What to say and what not to say about suicide?

Dear all friends, followers and loving fans,

I have been widely absent from all sorts of social media presence lately. I haven’t posted except for the occasional signs that I am alive and paying attention to the world, mainly in private settings.

On the occasion of the tragic death of celebrities to suicide, I feel bombarded once again by a renewed interest from those who received the news with shock and dismay and struggle to understand the underlying cause of such horrible way to die.

Among what I can read, there are more triggering messages about mental health, responsibility to others when you are in the public eye than I can take without adding my own voice to the noise around suicide.

I can’t take anyone’s blame on a deceased person for having left the world as if such departure was their conscious will. I can’t listen to angry messages without receiving a hurtful blow as if the anger was a personal attack, not only on myself but also on the one who expresses an angry message: I can feel the utmost fear and pain that the news inflicted on them and if anger is the only way to express such pain, I resent that it takes the form of a hurtful attack on anyone.

There are healthy ways to process anger and it should always be in the form of action.

I certainly feel angry myself and this may be the very reason why I am writing this and coming out of my silent place on social media on this occasion.

Most of you know that I have been open about my struggles and life circumstances.

I have no suicidal ideation and I know that I am lucky that it has never happened to me. I would not be here to share those words with you if I had not been lucky when I “lost” it. I have a very clear recollection of the chains of events – on several separate occasions – that protected me. Each of those occasions, I took as a lesson and a guide on how to keep protecting the life I have been given, the gifts I have been granted, and the responsibility I have agreed to take upon myself to continue growing and fulfilling my mission on earth… until it is the end of it, and it is not my human decision.

Words are powerful: they can hurt or they can heal.

I cringe and ache when I read messages that convey misunderstanding, judgments and sometimes extremely toxic condemnations that those who silently suffer may receive as an additional confirmation that they should not disclose anything about themselves because it is at best useless and at worst dangerous.

Each of us has a dark area of unknown places: there is a window that can be accessed, and a window that can’t. Personal growth should aim at making the inaccessible window the smallest possible so that it is not filling with demons or unresolved pains and conflicts that threaten to spill poison or despair into our lives.

There are many different paths to such growth. Not one way fits all. It is the same with all who succumb to the darkness. Not all of them have suffered for the same cause nor would have been helped the same way, or helping themselves in the same fashion as the other, or as myself.

What responsibility?

Today, the only message I want to convey about responsibility is that we are each of us individually responsible for what we put outside of ourselves, what we publish as well as what we say to others, or about others. It is so important to avoid blame and condemnation. It is so necessary to make sure that what we decide to share is coming from a place of love and not a place of fear.

When we harbor anger at a news that shocked us, we can recognize the anger without using it to distance ourselves from what has happened. Suicide is not contagious but the words that are spoken around the suicide of a well-known victim of suicide have the unfortunate power to kill others as well.

I would dream of a world where each of us watches their words carefully so that they can bring light and love all the time. It has been a dream for a long time and if I do not contribute to my own dream, I have failed to take action that will ease the feelings of pain and anger that I may be experiencing when something tragic happens to my fellow human.

What to do

I do not have a recipe to give you about what to say or what not to say. I have immense respect and trust that you can measure your words by yourself. As for action, there are great organizations who dedicate multiple resources and countless ways to help make this world a kinder and safer place for all. Let us join them in their efforts and vow to repair the world and grow our hearts bigger with love for all.

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Three Brothers

Tombe_Mayer_Alger-min

 

Every year, on Veterans Day, I am reminded of the WWI fallen from my own family.

This is because, in France, the day is dedicated to celebrating the end of WWI with the signature of the armistice that day.

The picture on this post shows a tombstone in Algiers Jewish Cemetary, the only picture I have of a place I never could visit.
My mother was born there. The tomb is the family’s plot.

These are her mother’s brothers who died during the war ~ and a fourth brother also died in WWII.

My mother’s grandfather ~ the father of these brothers if you follow ~ had been a Colonel in the French Army, at the same time as the famous Captain Dreyfus.

I told a little bit in this post, too.

Jews were very patriotic always, despite antisemitism. It was an honor to send his own sons to serve the country. They paid the ultimate price of this patriotism in what has been dubbed later the worst terrible war and a “butchery”, which it was.

War is ugly.

There is no pretty war.

Veterans who are lucky to come back from wars may have come unarmed in their bodies but their soul is scarred. I cannot even fathom how they can deal with their feelings after they endured and experienced what they did.

We owe them more than just remembering to thank them for their service with gratitude. We do. But we also owe them care and employment and mental health care as a country, not as a charity.

When I remember my own great-uncles whom I never got a chance to meet and who never got a chance to give birth to sons or daughters who would talk about their stories, I also remember their mother, Rachel, my great-grandmother, and Cecile, my mother’s mother who had been the one to share with me about her beloved brothers.

I remember most what was a painful sadness lingering year after year, so strong that I was able to carry it over with me.

I remember the picture of Rachel wearing the signs of her bereavement, that she would never lose until her own death. I can’t fathom the kind of strength you need to muster once you have buried your own sons, one after the other.

My grandmother gave birth to my uncle a few days after her brother was killed, two days before the armistice was signed Nov 11, 1918.

 

My uncle was named after the young fallen soldier.

 
 

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The Month of Gratitude

November is #noticeandsharethegood Month!
I have two sons.
The older – is 22. The younger is 20.
The older is severely autistic. He has no conversational language.
At times he goes above his brother’s head with his own bent head, in a loving gesture of awe, in his own fashion to express tenderness.
That the younger young man never pushes him back nor expresses annoyance is beautiful. Simply beautiful.
I cannot explain how grateful I am for the tender relationship between those two…

Give thanks

There is a tradition in Judaism that we give thanks as soon as we open our eyes when we wake up in the morning.

We are given many opportunities to give thanks from that moment on during the day, and if we can we are urged to do it at least a hundred times each day.

Looking around and finding those opportunities is an exercise in mental health, with more benefits than anti-depressants.

When darkness is growing

With November, in the Northern hemisphere, trees are becoming bare.

Daylight is decreasing.

Soon we feel like we don’t see the sun at all.

It is time to vote in the United States.

A year ago, it did not end well for all those who had not seen it come. Authoritarianism is casting such an ominous shadow that it feels difficult to give thanks for what is happening in the world.

To look for the beauty and the goodness.

To find the helpers.

To keep hope and keep the battle and keep smiling.

Keep voicing your opinions

We can disagree on so many things and still have a civil discussion.

There are so many ways to look at everything.

Just be patient and see the tenderness in a gesture that may be annoying.

Like my son does over and over out of his own love for his brother.

Always see the good in everything may bring surprises. The light will come back.

In the meantime, let us all prepare for the beautiful holiday of Thanksgiving. What will you bring to the table? Let me know!

 

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As a Thank You for joining my list, I will send you The Elul Series – an accounting of the Soul one day at a time!

Yes, please send me an email when you publish a new blog post!

Survival in A Tough Time

Coffee Shop Rabbi (a.k.a. Rabbi Ruth Adar) expressed feelings and ideas I share in this post I re-post on my own blog today.

I wish I had written what she wrote: her words mirror those that struggled to form in my own overwhelmed mind.

When the only thought that comes to mind is “disaster”, I want to stay strong and helpful. I want to use my personal powers of being alive and able.

Doing one good deed at a time.

Even if that one deed is to continue publishing one blog at a time.

Coffee Shop Rabbi

Image: Sonoma, CA, in better times. (jessebridgewater/pixabay)

Hurricanes. Wildfires.

A little over a week ago we said the Unetaneh Tokef prayer, “Who by water and who by fire,” expressing the fact that we simply do not know what the future will bring each person. And since then, we have seen so many bad things: the aftermath of hurricane and floods in Texas, Florida, and Puerto Rico, and the fires in the West, especially in Northern California this week.

The news from Washington is deeply upsetting to many of us. Who would have thought we’d see a President of the United States have a name-calling match on Twitter with one of the leaders of his own party? Who would have thought we’d see a name-calling game of nuclear chicken play out on Twitter between heads of state?

I have not posted for a week. Some of that was a…

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On this day, April 19, 1943

Ruins of the Warsaw Ghetto
http://www.yadvashem.org/yv/en/exhibitions/warsaw_ghetto_testimonies/ruins.asp

In 1943 this day Waffen SS attacks Jewish resistance in the Warsaw ghetto.

My family lived in France and I learned the history of the Warsaw Ghetto first hand from survivors I met as an adult. None of them are alive anymore, but they passed their memories to me, and for me to remember what happened and how it happened.

Why it happened is another question that I still am asking.

Sometimes, it feels it happened because the younger generations forget or don’t care about what is outside of their immediate preoccupations.

These images are in black and white.

Don’t they look alike images we see every day still? somewhere in the world?

Why should we not remember lest we repeat history?

We, Jews, may be annoying you with our constant remembrance of the Holocaust: denying that it happened is not only painful and offensive, but it is also criminal because it allows the world to become cruel, cynical and self-destroying.

Stories of the resistance are beautiful and inspiring. They are poignant and useful.

Remember. Share. Resist. Grow. Love.

For those who know me 


This 8th of April
For those who know me from there, and for those who know me from here.
For those who share my roots, and for those who love to learn about them.
For those who follow me for my stories, and for those who follow me because they share their course.
Here’s to you on this 8th of April, for now, and forever.
Places are in our hearts even when they can’t be seen anymore.
Thoughts are prayers when they can be said aloud.
Images are memories that can be shared and I am grateful for such a gift of passing along from generation to generation.

A Sparkly Beacon of Hope: the Prospector Theater

There is a wonderful and very unique theater in my neighborhood.

It has delighted me since it opened about three years ago and I could not wait until I had an opportunity to bring my elder son who has severe autism to a movie  I thought he would enjoy.

The Prospector Theater had a sensory screening of “Beauty and the Beast” the other day.

We went and we loved it!

You see, it is a place where all workers are called Prospects and they all fall in the society’s named category of people with disabilities.

It’s a place that is beautiful with a sparkle.

Its welcoming atmosphere goes beyond anything one could dream of: a place where everyone is extraordinary and proud to offer entertainment and respite from the world that is not always as accepting of differences as it should be.


My son immediately beamed at “Bonjour!” of course.

He then delighted in each and every musical scene and was elated with the ballroom extravaganza.

Thanks to the sensory setting the soundtrack was not overwhelming and we were never in complete darkness which helped me too!

There are so many beautiful things about the Prospector theater.

There, everyone is unique and working to make you feel happy and it is not in vain: I came out of the two hours movie as elated as when I was a kid, completely rejuvenated by the love story (I know, I am a total sucker for fairy tales) and by having been able to enjoy the sheer pleasure my very special son obviously experienced.

If you would like to support the mission of this very unique place, you can see their website.
Donate, become a sponsor or simply follow them on social media! Thank you!

Read more about the Prospector Theater: https://www.nytimes.com/2015/09/13/nyregion/in-ridgefield-a-movie-theater-with-a-lofty-mission.html

The whole world is a narrow bridge

Studying Torah with Rabbi Burstein, z"l

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The whole world is a narrow bridge and the important thing is to not be afraid ~ Rabbi Nachman of Breslav

כָּל הָעוֹלָם כֻּלוּ גֶשֶׁר צַר מְּאֹד וְהָעִיקָר לאֹ לְפַחֵד כְּלַל

This was one of the favorite quotes of my rabbi, Marcus L. Burstein, z”l

As this past day of Yom Kippur ended, and after the gates closed at Neilah, the soul of a tzaddik  (a righteous man) went back to its Source to make sure we would be sheltered under the sukkah of peace.

 

He had been my rabbi since 2013. At a time when things were not very easy for us, he came  with a mission to serve us and lead us towards change.

He had the smile that made you forget about grudge or bitterness, he had the heart that made you melt even when you were angry or upset, he had the listening skills and the wisdom of a very old and gentle soul.

I will always remember when he arrived in our congregation and the first Shabbat service as our new rabbi: because we were worried about the dwindling attendance at Shabbat services anyways, and moreover that Shabbat falling on the Fourth of July weekend, we feared about being not able to welcome him nicely with at least more than a minyan, so we had made sure to communicate well about that service: what we had not understood yet, was that this particular rabbi had already established such a personal connection with each and every one of the congregants, during the preliminary meetings and not only for the search committee members but for all who had been able to attend those “Meet the new rabbi” events (not more than two or three, if my memory serves well) so the sanctuary was filled to capacity and beyond!

And the ambiance was astounding in that room, our cantor was on fire and the ruach (spirit) was stronger than it had been in a very long time.

Rabbi Burstein was the first one to be delighted and surprised: he had no idea we were so musical, and so passionate maybe, but he also had no idea he had the power to bring the very best out of us. That was the first public encounter with our congregation. From then on, until his very last worship with us on Rosh haShanah second day of 5777, he radiated only love from others and the perfect connection with everybody. This is a gift that is rare.

And this was only at the end of his first week of working at our congregation.

Rabbi Burstein had also asked me to assist him setting up his computer on his first day. And I will remember that day all my life too.

You see, that day was a Monday, July 1st, 2013.

I do remember exactly that Monday morning because torrential summer storms had battered our county. I had made an appointment maybe around 10 am with the new rabbi and was still at my gym when it poured. At about the same time,  Rabbi Burstein was still at his home and the same storm had suddenly flooded his basement. He made it to our appointment late because of the incident and arrived a bit shaken. He told me how he had nearly died because he foolishly tried to stop the water from rushing into the place, but the force of the current was terrible and dangerous; he escaped harm but it had truly been frightening.

At this point of his retelling the story his office phone rang and because it was his first day he asked me to answer (we had no caller ID on those phones) and it turned out it was his mom so I left the office for privacy and they talked while I went to work in the main office on my computer.

Rabbi Burstein came then to let me know he had finished his conversation after a while and that I could come back to set up his computer and just by his looks, I saw that he needed to be somewhere else than in an office setting up a computer: I asked him:

– Rabbi, would you like your mother to hug you right now? I am good at this and can provide too!

He laughed with his absolutely wonderful laugh and without missing a beat gave me a “Marcus Hug” and I held him tight in what felt like one of the most reassuring hugs I could give when my son has escaped a great danger. We went back to his office, sat, and I said that we should recite the gomel, which we actually did at that Shabbat service I mentioned earlier!

We had started the most amazingly significant relationship that day. I was crying writing this memory during the shivah period because I knew that his soul was still remembering with me and I want to never forget those feelings for they are such blessings.

 

Rabbi Burstein impacted me as a person in the much too short years I got to know and learn from him. He made me a much better person and a certainly better Jew.

There are special moments in the too short period I got to call Rabbi Burstein, z”l “our rabbi”.

“BLTs” as illustrated by the very nice picture that is opening this blog post  embody the spirit that I want to convey so well.  BLTs here stands for Breakfast and Learning Torah (or Brunch, depending on whether the Talmud Torah was taking place early before a bar or bat mitzvah ceremony or later when there was only a 7th Grade class that Saturday morning).

This was a new program Rabbi Burstein had started. Before his arrival, Torah study took place on Sundays during Religious School. For some reasons, parents did not really sign up for that class when it shifted to Saturday morning, so for a couple of years most of those Shabbat mornings were my “date” with my rabbi and I loved it!

The first one who would arrive in the morning would prepare the coffee. I had my mug, and rabbi Burstein had his, I knew how he liked his bagel, he knew which ones I did not like, we discussed the merits of the cream cheese choices and of course talked about food on that occasion, a topic that gave him a chance to talk more than I since he was a cook and I was not, but I could bring up sephardic menus as I recalled them from my family and sometimes we even exchanged recipes. Because do not be mistaken, cooking is torah!

Once our breakfast would be prepared, we would sit and say the bracha laasok bedivrei torah and go into the portion he had prepared… or not. Because sometimes, we had many other things to discuss as soon as the first verse we had read was taking us to an idea, or because I needed some spiritual guidance in a time that was not easy for me to navigate: you see, I was not very happy with the direction the congregation was heading to and I was struggling with negative feelings a lot.

Rabbi Burstein did not only listen. Sometimes, he opened up about his own struggles.

Often, we traded roles because I was happy to bring some of the interpretations of the text I had studied with my previous rabbis. Rabbi Burstein’s openness was the most wonderful thing I can remember. I never felt judged, I never felt I was wrong (nor right, in that matter! it was just a shared discovery because most of the times, the ideas we were laying out were taking their own path to make new meanings that neither of us had anticipated and it made us simply happy!).

It was often too short. I was always surprised how refreshed I felt after our BLTs. I know that after we cleaned up there was either a service that I would enjoy and sing my heart out or if it had been after a class, I would go back home and have the rest of the Shabbat with my boys and continue to think about all we had brought up. And it was helping me grow.

Rabbi Burstein was so humble and accepting.

When my father died, in April 2014, shortly before Passover,  I told him bluntly that no rabbis were allowed because my father was such an apikoyres that I did not want his soul to be upset if a rabbi officiated at his shivah!

Rabbi Burstein stood with us in my condo among all the other friends who had come to comfort me, and my son lead the service with me. But I still asked him to sing the El Male Rahamim for us. This was so special too. A memory that I can only cherish. On my father’s first yahrzeit, I recorded Kol haOlam Kulo, which rabbi Burstein had taught me to understand and love.

When you have to cross a narrow place, you should not fear having to do it. Keep going.

Even if scared.

Just keep going.

Rabbi Burstein did just that. When he learned of the dreadful diagnosis that explained why he had not felt so good for a few months, around the time of Rosh haShana 5776, he went for very aggressive and devastating treatments to fight the tumors from the rare form of cancer that had taken over his body. Even when he was afraid, he kept being the same giving person, listening to us, thanking us for our notes and making plans for his congregation that was going through a significant transition, that felt difficult for many of us, especially without his guidance and physical presence.

We had mourned our cantor less than a year ago, and some of us had lost their best friend and musical director when Kathy Storfer died also prematurely in November 2015. Our sanctuary had closed and we were worshipping in a very different place with different customs. Each time, Rabbi Burstein was joining us, he was delivering a powerful message of hope and resilience, and always making sure we were okay.

I have been struggling to publish this post for too long now. I wanted to give some of the memories that were personal to me, like the hydrangeas that he brought me when I returned from burying my father in France. We then shared the stories that this plant was bringing to my mind, from the time my father was a young teen in occupied France during WWII.

I wanted to share how grateful I was that he had played such a significant role in my own son’s life as a teenager who faced heartbreak and had to navigate his age’s turmoils without a father figure around, and rabbi Burstein played this role so smoothly and without being asked, it was the best gift I could receive and I had very few words to express my gratitude in an appropriate manner.

I prepared to chant some verses of the first chapter of the Torah on the second day of Rosh haShanah. I had not expected rabbi Burstein to attend the service because I knew how exhausted he was at the time nearing the end. But he was there. It was truly special, I could spend a few private time with him when he gave me the book I had asked him the references, as I wanted to make sure I would remember the sources of the teachings I had loved most from his sermons for the High Holy Day seasons he had served our congregation. Not only he gave me the actual book, with his handwritten marks and post-its still in it that will guide me to the places he valued or questioned most, but he inscribed it with the loveliest of inscriptions for me.

Rabbi Haddon summed up the essence of Rabbi Marcus Burstein, z”l by saying that he was the essence of tsimtsum, צמצום / the contraction: allowing others to grow through his own contraction. As Rabbi Haddon added: “Quite remarkable”.

 

 

#BlogElul 5776 #ElulGram – Elul 29: Return

sefardic_rh_sederWhen you read this final blog post of the #BlogElul series, we will be in the Days of Awe, with a new moon, a new month of holidays, a new year 5777 with its celebrations, reflections, worshipping and deliberate renewal of vows to be better persons.

This time, thanks to all of you, I feel so much more prepared to the notion of “returning” and I am immensely grateful for what I have received through the exercise and the commitment.

I learned a lot during the process, mostly that when you commit publicly to something you are more likely to accomplish what you promised.

Also, that because others give you a feedback, you receive so much more than what you give: you feel motivated to pursue, you feel loved and valued, you feel you matter and you want to be up to the challenge as a thank you for such a gift.

This is how I saw more clearly the importance of a community of people who care, who enjoy sharing and getting to know each other through common discovering.

Even though the introspection is a very intimate work, the presence of the witnesses of the process is a wonderful gift: the road seems so much more pleasant and less scary. It makes it worth to decide to undertake the journey of returning to the Source!

I feel so much stronger and less afraid. I feel ready to account for my mistakes and my shortcomings. I feel I understand the pains of others better for having traveled with them and listened as much as I could.

As I am getting ready to set a table for a Rosh ha Shana seder, I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart for having been faithful readers of this series, through some long, some short and some better than other posts, and I hope that the joy I took sharing them with you reached the joy I want you to experience always in feeling connected to each other.

Because, in the end, this is all that it is about: being connected.

 

May you be inscribed for a good year,

L’shana tova tikatevu

 

This year,  I have committed to a daily blog in English to participate in @imabima’s project of Elul. I have dedicated this endeavor for the רפואה שלמה complete healing of   מרדכי אלעזר בן חנה מרים (Mordechai ben Chanah).