. She is always dressed extremely fashionably and well put together. Mabel is the kind of person who likes to be the beautiful one. I am happy to let her play that role.

 

So, once Mabel joined our discussion she began making her usual snide remarks about the state of my financial affairs, “Carol is so rich. She can afford a very fancy house.”

 

To me, the implication was “Carol is a rich Jew, and I am a poor Haitian.” I wanted to challenge her directly, but, I did not.

 

Instead, I thought about the group from the day before and the section from Perkei Avot (Ethics of the Fathers): “Who is rich? He who is satisfied with what he has.”


This time, rather than get defensive, I agreed with Mabel, “You are so right! I am very rich! I am rich because I am happy with what I have. Being wealthy or poor is a state of mind. There is never enough external stuff than will give anyone inner contentment.”

 

Anyway, that ended the conversation, and she concurred with the wisdom of seeking inner wealth rather than outer wealth.

 

Emotional attachment to possessions or approval distract us from our true purpose in this world. Our true purpose in this world is to transform the physical into the spiritual. We are spiritual being having a physical experience, not physical beings having a spiritual experience.

If we are happy with what we have, we can live contentedly within our means and according to our deepest priorities. Therefore, we have to feel wealthy on the inside and accept ourselves on the outside if we want to have peace of mind.

The Birthday Party

The Birthday Party

 

The Birthday Party

This week I had one of the most moving moments in my professional life.

I work in Geriatric Psychiatry. As part of my job, I facilitate 2 groups on Positive Aging.

Last week, one group began with a patient sharing that it was his son’s birthday that day.

What emerged was that this was his anniversary of becoming a father. A seminal moment in anyone’s life.

So, I decided to do the group on “what do birthdays mean to you?” And on, “how do you celebrate your  birthday now, compared to when you were younger?”

 

Aging & Birthdays

 

Then, I added to the mix one of my favorite questions, “how old are you chronologically?” And, “how old do you feel inside?”

 

What does it mean to be old?

It was a fascinating discussion.

Many of the patients shared that birthdays were not that important to them.

As they are aging, the group members shared that they are challenged by many health conditions.

Consequently, the patients feel more and more that they appreciate the gift of being alive each and every day.

Everyday is special, not just their birthdays.

Many in the group also shared that as children, they did not have a lot of material wealth. So, gifts and parties were not common.

But, one particular patient, Bob, shared that he never had a birthday party. No one in his family ever acknowledged or celebrated his birthday.

Although all the other patients voiced that birthdays were not as important to them as celebrating life — I think the thought that someone NEVER had a birthday party really touched them.

One patient, Henri,  responded to Bob, “we need to celebrate your birthday. Next week, I am going to bring you a cake!”

Henri also asked me to remind him about his commitment when I saw him during the following week.

Although I did remind him, just in case, I brought in cookies, happy birthday napkins, soda and other paper goods to work for the group as a backup.

It turned out to not be necessary.

When I walked into the group room, I saw that everyone in the group had brought in something to celebrate Bob’s birthday!

The group bought a card, 2 gifts, drinks and a birthday cake! They even bought a candle and sang “happy birthday” to him.

Since birthdays are about sharing good wishes, I also asked my patients, “if you could have anything you want, what would you wish for?

Here is a picture of their responses:

 

If you could have anything you want, what would you wish for?

It gave the patients great pleasure to give and support each other.

Truly, this was a touching and heartwarming moment!

The funny thing was, I told this story to my friend, Adelle, on my way home from work. Adelle then said, “you know, today is my birthday too!” An example of positive aging, Adelle proudly turned 70 on the day of Bob’s birthday party.

And now, today happens to be my birthday as well. I do not publicly admit my age. But, inside, I tell everyone that I am 87.

(I then remind them to tell me “you look great for your age!”)

In the Jewish tradition, a birthday is a propitious day for giving blessings to other people:

May we all be blessed with love, health, material satisfaction, friendship and peace, and many happy birthdays.

Many blessings,

Carol

*In order to protect the privacy of my family, friends and patients, please be aware that their names and personal identifiers have been changed.

Making A Place For Jewish Children With Special Needs & The “Almost Normal” Gray Zone

  
  

Not all of my posts are going to be deep. But, not all challenges of raising children with special needs are emotionally complex. Some just require opportunity, planning and execution.

The impetus for this post was a conversation that I had this morning with a mother of a boy in Raizel’s grade, Barak.

In general, the educational needs of children with special needs are variable. They require individualized instruction and each child’s individual level of capacity is unique. 

There are children like Yaffa, who have disabilities that are visible and distinct. These children are more likely to have more basic educational needs. 

My goal for Yaffa is to give her an opportunity to learn about our faith at the level she is capable. My second goal is to give her a love of our traditions and a sense of emotional connection to our community. 

Educationally, in some ways, Yaffa is less challenging, than her “higher functioning” sister. A loving and delightful child, Yaffa is not a behavioral challenge.

Barak and Raizel look neuro-typical, and “almost pass” as “normal.”  They have special needs that prevent them from learning in a regular classroom, and they require additional support. 

But, they can learn. 

In Raizel’s case, she requires behavioral support and adaptations to accommodate her different learning style.

I call this “The Challenge Of The “Almost Normal” Gray Zone.”

  

Making a place for Jewish children with special needs in the “almost normal” gray zone is very difficult, for a multitude of reasons.  

I am in the “pre contemplative stage.” I would love to create a Jewish Education and Socialization Network for these “almost normal” children with special needs in our community.

My idea is to run it based on the homeschooling model of education. 

Each family creates their own curriculum for their child’s religious educational needs. 

However, my goal is to have parents pool their resources and have these children learn together in small groups. 

By learning together after their school day, these children could connect and socialize with each other. Indirectly, they could create a small sub community. 

I see this post as a possible social network opportunity. Perhaps it will enable me to find other like-minded parents in similar situations? Perhaps this post will be the beginning of creating a social-learning network community for other Jewish children with special needs who go to public school by necessity? 

 

We are led in the direction of our intensions. I am hopeful.