Goodbye

I’ll be honest. I had no idea how to start this post.

How do you say goodbye to something that has been a huge part of your life for the past year and a half?

How do you explain to hundreds of followers that for your own sake, you’re taking a break which you wish you didn’t have to take?

How do you tell the world in general that you’re not giving up on your dreams, but you just need to put this particular one on hold?

There’s no easy way. Jewish Thoughts has been a massive part of my identity since I started blogging in summer 2016. As I’ve explored my faith, this blog has been by my side constantly, and I feel that it has grown with me, becoming home to my eclectic and often imperfect thoughts and feelings. This website and its followers have been with me as I’ve experienced highs, lows, and somewhere in-betweens, navigating the loss, heartbreak, opportunities and blessings of my life.

I am a writer and always will be. I am in no way stopping writing- I might as well stop breathing. But in the meantime, I am taking a break from Jewish Thoughts. As many of my friends probably know, the past six months or so have been especially trying for me, and there have been many times when I’ve felt unable to carry on. I feel that I’ve been lacking in motivation and that the quality of my posts has decreased lately. Not only is this a writer’s worst nightmare, but I am dealing with a number of issues right now which require my full attention and for this reason I made the difficult decision to leave this website.

There’s a part of me which can’t quite believe I’m stepping away from this website. In many ways, it feels like a failure, but I want to reiterate that I’m not giving up and never will. In the meantime, I still intend to submit occasional articles to magazines and websites, because my writing genuinely is everything for me and I hope to eventually make a career out of it. I may also post periodically, or return to regular posts when I feel ready to do so, and I sincerely hope that this break will be an exceedingly short one.

I’m eternally thankful to the person who inspired me to begin blogging, and to the one who encouraged me to keep writing when I needed that support the most. I’m also grateful for all the amazing people I have met through this website and am convinced that I have the nicest, kindest followers in the world, who made blogging such a joy for me. Additionally, I would like to thank the fascinating and inspiring people I have interviewed for this website over the years. Finally, I want to say thank you to my friends who have kept up with this blog via email and Facebook. There are way too many of you to name individually, but you made it all worthwhile.

While I take some time away from the world of blogging in order to put my life back together, please do reach out if you wish to keep in touch. It’s truly been an amazing journey.

Advertisements

Who is Wise?

Today I was reminded of a famous saying: “If someone teaches you just one word of Holiness, you owe him a lifetime of respect”. I use the word Holiness because this very quote is used in both Judaism and Islam, and although what constitutes “Holiness” may differ, the concept remains the same no matter how you are.

We read in Pirkei Avos that the definition of a wise man is one who learns from everyone, but unfortunately, I feel that in the 21st Century, many of us have forgotten that we have something to learn from each and every person who enters into our life. Encounters happen through Divine providence for a reason, and often, this reason is to teach us a unique lesson.

In a way, everyone we encounter is a teacher. They teach us how to behave or how not to behave: how to treat someone in need of help, and how not to. And as a result, everyone is worthy of respect. Sometimes, if someone is a bad influence in our lives, this respect takes the form of terminating a relationship, for our sake and theirs, but every human being deserves kavod.

Without respect for those who teach us how to live our lives- no matter who they are or where they come from- we transgress the greatest Jewish traditions.

Gut Shabbes! (Terumah)

Today is the first day of Adar. Adar is the month in which we celebrate the joyous festival of Purim, and in fact, the whole of Adar is known as a month of rejoicing and gladness, marked by good fortune for the Jewish people. But that’s not all.

The word Adar is related to the word Adir, which refers to strength and power. Adir, which is used to describe the Jewish people, is connected to the spiritual strength within each of us, to do mitzvos and spread light. This month, as we celebrate the joy of Adar, let’s not forget the power we have inside us, to strengthen our observance and performance of good deeds.

In London, Shabbes candles should be lit at 4:59 PM tonight, and Shabbes goes out at 6:10 PM tomorrow. When lighting your candles, please keep in mind Chaim Elozor ben Baila, Shmuel Yosef ben Soroh Malka, Moshe ben Soroh Malka, Moshe Ben Genya, Moshe ben Hadasa, Chashachana bas Bryna and Golda Shira bas Yenta Ruchel. Thank you, and gut Shabbes!

When I Pray

I go to shul twice a week,
And sit in wooden pews,
Clutching a book,
And laughing at the irony of it all.
Why is it, I ask myself,
That I come here to pray,
And yet end up talking instead.
Why is it, I wonder,
That my greatest prayers,
My most heartfelt pleas,
Were not said in shuls-
Not even on Yom Kippur-
But on antiseptic blue chairs,
By hospital bedsides,
Or as I sat on soft carpet,
Weeping at the unfairness of life.
Why is it,
That standing in G-d’s dwelling place,
I only say the words in the book,
And not those in my heart?
Is it fear?
Fear of crying, fear of ruining my mascara,
Fear of Looking Silly?
Is it exhaustion?
At the end of a long week,
Too tired to plumb the depths of my heart?
Is it something else?
Something I can’t name-
Something about being surrounded by people.
Back home,
I clutch the blue Siddur,
With tattered pages,
Smudges,
Remnants of tears,
The evidence of a hundred heartbreaks.
And I resolve,
From now on, when I pray,
I will be this honest always.

Gut Shabbes! (Mishpotim)

In this week’s Parsha, we learn about lending money. Not only are we obligated to lend money to someone in need of a loan, but it is in fact considered a form of tzedekah. Donating money to someone, enabling them to get through the day and put food on the table is a huge mitzvah; but enabling them to help themself is even more important. This is where loans come in; although it may be easier to drop coins in a box, or give a one-time monetary gift, a loan allows someone to change their life independently, and hopefully end up in a position where they can repay you, as opposed to feeling dependant on the gifts and whims of others.

The Parsha reminds us not to ‘act as a creditor’ towards people who owe us money; no matter how much we want our money back, we can’t harass the person we loaned money to. The whole point of granting a loan is to help others, and not to help ourselves benefit financially. For this reason, charging interest is forbidden. This mindset doesn’t just apply to loans. It should apply to all the acts of kindness we do in our lives. We shouldn’t help others expecting something in return, whether it’s money, power or their gratitude. Instead, we should remember the laws of giving loans, and give with the aim of empowering others and pleasing G-d. After all, when we make G-d’s creations happy, we make Him happy too…

In London, Shabbes candles should be lit at 4:46 PM tonight, and Shabbes goes out at 5:58 PM tomorrow. When lighting your candles, please keep in mind Chaim Elozor ben Baila, Moshe ben Genya, Moshe ben Hadasa, Moshe ben Soroh Malka, Shmuel Yosef ben Soroh Malka, Chashachana bas Bryna and Chaya bas Perrel. Thank you, and gut Shabbes!

The Dark Side of Social Media

There’s a definite downside to being good with social media. You get to see all the things you’re not supposed to see; the pictures of your friends having a laugh together, all those times they “forgot” to invite you, the beautiful women your ex “likes” photos of on Facebook, the women you compare yourself to on a daily basis without their- or his- knowledge, because you know what buttons to press, what keys to click, to trigger that magical formula and see the things you’re not supposed to see. Photos hidden from timelines. Photos someone liked in 2016. Photos from people who- with good reason- aren’t your friends.

Yes, I think it’s fair to say that social media is a little invasive.

Normally, when I conduct these sort of searches, I feel guilty. I feel guilty for invading someone else’s privacy- whether it’s that of an ex, a fake friend, a potential partner or some girl I’ve never even met. I sometimes think about the halachos of this sort of thing, and wonder if my social media searches are ‘kosher’, so to speak, or if I’m breaking laws about privacy and respect- things which are very important in halacha.

But today, I felt a different sort of guilty. I felt guilty for what I was doing to myself. I tell myself that I’d sooner know the truth about all those times my friends excluded me, saying I probably wouldn’t enjoy whatever they’d planned, and that there’s no harm in scrolling through the photos of other girls which he has liked on Facebook. It’s just some harmless fun, they’re none the wiser- who’s hurt by it? The answer is: I am. My hobby (or perhaps addiction) has become a way of hurting myself over and over again, presenting my consciousness with a series of images with no context, torturing myself with fictitious stories of how, why and when, and leaving me feeling emotionally battered and bruised, even more unpopular than I was before I started searching.

I’m not one of those people who thinks social media is totally evil. Actually, I quite like it, and before I learned how to unearth all those things I wasn’t supposed to see, I think it did good things for me. It’s a place for me to share articles, thoughts, divrei Torah, and photos. It’s a way to connect with old friends, meet new ones, and keep in touch with some of my favourite people on earth. Not a day goes by when I don’t feel thankful for the beautiful photos, inspiration and messages I receive from the select few who make the whole going online thing worthwhile.

But then I come back to the point I made earlier, about privacy and respect in Jewish tradition and law. One of the most famous Jewish prayers is called Ma Tovu, meaning “How good”. Many have the minhag to recite this prayer upon entering a Shul, and growing up, despite my lack of Jewish education, I remember learning how to sing the prayer in the tradition of many Liberal and Reform shuls. The text of Ma Tovu begins with a line from Parshas Balak, which reads “How good are your tents, oh Yaakov, your dwelling places, oh Israel!”, before continuing with quotations from Tehillim.

Quite often, this raises a question: what was so good about the tents and dwelling places of the Israelites?

The answer is pretty simple. The tents were positioned as to give their occupants privacy, carefully aligning the openings so that inquisitive neighbours- the Israelite equivalent, perhaps, of me sitting in front of the computer, conducting Facebook searches on people who’d really rather be left alone- couldn’t see in. This was admirable, as it gave a sense of privacy and dignity to the Chosen People, which is why we laud their tents with lavish praise.

But today, I started thinking about the flip side of this issue. I think curiosity is a part of the human nature; we all have that underlying desire to know what’s going on in other’s lives, starting with reading our sibling’s diaries, and gradually progressing to stalking our exes on Facebook and Instagram (unless that’s just me). And consequently, I think that the set-up of the Israelite tents, so that prying eyes were physically unable to see in, was really rather clever. It didn’t just protect those who were inside- it protected the outsiders, too, from seeing things they weren’t supposed to see.

In many ways, social media is the opposite. What seemed like a blessing- my ability to find anyone and anything on Facebook- actually turned out to be a curse, as there was very little in place to protect myself- let alone the other person- from what I was doing. I think that in the back of my mind, I’ve known this for a long time, but it only came to the forefront of my consciousness today, when I saw a post from a Rabbi I follow (I may or may not be adding this in to prove that I use social media for “good” things, too), entitled “The Grass is Greener & Social Media”. He spoke about how his neighbour’s grass seems much greener than his, and it stays that way all year round, for the simple reason that it’s artificial. It’s the shrubbery equivalent of the Instagram filters and Snapchat stickers we use to mask our realities- the filters which I can spot from a mile away and yet which still fool me.

A few moments before I read his article, I’d been conducting those addictive Facebook searches, only to find a picture which upset me deeply, showing several of my friends at an event I hadn’t been invited to. And I commented on the rabbi’s insightful, thoughtful piece that I’d just been thinking about exactly the same topic, not realising that mere hours later I’d be revealing my social media habits to the whole wide world. Simply put, I don’t believe in coincidences. I believe in hashgocho protis- Divine providence. I think that these events collided for a very good reason, sending me a signal too strong to ignore. Maybe I’ve seen enough. Maybe it’s time to stop. Maybe I’m at a point in my life where I don’t need to chase after things which will never be mine, because I’m only making myself sadder and lonelier, and tearing myself away from those who truly care.

If all those years of saying “Mah Tovu ohelacha Yaakov, mishkenosecha Yisroel,” taught me anything, it’s that sometimes, privacy can be a good thing. Not just for those who are shielded by it, but for those who go searching. Those who, like me, will inevitably see things that make them wish they hadn’t started looking in the first place.