Monday, March 5, 2018

Needing Help

When I was 11-years-old I went to the first Bat Mitzva of our class. Well, I went to the shul where it was taking place. And then I had a panic attack and cried under a sink in the bathroom until my friend’s mom found me and called my parents. I had alway been a shy kid, afraid to talk to or in front of most people, and had already started therapy with an amazing social worker. This incident made my parents decide it was time for me to get on medication. I went to the psychiatrist, my goal being to be brave and talk a lot so he wouldn’t put me on medication. I didn’t want to need the help. I was proud of myself for how much I talked to him but even so he saw the truth. He diagnosed me with social anxiety due to a chemical imbalance in my brain and I started taking Zoloft. After that my life completely changed. What the people in my life saw as a shy kid growing up and coming out of her shell was actually me getting control of my anxiety. I was able to talk to people, even new people. I attended many more Bat and Bar Mitzvas and actually made it into the party. I graduated middle school and then high school and left home for the first time for seminary. It was scary, but I made it and loved it.
Then I decided to make aliyah. I started Bar Ilan and here’s where the trouble started. I was far away from my family, adjusting to a new language and culture, trying desperately to pass my classes. But I was struggling- something I hadn’t experienced in a long time. I called my mom one day sobbing and told her I was broken. She said it was time to get help again. I sobbed even harder. I was suddenly 11-years-old and under that sink again. I’d worked so hard to get here, how could I need help again? It must mean I had failed. I started seeing a social worker again and at her advice (and after consulting with my psychiatrist) I upped my Zoloft dosage. I got help and I got better in a matter of months. I started feeling happy again, an emotion I had forgot. I broke free of the depression and moved forward with my life. I continued with my degree, met a boy, got married. And my family joined me in Israel. Up until that point my mom had been getting my Zoloft prescription from my psychiatrist back home, so when they made aliyah I had to see a doctor here. I made an appointment and explained my situation. The psychiatrist asked if I’d ever tried going off the medication. I had been on it for 10 years at that point so he suggested I try stopping and if I have trouble to come back. So, I stopped and even better I functioned. I was so proud not to need help anymore.
A year or so later I got pregnant. I knew because of my pre-existing conditions I’d be at risk for postpartum depression and promised myself I’d be on the lookout for it. I had my baby and came home, my husband went back to work. And I struggled. I felt isolated from the world as I tried to adjust to being a mother. I couldn’t seem to connect to my baby. I wanted her to be healthy and happy and took care of her, but I didn’t love her. And I felt terribly guilty. I waited all week for shabbat when I got to be with my family and dreaded going home again after. My mom suggested I look into getting help. Instead I decided to find a job (I had worked in a temporary job while pregnant). Luckily I found one fast. My baby started daycare, I started working, and I got happy again. I grew to love my daughter and felt good about my life. I would have hard days sometimes where the anxiety felt like it was crushing me- if my daughter was sick or I was dealing with something difficult at work- but overall I was good.
When my daughter was about 1 and a half I got pregnant again. This time I decided things would be different. I would be healthier and take a longer maternity leave and things would be good. I gave birth to my second daughter 7 weeks ago. It has been different- the birth and subsequent recovery were easier and I loved my daughter right away. But sometimes it’s hard. I’ve been sick a number of times (mastitis), my toddler has had trouble going to bed as part of her adjustment, and this week my baby has had trouble eating due to having a cold. And although overall I’ve been happy, when the road bumps hit I struggle. I get very down and have scary thoughts of hurting myself. I’m self-aware enough to realize that it’s the depression talking and to not act on it thank G-d. So, I figured that means I’m ok. But it doesn’t, it’s not healthy to feel this way and think these things and as much as I don’t want to need help, I do need it. I’ll be seeing a psychiatrist next week. This time my goal is to go back on medication. Because although needing help makes me feel weak, getting the help I need means I’m strong. I am strong enough to decide that I want to be happy and lucky enough to live in an age where we have medications to help. I am strong enough to not let my anxiety and depression rule my life and make my decisions for me. I am strong enough to role model for my girls that when they need help they should ask for it. I am strong enough to be happy, even if I need help to do it.

Thursday, August 3, 2017


This year (2017) almost immediately after the 3 weeks had finished we had a family simcha (brit mila). The stark transition between 3 weeks of mourning, unfortunately filled with current tragedies to mourn, and sudden simcha got me thinking. As Jews we have trouble keeping our happiness separate from our hardships. At our smachot we remember the chourban (destruction of the Temple) and family that has left us. When something is good, we feel the need to add “bli ayin hara” (it should be without the evil eye) to the end of the sentence. What does this say about us, that we can not have our good without our bad? Are we a pessimistic people by nature, a weak people? A people incapable of appreciating the good we have? And then I thought about the holocaust- arguably the darkest time in our history. I thought about the strength and hope that survived the Nazis. I thought about the Jews that kept shabbat as best they could, that protected their Sefrei Torah, that never stopped praying or believing in G-d. I thought about the warriors who fought back and the mothers who protected their children above all else. One conclusion was clear, we are not a weak people. We have endured hardship after hardship, attack after attack, and victory after victory. And this I believe is why we can not separate our good from our bad, our hardship from our happiness. Our national struggles are an inherent part of who we are, like it or not. But the hand of G-d, guiding us through history, is just as much a part of who we are. He has given us a homeland and taken it away when we didn't deserve it. He has helped us survive expulsions, pogroms, hatred, and disdain. He has brought us back home after 2000 years of wandering. We are not done struggling yet, we have a long way to go. Our enemies surround us and, even worse, we are too often our own enemy. Our Temple has not been restored, because we have not yet earned it. So we mourn every year for 3 weeks and we remember the chourban at our weddings to remind us of the work we still have to do. But we also celebrate the beginning of our geula. And what better reason to celebrate than a new Jewish soul, born in his homeland, among his people. We must not forget our strength, especially when things seem dark. Now is the time to fight. 

Thursday, November 19, 2015

I Wish

I wish I had words of wisdom to share. I wish I had answers instead of questions. I wish I could understand what is happening and why. I wish I could look at my daughter without worrying about the world I've brought her into. I wish there wasn't hate in the world that drove people to violence. I wish the people that have been killed over the past months were still alive. I wish the injured were not in pain. I wish that Am Yisrael wasn't experiencing constant, collective heartbreak. I wish I could walk around with headphones in without worrying if that’s a safe choice. I wish I didn’t have to have pepper spray with me at all times. I wish my buses didn’t have to be bulletproof. I wish I didn’t have to check in with my family to make sure they’re unhurt after an attack in the Gush. I wish we could live in peace with our neighbors.
I hope one day we will live in peace with our neighbors. I hope to only call my family for good things. I hope to travel on busses with normal windows. I hope to take the pepper spray off my keychain. I hope to listen to music without worry. I hope for unbroken hearts and health. I hope for love and respect. I hope for my daughter’s future.
I can only wish and hope for now. The hope will have to be enough.
Hashem Yerachem.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

A Special Place

Eight weeks ago I was lucky enough to give birth to my amazing daughter- Ma’ayan Esther. Last week, on the way to my parent’s house in Efrat, Ma’ayan and I stopped to visit my mom in the Old City.
As I walked toward Shaar Yafo wearing Ma’ayan in her baby carrier, I leaned over and told Ma’ayan we were going to a very special place. On the word “special” my voice cracked and I teared up. I couldn’t believe the zchut I was about to experience. I was about to take my gorgeous, Israeli-born, Sabra daughter to the holiest city on Earth. To the place where her ancestors walked and journeyed to to be close to G-d. And this wasn’t a trip I had to book plane tickets for or plan far in advance. I got on a bus in the morning and on a whim decided to visit the Old City instead of going straight to Efrat.
In the five years since I’ve made aliyah there have been good times and hard times. In the hardest times, when I asked myself why I’ve done this to myself the answer I gave was so that my children would never have to go through this. They wouldn’t have to struggle like I did through a second language and culture in order to be home. They would just be home. Ma’ayan has now started her journey. She spent her first days in a hospital surrounded by Hebrew and “mazal tovs” instead of “congratulations”. At seven-weeks-old she “walked” the streets of Jerusalem and the Old City. And this is only the beginning. As she grows she will continue to have Israeli experiences- an Israeli gan and an Israeli school. She will speak Hebrew better than her parents and make fun of our accents. She will talk to her siblings in Hebrew because that language will be easier for them. She will have Israeli friends over and we’ll have to actually speak Hebrew in the house. Maybe she’ll even marry a Sabra and then we’ll really have to speak Hebrew in the house.
I look forward to all of these experiences and more as Ma’ayan and Beezrat Hashem her siblings are born and grow in the Holy Land. And I thank Hashem every day for my family here. My parents and siblings- who are always available to help and who have made Ma’ayan’s first few weeks so much easier. My husband- who works so hard and is always giving to me and to Ma’ayan. And now my daughter- who is adorable and amazing and will grow up in a very special place.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015


Last night I stood among 800 people graduating from Bar Ilan’s social sciences programs. Some men, some women, some single, some married, some Jewish, some Arab, some native born Israelis, and some olim. We all sat together listening to a perek of tehilim, boring graduation speeches, and a couple of Jewish songs. Then we all stood and were pronounced graduates and sang hatikva. This was a very emotional experience for a number of reasons- both on a personal level for me and on a national level.
On a personal level this ceremony represented four long years of hard work. Four long years of struggling through hebrew lectures and articles. Four long years of failing exams and rewriting assignments. Four years of leaning on family, friends, and classmates for support and help. Four years of feeling dependent on others and dealing with how inadequate that made me feel. Four years of hard work and tears. I wasn’t used to struggling academically- school had never been hard for me. I certainly wasn’t used to not being able to simply follow a lecture. But I worked hard, retook tests, and redid courses.And I made it to the end. I did not do it alone, though.  My classmates gave me their notes, proofread my papers, and studied with me. My family and friends gave me unending and unconditional emotional support.  I could not have made it through those four years without these people and their help. I was incredibly proud to be able to stand with my fellow graduates, get my degree, and show that my hard work (and theirs) paid off.
On a national level it was an incredibly emotional experience to have my college graduation ceremony be in hebrew- featuring tehillim, Jewish songs, and the Israeli national anthem. It was amazing to be surrounded by the diverse crowd of graduates and their families. I felt like a part of the Jewish nation and Jewish history. I stood next to my Israeli friend- who probably wasn’t thinking about any of these things- and cried a little during hatikva. I took a moment to appreciate the stage of Jewish history I’m in and imagine how different this experience will be for my (Be’ezrat Hashem) Israeli born native children.
I am amazingly grateful for my four years of Bar Ilan and amazingly hopeful for the future. I don’t know exactly what the next few years will bring. I’m sure some of it will be hard and miserable and some of it will be amazing and fulfilling. I’m sure I will once again struggle through some of it and that some of it will bring me unending joy. I trust that Hashem will continue guiding me along the right path and that my family and friends will be there to keep me on it. And I hope to make Israel and the Jewish nation just a little bit better. Mazal tov to all my fellow graduates and good luck to us all in our next stage of life!

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Living Through a War

They don’t tell you what it’s like to live through a war. They don’t tell you what it’s like to jump at every noise because you think it’s a siren. They don’t tell you that every time your husband answers the phone to talk in hebrew your heart will stop beating because he could be getting called up to reserve duty. They don’t tell you you will be thrilled to be woken up at 5:30 AM to a text from your cousin serving in Gaza telling you he’s ok. They don’t tell you that the world will condemn you and your people while you huddle in bomb shelters across the country. They don’t tell you the pain you will feel for every soldier who falls. They don’t tell you that with every released name of a fallen solider your first emotion will be relief because it wasn't someone you knew personally. They don’t tell you about the crushing guilt that immediately follows that gut reaction. They don’t tell you about the simultaneous overwhelming pride and crippling fear you will experience every time you see a family member or friend in his army uniform going to protect his people.

Next Monday (July 28) marks four years since I made aliyah. Back then I never thought about living through a war. I was so busy dealing with the regular difficulties of aliyah. I have asked myself many times in the last few days if I had thought of it would it have stopped me from moving here? I always come to the same answer- absolutely not.. By making aliyah I made the choice to participate in Jewish history, instead of watching it from the sidelines of the diaspora. Historically being a Jew has never been easy. We have faced countless nationwide struggles and attacks. We’re Jews, this is how we roll. But we persevere and we fight and we win. We are suffering now. If my people are suffering, there is no place I’d rather be than right here suffering along with them. I pray that our suffering will end soon. I pray that the families of the brothers we've lost over the past month will find comfort. I pray for the day that we will live in peace with our neighbors. And in the meantime, I pray simply for the strength to keep going. Am Yisrael Chai.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Feeling Fluent

When I meet someone new the following conversation usually arises:

New Person: What are you studying?
Me: Social work
New Person: Oh, going for the big bucks huh? So you study in hebrew?
Me: Ya, my lectures are all in hebrew and I have field work where I see patients in hebrew.
New Person: So, you speak hebrew fluently?

At this point in the conversation I always pause before answering. Do I speak hebrew fluently? I don’t feel like I do. Isn’t that odd? I’ve lived in Israel for almost 5 years (including my year in seminary). I take busses, order food, speak to the bank, see doctors, go shopping, attend lectures, chit chat with friends, ask for directions, treat patients, and get direction from my boss all in hebrew. But I don’t “feel fluent”. I function as a citizen, a client, a patient, a customer, a student, a friend, a therapist, and an employee all in hebrew. But I don’t “feel fluent”. I speak in hebrish, I have times when I’m in “hebrew mode” (thinking and speaking only in hebrew), I have even dreamed in hebrew. But I don’t “feel fluent”.

I have a pretty good vocabulary for an immigrant, but whether I’m in a lecture, with a patient or friend, or just on the street, Israelis will say words to me that I simply don’t recognize. Sometimes I can figure it out from context, sometimes I’ll ask about that word, and sometimes I smile and nod hoping that’s the appropriate reaction. I constantly make grammatical errors- some I hear and correct myself and many more I’m sure I’m not even aware of. When writing something for school I misspell many words and thank G-d for spell check and kind classmates who will proofread my work. So is it any wonder I don’t “feel fluent”?

I don’t know that I will ever “feel fluent”. I hope that over the years my hebrew will continue to improve, as it has since I made aliyah. I’m sure I will continue to learn new words to add to my vocabulary. I will learn more grammatical rules that I will mess up and correct myself on while speaking. And everyone will know I’m American anyway because I can never roll my “reishes”.

So for now, and maybe even forever, my answer to your question New Person is “Well, fluent enough”.