"Don't tell God how big your storm is; tell your storm how big your God is."

I believe in God.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

I Am Brave, and I Am Strong, and I Am Going to Prove It.

Once again, I am faced with another Bipolar episode.  Over the years, I have almost gotten used to these; I cannot even count the number I have had since diagnosis in October of 2009.  This time around, however, I am doing a few things differently, having more successes, if you will.  Here they are:

  1. No one knows what's going on unless I want them to know it.  I am basically acting normal in public, so no one can tell from my behavior, and when I tell someone, I do it calmly and quietly.
  2. I am continuing to do school work.  I have to, because finals are coming up.  Just while in this episode, I have started making math flashcards and revised a paper.
  3. I still seek comfort from my friends and family, but I only need to talk to one or two people--not my whole contacts list--before I can move on with my day.  And if no one is available to talk, I do not get totally desperate; instead I find a way to comfort myself.
  4. Every day, I remind myself that life was not always like this, nor will it always be this way.  I used to feel well, and one day I will feel well again.
I think that's a pretty good list!

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Netzitzot (!!!)

Netzitzot is a wonderful company that is making sets of arba kanfot from women's undergarments, to make the commandment of tzitziot more accessible to women.  I decided to look into them when my mother pointed out that if I am really going to be committed to this, I might one day wish to have a set with a more graceful neckline and/or fit than the sets made for men.  (I currently wear men's sets in size extra small.)  Not knowing anything about this company, I googled various spellings until I found what I wanted.

The netzitzot product starts with an H & M undershirt, a white camisole type of thing.  They modify it to have corners, then tie on the fringes.  Surprisingly enough, they charge only 20 dollars a set, and five dollars shipping.

And the best part? (Not really)...I think I am a size small!

Friday, April 24, 2015

Back to my Strings

I have returned to wearing arba kanfot/tallit katan/tzitziot (all different words for the four-cornered garment with holy fringes traditionally only worn my men).  Really, I always believe that I should be doing so, but I have never met another woman who does (they do exist; I just haven't met one yet), and it's lonely to be the only person doing something, so I don't always manage to do so.

I have a wonderful friend--too dear to me to even get a code name--with whom I can discuss this freely.  He is religious enough to wear them himself, yet egalitarian enough to not mind my wearing them, and we share style and maintenance tips.  I have a few Orthodox male friends--just a select few--with whom I can discuss this, but I always get the feeling that they are shoving aside discomfort.  I don't get that from this guy.

I have no doubt that the little children who belong to the Rabbis at Chabad will notice me tonight, and have questions.  I think I am ready.  I hope I am ready.

Shabbat Shalom!

Sunday, April 19, 2015

A Commitment to Mourning in Loving Memory

So ever since Yom HaShoah (which was really only a few days ago, though it seems like longer), I have been thinking about what I wanted to do next year to mark the day.  First I thought I would like to fast, the way we do on Tisha B'Av (commemorating the destruction of the Temples), but then I found out--first from a sort-of friend whom I do not trust, then from a Rabbi I trust very much--that it is forbidden to fast in the Hebrew month of Nissan, which contains both Passover (the 15th to the 22nd) and Yom HaShoah (the 27th).  Back to square one, so to speak, I had to think again.

I thought about my kippah collection.  I picked out my most somber looking one--ultra-Orthodox style, black velvet with ribbon trim--and decided that from here on out, I will wear it three times a year, and only three times a year: Yom HaShoah, Yom HaZikaron (Israel's memorial day for fallen soldiers, taken much more seriously than we take ours), and Tisha B'Av.  Yom HaZikaron begins this Tuesday night and will go through Wenesday, and I can't wait to start my  new tradition.

And here are pictures of the kippah in question:

Friday, April 17, 2015

Shaken Up

So I didn't realize how shaken up remembering the Holocaust made me feel until I hit my dorm last night...and then I literally felt weak, shaky, and traumatized.  Fortunately, I have some wonderful friends right in my dorm.  "Joey" lives directly above me, and "Charlie" (not to be confused with "Charlotte"!) has the room next to mine.  I went to both of them, and got hugs and listening ears.  Shout out to the two of them! I even threw away my sticker in "Joey's" room rather than mine, because I just didn't want to deal with the presence of the thing.

The Holocaust is a hard thing to stomach.  It was unbelievable in the worst sense of the word, that a civilized nation could turn on members of its own society, round them up like cattle and mass murder them.  And no matter how much I say--and I do say it, a lot--that we should remember the Holocaust on Yom HaShoah and then move on, going back to being Jewish for better  reasons and celebrating that, the Holocaust happened every day, day in and day out, for years upon years.  It's difficult to move on, as perhaps it should be.

So I am still a bit shaken up from yesterday, especially from reading names.  (I helped the 24-hour name reading vigil twice, reading a total of three pages.  They were reading from a database of child victims, so not one of them was over ten.  Basically, if you were deported to a concentration camp and you were under age ten, the Nazis killed you immediately.  Also, it's a good thing I'm good with languages; some of the most foreign sounding names--the ones I'm guessing were Polish and Czechoslovakian--were really tough.)

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day) 2015

Today is the 27th of the Hebrew month of Nissan 5775, and that means that it is Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day, 2015.  I actually forgot what today was until I got to the main street of my college campus on my way to class, where there was a table set up by the Jewish fraternity, and students were reading out loud the names and ages of victims, and where they were killed, as part of a 24 hour vigil.  They offered me a big sticker (think bumper sticker size) that said "NEVER FORGET" with a picture of barbed wire over the words, and I took it and plastered it on my shirt because I didn't have anywhere else to put it.  I will wear it until I go to bed tonight, as my part of remembering.

As a Jew, I obviously have a connection to the Holocaust, but my personal connection goes even deeper than that.  There is a town in Poland called Wolbrum.  In Wolbrum, Poland, lived a family by the name of Dafner.  When I was at the Holocaust museum in Washington, DC a few years back, I looked up the Dafners in the records room.  There is just a short list--maybe fifteen or twenty of them--but they all come from Wolbrum and they were all my relatives.  None survived.  I also looked up my own last name (which I will not share over the internet for safety reasons).  In the Warsaw Ghetto alone, there were about three hundred people with my last name.  Obviously not all of them were related to me; however, I know some of them were.

Once when I was at one of these 24 hour vigils, I looked over the shoulder of the reader when s/he (it was a long time ago, and I don't remember who was reading) got to Dafner to see if I could catch names.  I only saw one: Ruth Dafner.  Here is my part of remembering the Holocaust: Ruth Dafner.  Ruth Dafner.  Ruth Dafner.

I thank God for America, where I am safe and free and majoring in Jewish studies.  Where I prayed in my room this morning and will pray again, publicly in the library, this afternoon.  Where I am writing a paper contrasting two Jewish philosophers, and reading a book by another.  Where I can peacefully and securely make my home.

Thank You, God.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Counting The Omer

Every year, from the second night of Passover until the day before Shavuot, we count something called the Omer.  We count each night, adding up both the days (49) and the weeks (seven).  If we forget even one night--just one--we have invalidated our counting for the year and are not allowed to get back into it until the next go-round, the following year.  The Omer is always counted after dark, because a Jewish day starts at night.

Last night, after my evening prayers, I proudly recited the blessing and counted the second day of the Omer.  Two down, 47 to go.  So far, so good.

And here is a picture of "Jacob"...*sigh*..."Jacob" needs new pictures.

Jacob sm

Friday, April 3, 2015

What We Do on Passover

On Passover we are not allowed to eat, have, or even own any food with yeast, leaven, etc.

There are three steps to getting rid of all such food: cleaning, selling, and nullifying.

For most people, the cleaning begins sometime the week before.  We clean our houses top to bottom, back to front.  We wipe down pantries, refrigerators, counter tops, and freezers.  You get the general idea.  This year, I cleaned my room at school and did most of the freezer at home.

After we clean, we take all forbidden food and put it somewhere like the garage or the porch.  We then ritually sell it.  Usually, we turn it over to a Rabbi with written forms, and then the janitor of the synagogue or somebody like that "takes" it and hands over a penny.  It's understood that the sale will be undone and we will all get our food back at the end of the eight-day holiday.

The morning before the holiday, we nullify whatever crumbs may be remaining.  We do this by reciting a formula in Aramaic (close to Hebrew) and then repeating it in English: "All chametz [forbidden food] in my possession, whether I have seen it or not, whether I have removed it or not, shall be nullified as the dust of the earth."

Now we are ready for the seder, the big ritual Passover meal that we hold each of the first two nights.  The short description is that we relive the Exodus, going from the bitterness of slavery to the sweetness of freedom through a series of regimented, ritualized steps.  I will give you the long explanation as well, just in case you're curious.
 The following is the order of a Passover seder:

  1. Kadesh: A blessing over wine or grape juice, made by whomever is leading the seder.  In our house, most years that's my father, except for one memorable year when he was in Iraq on military business and leading the seder fell to me.  (I was thirteen.)
  2. Urchatz: We wash our hands by pouring water over them--right, left, right.  We do not say a blessing.
  3. Karpas: We take a green vegetable (symbolizing springtime) and dip it in salt water (symbolizing tears or slavery).  We say a blessing and we eat it.
  4. Yachatz: The leader of the seder takes the middle matzah out of a pile of three and breaks it.  It almost never breaks evenly, so it is easy to tell the larger half.  This larger half is hidden away to be searched for later by all the children present; everybody who plans to look closes their eyes while it is hidden.
  5. Maggid: We tell the story of the Exodus with the aid of books called Haggadot.  (The Hebrew root for Maggid and Haggadah is the same, because these are the books that help us tell the story.)  In my family, we mostly read in English, going around the table and having each person who is old enough to know how to read, read a paragraph, or two if they're short.  There is also some singing in Hebrew.  A key moment comes towards the beginning of this step, when the youngest child present asks the Mah Nishtanah, the Four Questions.
  6. Rachtzah: We wash our hands again--right, left, right.  This time, we do say a blessing, and we do not talk afterwards.
  7. Motzee Matzah: Two blessings are said over the matzah: the regular blessing for bread, and a special blessing thanking God for the commandment to eat matzah.  Everyone at the table gets two pieces and eats them, and then we can talk again.
  8. Maror: Maror is the bitter herb that we eat to remember the bitterness of slavery.  We each eat a piece of it, along with a spoonful of charoset (a mixture of apples, nuts, cinnamon, and wine) to remember that now we are free and how sweet that is.
  9. Korech: We make a sandwich with matzah and maror.  This is a remembrance of how the Passover sacrifice was eaten in Temple times, because there is a quotation, "With matzot and maror they shall eat it."
  10. Shulchan Orech: This is dinner time! Just regular eating, good food and good conversation.  My family always serves salad and chicken soup with matzah balls as appetizers, potatoes and meat (pot roast the first night, turkey the second night) as a main course. We also have dessert, of course, and everyone eats as much as they want of the matzah and charoset, both of which are always in high demand.
  11. Tzafun: This is when the children go search for the hidden piece of matzah, known as the afikomen.  When they bring it back, everyone who looked for it gets a prize.  (In some households, only the child who finds it gets a prize, but my parents give prizes to everyone.  This year, I'm fairly certain they are planning to give Amazon gift cards.)  Pieces of the afikomen are distributed to everyone and eaten; this is the last food that we are allowed to eat for the night.
  12. Barech: We say the grace after meals.
  13. Hallel: We sing psalms and songs of praise to God.  This step ends with a little formula talking about how we have completed this seder according to custom and law...next year we should be in the rebuilt, messianic Jerusalem.
  14. Nirtzah: Our seder concludes with the singing of folk songs, in Hebrew and Aramaic.  My favorites are "Echad Mi Yodaiah," a counting song, and "Chad Gadyah," about a little goat that gets picked on by bigger and bigger adversaries, up to and including the Angel of Death himself...and then God comes and slays the Angel of Death.
Passover starts tonight...I am getting jumpy and excited just thinking about it.  This is one of my favorite holidays...I truly cannot wait.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Life Is Beautiful...It Really Is.

Since starting to work with my "magic workbook," as I call it, retraining my brain to not be in pain, miracles--no less--have been occurring in my life.  I am fully mobile in my lower body, and my hands are nearly fully functional again.  The hypersensitivity has completely reversed; when I touch a hurting area, it feels good now.  The most powerful tricks from my book have been those involving words: "I am in my amygdala and I want to calm down" (your amygdala does panic), and "Belief is relief" (your belief centers in your brain are actually the same as your pain centers).

A couple of days ago, I legitimately had the best day I've had in SIXTEEN YEARS physical pain wise! My dear friend "Charlotte", who knows me better than anyone at school, told me yesterday that except for a short time after I came out of rehab at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, I sound better than she's ever heard me sound.  For the first time in months, there is room in my life for something other than pain, and life...is...good.

Passover is coming up this Friday night; it is one of my favorite holidays.  I'll post more about it closer to the actual date.

And of course...you guessed it...here is little "Jacob's" picture.  Just a reminder to those who care: "Jacob" will be turning five in June, and has not had new pictures or anything since before he turned three.



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I am a bipolar, Jewish young adult (had my Hebrew birthday, the one I count, and turned 23 this past January) who also suffers from Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy. I love life and I live for my best friends: they are my purpose and my reason for trying so hard. I remain passionately devoted to those I love; I will not let my disorders make me totally self-centered. I like to read, write, and sew. My Rabbinical school plans did not work out, and I am now hoping to go into the field of Early Childhood Education. Please note: I am currently maintaining only Carried in His Hands. Enjoy!