Tuesday, August 22, 2017

#BlogElul 5777: Act

"A bat mitzvah is someone who knows that the world is not a stage, -- that we are not puppets who mouth someone else’s lines, and marionettes who dance to yet another person’s tune, -- that we need not be ashamed of our own face, our own mind, and our own choices, -- that we do not have to hide from ourselves and the world under a blanket of corrosive makeup which not only quickly becomes indelible, but which also hardens, becomes cold to the touch, and does not allow any room for growth."

These words were spoken by the rabbi at my bat mitzvah more than four decades ago. Although I didn’t necessarily understand them then, experiences in the intervening years have changed that.

Having spent many years living under a blanket of corrosive makeup pretending all was well in what was (in hindsight, of course) an emotionally abusive marriage, today I try to speak my own lines, to dance to my own tune, and to play the lead, makeup free, in what is my show.

In my show, that means spending time and energy on people and activities that bring meaning and richness to my life -- without making excuses to myself or anyone else for doing anything but that. My family and friends, my synagogue community, volunteer work on behalf of FORCE: Facing our Risk of Cancer Empowered and its members, and working out in the gym all fit the bill. Sometimes, though, it means making time just for me, a book, and a Dunkin' iced coffee, and I'm finally learning to be okay with that.

In my show, I’m a writer and editor in a Jewish organization. Solidly on the "communications" side of the "marketing and communications" team, I strive to curate well-written, high quality digital content for a daily email sent to a subscriber base that numbers between 20,000 and 60,000 inboxes, depending on the day of the week Sometimes, the content I choose is deemed “too Jewy,” a term I understand, but find distasteful. Even though I know it's not personal, it feels that way, but I'm slowly learning to act like it doesn't matter to me -- even though it still does.

In my show, I regularly notice (and all too often am disproportionately annoyed by) stop-in-their-tracks texters, sidewalk-clogging tourists, people who don’t say “good morning,” “thank you,” or “excuse me,” those who talk too loudly on their cell phones, and others who block pedestrian thoroughfares because they're convenient for conversations, as well as the way too many, like, oh-my-god, like, millennials who seem to think the world revolves around them. I’m doing my best (although sometimes not too successfully) if not to ignore them, then at least not to let any of them or their antics get under my skin.

None of this is easy and there are plenty of days I still feel as though I’m mouthing someone else's lines and dancing to someone else's tunes instead of directing and acting in my own show. Thankfully, though, there’s always room for growth – especially at this season.

Inspired by Ima on (and off) the Bima , this #BlogElul post is one in a series marking the days of the Hebrew month of Elul, which precede the Jewish High Holidays and traditionally serve as a time of reflection and spiritual preparation for the new year.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Shechinah at #FORCE17

Last Friday afternoon, as I do each week, I texted a few friends a Shabbat shalom message: “Shabbat shalom from Orlando and #FORCE17 – annual hereditary cancer conference. 🌞”

One of them responded with this: “Shabbat shalom to you, too, in sunny Florida. Will there be a Shabbat service?”

Our conversation continued.

Me: “The place is crawling with M.O.T.s, but Friday night is reserved for “show and tell,” a different kind of ‘service’ for those facing tough decisions.”

My friend: “HaShem is found in many places and in many ways.”

Me: “She (Shechinah, the feminine divine presence of God) definitely is here. There’s something that feels very sacred about empowered women and pikuach nefesh (saving a life).”

My friend: “It will be a wonderful Shabbat, even if you are not in temple."

Me. “Indeed.”

#FORCE17 was this year’s annual hereditary cancer conference organized by FORCE: Facing Our Risk of Cancer Empowered , a grass-roots, non-profit organization devoted to providing support, research, resources, and advocacy to those affected by hereditary cancer. Approximately one in 400 people in the general population carries a BRCA mutation, significantly increasing their lifetime risk of breast and ovarian cancer (in women) and male breast cancer and prostate cancer (in men), as well as raising the likelihood for others, including pancreatic cancer and melanoma. Hereditary mutations can be transmitted from either parent to both sons and daughters. Among Ashkenazi Jews, the prevalence of BRCA mutations is 10 times greater than in the general population; approximately one in 40 individuals carries a mutation, and most are unaware of their status as carriers.

Sunday, June 4, 2017


After my Shabbos nap yesterday, I unintentionally cleaned a closet because I needed to get to a suitcase that was buried within it. In the process, I came across my wedding’s “old” and “blue” in the form of a pair of my grandmother’s garters – on the erev of what would have been my 28th wedding anniversary.

Many would call this coincidence; my friend, Rebecca, would call it #bashert. So, I snapped a photo of the garters and texted it to her with a message that began, “Here’s #bashert for you…”

She replied with this: “28 = כח = strength.” (Every Hebrew letter has a numerical value and it happens that the two letters that equal 28 –  kaf, which equals 20 and chet, which equals 8 – spell the Hebrew word koach, which means strength.)

Indeed, I am grateful that 15 years ago, I mustered enough emotional strength to see (finally) where I was, to change course, and to steer my life in the direction I wanted it to go. Yasher koach to me -- and to everyone since then who's helped me get (and keep) my life on track.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

No Good Tweet Goes Unpunished

Today’s  Shavuot. As I have done every year for the past few, I’m participating in a collective social media effort to post enough tweets that include “#Torah” – pronounced “hashtag Torah” – that we “ tweet #Torah to the top ,” meaning it appears on the Twitter home page as a trending topic.

As far as I know, we have not ever achieved the goal. And this year, I’ve encountered a few stumbling blocks of my own…

Everything started out smoothly. Using  Hootsuite, a social media tool, I scheduled 80-some tweets to go live between 9 p.m. last night and midnight tonight. Because they appear as both tweets on Twitter and posts on my Facebook feed, I put this message on Facebook last night after two or three tweets had appeared:
It appears that all my #Torah tweets scheduled for the next 27 hours or so are going to show up in my FB feed.
For my FB friends who aren't familiar with Shavuot, it's a Jewish festival (The Festival of Weeks) that occurs seven weeks -- 49 days -- after the first day of Passover and commemorates the giving of the #Torah atop Mt. Sinai. According to legend, every Jewish person from every generation was there to witness the pivotal event in the life of the Jewish people. Today, the holiday is celebrated with late-into-the-night #Torah study sessions and dairy foods -- cheesecake and blitzes, most notably -- which serve as reminders of the Promised Land, which flows with milk and honey. It's also the season for confirmation, when young Jews (generally 16- and 17-year olds) who have continued their studies for several years after b'nai mitzvah commit to lead a Jewish life and help ensure a bright Jewish future.
OK, rabbi, cantor, and educator friends, did I leave anything out?
And then I went to sleep.

I awoke to this message from my sister, which she’d sent at 7:09 a.m.: “Why a million Torah posts?” It was followed quickly by this: “I just saw your explanation. You need to delete them. They filled everyone’s feed…message after message after message…”

Um, yes, that’s precisely the point.

Two hours later, when I hadn’t responded (because I slept in and then went to services), she sent another, less contemptuous message: “You look like a Jewish scholar who drank too much slivovitz and pressed ‘Post.’”

Meanwhile, in response to a tweet that appeared in my feed at about 1 a.m., a friend, who thought I was live-tweeting, commented with this: “Jane, I love you. I’m awake with you for at least an hour…” (I set her straight in the morning, sending a link to Hootsuite by way of explanation.)

When I returned from temple, I spoke to my sister and, concerned that I might indeed be looking like a schicker (Yiddish for drunkard), I reposted the explanatory message from last night.

Convinced all was then well, I was dismayed to receive another message late this afternoon – this one from a friend who, although not Jewish, is well-versed in Jewish holidays and traditions. She wrote: “I think you have been hacked… Twitter keeps giving the same status update over and over again…”

Yes, at that point, all the scheduled tweets had the same beginning – Blessed are You, Adonai, Sovereign of the universe who has… -- but ended differently. I responded to her with this: “LOL! They’re different. It’s Shavuot and I’m one of the people who is posting things with the #Torah hashtag to see if we can get Torah to trend in Twitter. Hope all’s well and you’re enjoying Ramadan.”

Thank goodness for Caroline, a high school friend, whose gracious response to one of my many tweets today made it all worthwhile: “I have enjoyed reading these posts.”

Monday, April 17, 2017

That Time I Did Hagbah at Minyan

Dear WilliamtheTrainer,

Since I don’t speak Spanish and as an immigrant from Ecuador, you probably don’t speak much in the way of “Jewish worship,” I’ll do my best to explain this thing that happened on Saturday morning that you helped make possible.

In the middle of Jewish worship services on the Sabbath and festivals -- and on Mondays and Thursdays in more traditional congregations – Jews read from a Torah scroll, which contains the Five Books of Moses – Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. The text is handwritten in Hebrew by a specially trained scribe on animal skin parchment and considering its contents, the scroll is treated with the utmost respect.

After the Torah reading has been completed, it’s customary for one person to come forward to “do hagbah,” which entails lifting the open scroll overhead so the congregation can see the text that was just read. This custom derives from a verse in the Book of Nehemiah that says: “And Ezra opened the book in the sight of all the people.”

So, back to last Saturday…

We were all standing around the lectern where the Torah had just been read and my friend Roz had finished her first-ever aliyah (reciting the blessings before and after the Torah reading itself), which she’d done in honor of her husband’s 93rd birthday, coming up in a few days. Then, the rabbi invited me to help with hagbah, an honor usually reserved for a strong man because some scrolls are extremely heavy – and the last thing anyone wants is for a Torah scroll to fall or be dropped.

Thinking about those Hoist weight machines, the free weights, the rowing machine, the treadmill, the crunches, the running, the jumping, and all the other hard work I’ve been doing with your help throughout the last six weeks, I hoped I was up for the challenge. With guidance from the rabbi, I took hold of the bottom handles of the scroll, bent my knees to get some leverage, and to my incredible delight, lifted it and turned so everyone could see the text, although it wasn’t open very wide at all (and the rabbi was “spotting me” to ensure nothing bad would happen).

Returning the Torah to the lectern, I helped tie the two parts of the scroll together, replace its velvet cover, silver breastplate, and  yad (literally “hand”), the pointer that the Torah reader uses to keep his or her place while reading. Once it was safely on the shelf where it would remain for nearly the rest of the service, I returned to my seat in the pews, but not before the rabbi said that the expression on my face during hagbah was “worth the price of admission.”

Indeed, it was an incredibly exhilarating and powerful moment-- not only for the chance to give honor to the Torah in a way I never had done before, but also as a reminder that hard work, commitment, and pushing yourself in new and different directions often have unexpected, wonderful rewards.

Thanks for the reminder…see you in the gym!

~ JanetheWriter

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

#BlogExodus: Join

Back in January, I started working with my fellow FORCE group leader to plan a spring fundraising event for the organization that means so much to us because it was there when we needed information and support in dealing with our hereditary cancer mutations.

Although we volunteer, giving generously and caringly of our own time and knowledge to those following in our footsteps – planning and facilitating group meetings and providing one-on-one support to members – it still takes money to run a non-profit organization. There are brochures and business cards to print, conference calls to connect volunteers, salaries to pay, an annual conference to organize, and so much more that goes into making sure no one travels the hereditary cancer journey alone.

With that in mind, I invite you (or your friends and family in New York City) to join us for a terrific evening to support FORCE and its work on behalf of the hereditary cancer community:

Monday, May 1, 2017 
6-8 p.m.
118 East 15th Street and Irving Place
New York City

$65 per person includes appetizers, two drinks, and your chance to be chosen as the evening's model for a make-up or guy brow demo, done by celebrity make-up artist and brow expert Ramy Gafni. 

The best-selling author of How to Fake Real Beauty: Tricks of the Trade to Master Your Makeup, Ramy will inspire you with his personal story, professional experiences, “minimum make-up, maximum impact” application techniques, and the guy brow, his trademarked eyebrow sculpting for men.

There also will be chance drawings for fabulous prizes, including samples of Ramy's cosmetics, lots of great books, a professional massage, an acupuncture session, two tickets to Broadway's Phantom of the Opera, including a signed Playbill, and guided backstage tour....and more!

We look forward to seeing you (or your NYC friends and family) on May 1! 

Sunday, April 2, 2017

#BlogExodus: Read

Sadly, in 2016, I read only six books. What's more, it seems that I purchase books at a faster rate than I read them.

The new year is off to a slightly better start -- I've finished two books and am getting into a third. But, I've also already purchased or been gifted these three books:
If only there was more time to read...

Inspired by Ima on (and off) the Bima, this post is one in a series marking the days of the Jewish month of Nisan leading up to Passover, which begins at sundown on Monday, April 10, corresponding to 15 Nisan. If you want to play along, check out this year's #BlogExodus and #ExodusGram prompts