Archive | June 2013

The First Time My Father Heard Me Pray

My father died of cancer when I was six months old. My mother was 24 and my sister Leslie was only four. In many ways it was harder for her then for me. She remembers him. I gained tremendous compassion for my mother once I became a mother myself. Her spirit is strong. She remarried when I was four and built a life for us.

I had no personal connection to my father until I was 18. I had put myself in therapy for my eating disorder and one day around Thanksgiving, out of nowhere, the flood gates opened. I came home from college that winter break and went right down to the basement to find my mother’s first wedding album. I took drove myself to the cemetary, found his grave and cried and cried. I never knew I had these feelings inside me.  I wrote poems, went to grief couseling, talked to anyone who would listen. At least I had some connection to my father now, event though it was a connection to the pain and loss of the father I never knew and would never know.

Several years later I learned a Jewish truth that profoundly changed my life. I began to forge a POWERFUL connection to my father. I learned that every mitzvah* that I performed was a merit to his soul. How cool is that?  Once a person dies, they can no longer perform mitzvot*. However, the people they left behind can do mitzvot in their merit! That is why we often give tzedakah (charity) in honor of someone, in the merit of a complete recovery for someone who is G-d forbid sick, or G-d forbid, in memory of someone who had passed away.  This meant that everything I did or didn’t do, would have a real connection to my father’s place in heaven.  Lighting Shabbat candles was no longer about me, but about us (and the world – see blog post “I Lit These Candles With You In Mind”).  Refraining from gossip, dressing more modestly, keeping kosher.  Life took on a new meaning for me. The amount of mitzvot I observe has grown over the years due to the understanding of how powerful an effect they have not only on my life here and now, but on the eternal life of my family members (may they live and be well) and those who have passed away.

One of the greatest blessings was when my son was born. He came after five daughters!  At the moment of his birth, when my husband said “It’s a boy!”  I cried a loud yet silent cry of gratitude. Gratitude that I would have the opportinity to name a son after my father. Then, and today, 8 years later, the knowledge that raising my son to be a true mensch with Torah as his guide and with God in his heart, would be a source of elevation for my father’s soul, give me tremendous joy.

So on this Father’s Day, I am grateful that my connection to my father Harvey Michael Werstein (Tzvi Moshe ben Elya Leb) is eternal. This song “The Deaf Man In the Shteeble” makes me cry every time I hear it, although my father is no longer in this world, he is On High smiling down on me and my family. http://youtu.be/goOYHw0SQdM

* mitzvah/mitzvot: Lit. commandment. Any of the 613 commandments that Jews are obligated to observe. It can also refer to any Jewish religious obligation, or more generally to any good deed.

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My Powerful Dream

I woke up at 2am after having an incredibly powerful dream. The dream felt so real and so clear and I immediately wrote it down. Here is what I wrote:
I entered a room (but it felt like it was outdoors) and my sister was there and she asked if we heard about the storm in Oklahoma that was happening now – that a door was here one minute and gone the next. Blown away from the strong winds. So we turned on the TV to see what was going on. Then it was suddenly storming where we were. I was outside and the storm was getting really bad. People were talking about tsunami.  Lori Palatnik (a very well known woman in Jewish outreach) was there and I asked her to promise me that God was in charge of tsunamis.  She said that she did not know for sure.  That freaked me out inside because it rocked my entire foundation. Then the storm got really bad where we were and we needed to find something to hold onto. Nothing I grasped seemed sturdy enough. Finally I found a tree and I grabbed the tree with all of my might and as the storm came and passed I screamed at the top of my lungs HASHEM ECHAD! HASHEM ECHAD! HASHEM ECHAD! (God is One! God is One! God is One!).  We made it thru the storm.

This dream was extremely clear to me and to the close people in my life who I shared it with right away.  The tsunami is the twists and turns and ups and downs of my life, the challenges and struggles. The feeling of being out of control – between my husband dealing with prostate cancer, my children in various stages of growth dealing with their own struggles, the financial challenges that so many of us are facing, the two steps forward, one step back I feel so often. Asking Lori Palatnik to promise me that God is in charge of the tsunami and her response that she was not sure is about me looking outside of myself for my faith instead of within me, where God is.  Grasping onto the tree and screaming God is One is my deep belief and knowingness that God IS the ONLY ONE who can give me true strength and security. That everything else (people, things, children, husband, jobs, friends, material objects) are all transitory and falible.  GOD is my strength, my source. And being rooted (tree metaphor) I will always make it through the storm.

When It’s My Own Stuff

Originally posted on May 28, 2013

Today one of my children carefully asked me for something and at first I was not understand why she was asking me so carefully. Then, I realized what she was actually asking for and I immediately said “Oh, sweetie, I’m sorry, but no”.  Angrilly she said “I knew it!” and stomped off.   I went inside and intuitively I knew to call a friend of mine; a young woman who is much closer to my daughters age than mine.  I shared with her the context of the conversation and I was able to see how my “No” was based on MY OWN STUFF. I was able to see where I was triggered,  sort through my own feelings, and stay solid in my current values. With my thinking on a new plane, I was able to approach my daughter and say to her that my initial reaction was about my own stuff.  I told her (in her language) that I completely appreciate her desires (people want to feel UNDERSTOOD) and gently provided the value-based parameters that would allow me to say “YES!”

Reactions based on our stuff comes up not only with parenting but with marriage, colleagues, relatives and friends. The key is recognizing it, gaining tools to deal with it and being willing to go back for a “Take 2”.

Simply “Evaluate and Correct”.

My Favorite Holiday!

Originally posted on May 10. 2013

Today is the first day of the Jewish month of Sivan. The first day of the new month is called Rosh Chodesh. So this is Rosh Chodesh Sivan.  Why is this such a special month? Because this is the month of my FAVORITE holiday….. SHAVUOT!  You may be asking “Sha-vu-WHAT???”    That was my first impression 22 years ago when I first found out that there was a Jewish holiday called Shavuot.  You see, I got married in June and my wedding shower was on Sunday, May 19th, 1991. My friend Debra who was “religious” could not come because it was Shavuot. Oh well. Her loss, right?  WRONG!  While the bridal shower was really fun, it can never come close to the feeling I get every year in anticipation of Shavuot and the holiday itself.

When we left Egypt at Passover we were slaves. We were at an all-time low, physically, emotionally and spiritually.  And just seven weeks later (Shavuot literally means “sevens”) we stood together at Mount Sinai, God gave us the Torah,  and we became a People, a Holy Nation!   The very thing that defines us as Jews happened on Shavuot!

This year Shavuot begins the night of May 14th and ends the night of May 16th.  I am so grateful that this is my 21st year celebrating Shavuot!

No matter if you consider your self Reform, Conservative, Orthodox or unaffiliated,  Shavuot is yours for the taking.

“I Lit These Candles With You In Mind”

Originally published on April 24, 2013

“I lit these candles with you in mind.” This is what Rebbetzin Judy Scheinberg of San Antonio used to tell me whenever I arrived at her home after Shabbat already began. It took us 3 hours to drive to San Antonio from the Air Force base where my husband was stationed at the time. It was either arrive after sundown or not go at all. I am grateful for the Sheinbergs warmth and love for ALL Jews, no matter if or how they observed. It continues to inspire me. My teacher Mrs. Rochel Miller (www.jewishwomensmission.com) taught me that when a woman lights Shabbat candles, not only does it bring blessings to her own home and family, but like a pebble thrown into the ocean, it creates a ripple effect reaching farther then one could ever imagine. It is obvious to me that the ripple of her blessings reached me. The benevolence of The Creator is that EVERY positive action that we do counts. You receive the blessings of lighting candles (and bring blessing to the world) even if you do nothing else for Shabbat, and even if you don’t feel connected to God. It is your right. I will light tonight with YOU in mind. I hope you do to. Shabbat Shalom.

Here is a beautiful video of women lighting Shabbat candles with AKA Pella singing http://youtu.be/eDfeoDisbrc

Coaching Made Me a Better Mom

Originally posted on April 24, 2013

While driving one of my daughters to an appointment yesterday, I received a phone call from another daughter who had just arrived home from school.  “Mommy, I need you! When will you be home?”   Any mother knows that “I need you” is almost always followed by a plea for food, help finding something lost,  money, homework assistance, a ride somewhere or the car keys.  This call for help was different.  She was asking me to coach her.  She had a dilemma and could not get clarity on the issue.  While I could have given her my advice, the most powerful thing I could do for her would be to ask her some powerful questions that would elicit her best thinking (not mine!)  So filtering out my own motives, we engaged in a coaching conversation that allowed her to think, feel, and ultimately gain clarity on what she needed to do. Coaching always inspires me. So does my daughter.