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Isn't it pretty?

Thursday, December 28, 2006

SaraK has a blog!

SaraK has started her own blog to chronicle her recent adventures in Israel, and hopefully beyond. Check it out.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Weird Meme

Sarah tagged me with the weird meme, where instead of just being weird, I have to delineate the actual reasons for my weirdness, which is surprisingly challenging.

1) My first idiosyncracy is that I am completely unable to follow directions (which is why there are none at the top of this meme). Once in a while I even attempt to follow them, but I usually faily miserably, so most of the time I don't even try. The good news is, while I do things in my own order and my own way, usually, they turn out (I did say usually). This applies to getting places, following recipes and putting things together. Oh, and it also applies to math - my algebra, geometry and calculus teachers were always amazed at how I managed to get the right answers doing problems the "wrong" way. But hey, if I got the right answers, it couldn't have been that wrong, right?

2) I don't like milk, avocadoes or tomatoes. I'll have a little milk in my coffee, will eat tomato sauce and some other tomato-derived products, but will not drink a glass of milk, eat anything with avocadoes in it or eat raw tomatoes.

3) I work for a land- and plant-scaping company and I am completely incapable of keeping a plant alive. Nor have I learned very much about plants since working here. I have no idea what the names of the majority of the plants hanging around my office are, nor how to take care of them. I do know when they look dead though.

4) I can't keep fingernail polish on my fingers for more than three days at a time. Professional manicure or do-it-myself, once it starts chipping (and it always does quickly) I have to take it off. But it does afford me oft-changing colors and fun variety of colors with my nails (and of course, I like to add in glitter and sparkles for fun also).

5) I bake really yummy treats (without following recipes) but I am not a very good cook. My friends are constantly telling me I should start a business with my baked goods, but give me some chicken and it's going to turn out bland. Yuck. Don't bother.

6) I have a fascination with the sky. I seriously considered being an astronaut at one point. When asked recently what animal I would be, I chose a bird because I want to be able to fly. I have been skydiving. And one of my favorite things in my apartment is the glow in the dark stars on my ceiling that light up when I turn the lights out. When I see them glowing, I get so happy. I would absolutely love to be able to explore the solar system and go up in outer space.

Ok, that's my six. I hate tagging people, just like I hate forwarding e-mails (and I'm not sure who's already been tagged), so if you would like to consider yourself tagged, please do.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Relationship Discussions

I had dinner with a friend from school the other night. She's from a small town in upstate New York and had never eaten in a kosher restaurant before, so we decided it was high time! It was funny because she was telling me that a) her boyfriend didn't believe that we didn't mix meat and dairy, and b) her mother was very concerned about what kind of food would be offered in such a restaurant. She assured them that the food would be normal.

We had a very interesting conversation, with a wide range of topics. She's a full-time student, so she is already doing her internship. She is training in an inner-city high school in the city. The stories she told me about the issues she has to deal with are absolutely mind-blowing. I know I lead a sheltered life, but our conversation just drove that fact home further. I don't even want to delve into the details, because some of them really terrify me. It really is scary and horrible what some kids go through. I was incredibly fortunate.

Then we started talking about her relationship with her boyfriend. They have been together for 5-1/2 years now. He was her first, and has been her only, boyfriend in her life. They have been living together for the past year and a half, since they moved to the city together after college.

She would like to get married and start a family. He won't discuss it. He says he's not ready to think about it, that they have plenty of time. He has all kinds of future plans for his career, but he won't even talk about their future. She is starting to get nervous that their visions for the future don't really coincide, but she is admittedly scared to really dig in and find out.

She doesn't really like living in NY very much; she really wouldn't want to raise a family here. His career plans basically depend on him living here and he doesn't have any plans to leave the area. She would like to start a family in the next few years; he thinks it can wait for another 15 or so. She wants to get married. He won't talk about getting engaged.

In the past, he has made his decisions about where to go to college and work based on what he wanted to do. She followed him and made her decisions based on what he wanted to do. No prior discussion, no compromises. He made up his mind, she followed.

She loves him; he's all she knows. She doesn't have so many friends, she hasn't met that many people in the city. A lot of her friendships from high school have faded.

She's starting to realize that things aren't so good, that their visions and hopes and plans for the future don't really coincide. That she cares more than he does. That while he probably loves her, she doesn't know what he would do if she put her foot down and made a move based on what she really wants, or pushed him to make a real commitment.

But she's scared. She kind of knows, but she doesn't want to know. She doesn't want to force a discussion because she's afraid of where it will leave her. She knows a break-up would hurt like hell and she's scared that she would never move on, never meet anyone else. And because she doesn't have so many friends here, she knows she would have a really hard time.

We talked about it for a long time. I obviously can't tell her what to do, and I wouldn't want to. But I did emphasize the fact that what she wants is important, that she is important, and that she can't just allow all of her priorities and dreams be swept away because he doesn't want them. We spoke about the fact that, at some point, they are going to have to discuss their future and their plans, and that she has to be ready to know what she can and can't compromise on when they do. And that yes, break-ups suck and she has to be ready to deal with the possibilty of it and she has to be willing to go through with it before she forces the conversation, because it's a possibility that breaking up will be the outcome.

She asked me about living alone, as I've done a lot in my life. I told her that yes, it can get lonely. But it also gives a person a sense of independence and pride in oneself.

I was actually happy to hear that she has been thinking about these things. We'd never had such an open discussion before, but from what she had told me about their relationship in the past, I had been concerned. And I told her that. I'm still concerned because I think, no matter what ends up happening, it's probably not going to be an easy, fun road ahead and she is going to have to make some difficult decisions.

Update I got an email earlier this evening from my friend. She said after our conversation, she got brave and had a not-so-easy discussion with her boyfriend about her needs and desires and compromises. And she said it went better than she expected - they are now on the same page with things and she feels a lot better. Things aren't perfect, but she was happy to have had the discussion. And I am very happy for her.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Kindness Happens

Fires, wars, murders, drugs. Too often, we read in newspapers and see all over the TV and Internet the bad things going on in the world.

But what really makes the world go round is kindness, those little acts that often go unnoticed by all but those involved. Because these small acts don't get published and publicized, people often don't believe they actually happen. So it's time to share! So I (with a little help)have started a new blog - Kindness Happens. It is for posting those small acts of kindness that you do for others, or that others do for you. Hopefully, in having this group effort, people will be able to read about a number of kind acts happening daily and will feel better about life, and then hopefully, in turn, go on to carry out kind acts of their own.

We would love this to be a group effort, so if you would like to join in and help out (or have any great ideas, please send me an e-mail and I'll invite you to join the blog.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Chanukah in Jerusalem

There is truly nothing like a chag in Jerusalem, but I feel that Chanukah, especially, is just so beautiful here. It is such a visual holiday, the chanukiyot are everywhere and most people are on 'chofesh' (vacation) in honor of the chag. I don't really have time to write a proper post but I am having a wonderful time. Menorah lighting at the kotel (with videos to come!) was amazing and so emotional and meaningful. 'Holiday season' really takes on a new meaning. Chag Sameach to all! Details when I am back at my own computer.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Reflections on Group Counseling

I wanted to write about some of my thoughts after completing my group counseling class, not because it's going to be so interesting to everyone out there, but because it really was probably in the top two or three of the most interesting classes I have ever taken (the only others in that rank would be the couple classes I took on neuroscience, which I just find completely and totally fascinating). I can't go into incredible detail about what was discussed in the class, but I do want to write up some of my reflections about it that aren't particular to what was divulged by specific people.

Just a little bit of background before I start - this class had a theory component and a practicum component. We spent two hours each week discussing the theory behind group counseling and leading a group therapy session, and then we spent two hours engaging in a group session with each other. We each took turns leading the group. We had no real supervision - our instructor sat in on a few sessions, but not all of them, and he never participated.

- It was interesting to see how two people can have such dramatically different reactions to each other. There was another Orthodox woman in my class; she's a Chasidish woman from Brooklyn. I have to admit that I was very uncomfortable having her as a participant in the class. Because of my own insecurities, I held a lot back due to the fact that she was present; fearful that I would be judged by her and looked upon as a bad example of what and Orthodox Jew is, looked at as "not frum enough." Her reaction to me turned out to be completely opposite than what I had imagined or expected. She was drawn to me because I was a fellow Orthodox Jew. And she admired me because she was so impressed that I seemed so comfortable with who I am, that I was my own person, regardless of what others thought. When this was revealed, I felt a little bad that I had imagined her judging me, when it wasn't the case at all. It was also interesting to see the fascination the class had with the different details of the Orthodox faith - they were mezmerized by my classmates description of her daughter's dating rituals, and they were puzzled to know that this woman and I had known that the other was observant from the first moment we saw each other (well, I knew she was from the first moment I saw her - she was wearing a wig). It really was an interesting dynamic to have someone in my group that had so much in common to me; but so much different as well. In some ways, we had a "secret club" where only the two of us knew the code, but in a lot of other ways, while I knew what she was talking about, I couldn't imagine actually living in such a way.

- To the last session, there was a discrepancy between group members about the focus of our group. Some of my classmates felt it should be a therapy group, some felt it should be a training group. This discrepancy caused a lot of problems the entire semester, as we argued over what the focus of each session should be. When we started discussing the work of leading a group and the therapy surrounding it, some people were bored and thought we weren't being real. When we discussed our life events and problems, others felt we weren't being students. Even when this discrepancy was finally openly discussed in the last session, there was no agreement.

- Related to the above, we were given virtually no instruction about how our group should run, what our goals should be, and what our focus should have been. I think this made it much more difficult. It definitely taught me a lot about how the beginning of a group should go and how important it is for everyone to be on the same page. There was also a lot of difficulty because we took turns leading the group, there was no consistency, and no one leader to look to when things became difficult.

- The dual relationship issue between being classmates and group members together was kind of confusing. On one hand, we were working together in a class, on presentations and papers. We might even have other classes together. On the other, we were looking to each other to be therapists and to divulge personal information. There was an unbalance in doing this, as there was in switching off between leaders each week.

- The group dynamic is extremely powerful. The feeling of all those eyes watching you, that there is a group of people listening to you at once, that they care and want to help, and that they are trying really hard to understand you, really has a great power. I was very skeptical about the ability of groups to help a person, but my mind has been changed.

- You get out what you put in. There were a couple members of the group that didn't enjoy the experience or feel like they got a lot out of it. They were also the same members who didn't divulge very much and who didn't speak that often.

- It felt really good when a group member shared something positive that had happened in her life. I felt a very strong pull together by the group in that moment. Just like having a whole group care about you and feel bad for you, the added dynamic of a whole group being happy for you was a very moving experience.

- When it was my turn to lead, I think I actually did a decent job. It's not my normal nature to lead a group of people; I prefer being behind the scenes. I am also not particularly forceful, preferring to allow others to say what needs to be said, or to take the lead. But when I had to, despite my nervousness, I did lead. And while it was difficult, I think with more practice, I could be good at it.

Those are my thoughts about group counseling. While I definitely have a better understanding of what goes on in a group now, I think it will be something entirely different to actually facilitate a real therapy group in the future. But I look forward to it, and to growing and building my helping skills and repertoire even more.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Happy Chanukah!

I have been so busy finishing up my semester that I forgot that it was Chaunkah until this morning. So, I haven't exactly had time to put together any kind of inspiring or thoughtful message about the meaning of the holiday. But I thought I would offer a picture from last year - taken in the Old City (by me). Unfortunately, I couldn't be there again this year, but hopefully SaraK will be posting some pictures and posts from there soon.

I wish everyone a beautiful Chanukah filled with much light, enjoyment and really yummy food! Happy Chanukah!

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Strengthening Against Challenges

I had a really interesting conversation over Shabbos with one of my hosts. We started out talking about some of the issues with education in Orthodox Jewish schools and the conversation just kind of spread from there. The initial point that was made was that the Orthodox Jewish schools, in order to remedy a lot of the problems they are currently facing, must first and foremost admit that there are problems, such as the fact that they are populated with teachers who know nothing about education and learning. I mentioned that one of my possible future career interests lies in this kind of educational psychology field, attempting to build programs in the Orthodox community, but again, the schools and the system must realize that they are in need of help before that can happen.

The conversation continued with the point raised that the problematic educational system often leads to students and youth who are disillusioned and disappointed by such a system, which is often, because of the long hours they are required to be in their schools, the majority of the exposure they get to the lifestyle they are expected to live. So, these students are often struggling to fit into a one-size-fits-all education (and students just clearly are not all the same) which is accompanied by lifestyle instruction that is often less than tolerant of those students who don't "fit the mold." The message being sent here ends up being that conformity, and fitting in is the only way to go and to be successful. Which (and I think this is the beauty of life, but others might disagree) just isn't what human beings are about - we are all unique individuals who are motivated and excited by different things and we learn in different ways and our brains work differently. Not everyone has a natural aptitude for the skills required to learn Gemara. That doesn't mean someone who doesn't have that specific natural aptitude will never be successful in any other area. (Caveat - I think the girls' schools often do a better job at addressing the needs of individual students, so some of this is probably more specific to the boys' schools. Additionally, this conversation took place in Passaic, which is certainly a more right-wing community, so I think a lot of what follows pertains less to Modern Orthodox schools.)

What this one-size-fits-all education is also doing is sending the message that there is only one acceptable path in life. The schools teach the students that they should all aspire to learn in kollel, that a college education is a bad thing, that secular culture is evil and should be avoided. But to me, that's teaching from a place of weakness, rather than strength. The message being sent is that we are all too weak to handle any challenges, that any kind of temptation must be taken away from before us in order to be able to function as an Orthodox Jew. I think this makes us even weaker - when we are not taught how to handle any temptation or challenge, we subsequently become unable to handle it when we have to. It's like a muscle. If it is worked, it becomes stronger and more capable of handling resistance and of lifting the weights it opposes.

The other problem with this is, it just isn't practical for every man to learn Torah full-time. At some point, when a family has 8 or 9 kids (I'm being a little facetious here), someone has got to earn a salary to pay a mortgage, for groceries and for tuition. And when that somebody, usually the father, goes out into the world now, with his ill-prepared, weakened exposure to the outside world, he is going to be much more vulnerable than if he had been educated and strengthened and warned about the challenges he will be facing.

What's the answer? I think it's education and openly discussing the challenges that someone who is going to have to deal with the world at some point (and that's most of us) will face. Preparation is an excellent tool for enabling people to handle the challenges in life. It's impossible to prepare for everything, but knowledge is the key. If a person has no clue what they are getting themselves into, what they are going to face, then they can't prepare in advance how to handle those challenges. It's just like it's important to tell a child that it is not okay to get in a car with a stranger - you don't want to scare a child, but it's important that they be prepared to handle the situation.

You can't protect against every possible outcome and situation. The spectrum is way too broad. But by forging an open, trusting relationship (and this applies to the whole world, not just the religious one) with your children, your students and for spiritual leaders, your congregations, they will in turn come back and ask for guidance and help when facing difficult situations, rather than hiding and getting in deeper. You can't shield anyone from everything, and I think education where challenges are discussed and defenses are built, is the key.

Monday, December 11, 2006

T minus 2 days!

These photos got me really excited for my trip!

College Students and Mental Illness

Caveat - I acknowledge that this post is probably more interesting to me than anyone else reading this, just because of the focus of my studies right now. Oh well.

On my bus ride this morning, the man next to me was reading this article in the NY Times (apparently from Friday) about students entering college while at the same time managing mental illnesses such as bipolar disorder and depression (don't worry, I didn't read over his shoulder, I looked the article up online when I got to work). I found it interesting to see how the article portrayed different students dealing with these issues in different ways.

I imagine that the college setting has got to be a very difficult place for a teenager to manage mental illness. With all the changes that take place when a student enters college - for many it is the first time they are indepedent and having to deal with things like making sure they get proper meals, to waking themselves up on time, to getting their laundry done. In addition, the difficulty of often not having a stable daily schedule mixed in with the social aspect of alcohol and drugs, staying up late nights and having to live with people other than your own family. It's such a huge change from what most teens have previously experienced, and I know from my own experience, it's not easy.

So for a teen who is managing a mental illness such as bipolar disorder, which can be challenging, to say the least, to stablize even without crazy schedules and lack of proper support, to start college has to be a monumental task. I can certainly understand the fears articulated by the parents in the article. It sounds like the students who were interviewed manage their illnesses well, and thankfully are very aware of their struggles. In addition, the support from parents is undoubtably a good thing.

What I wonder about is the number of students who probably experience the onset of these mental illnesses while they are in college, away from home for the first time. Common age for onset of bipolar disorder and depression is between 18-24 years old. I would imagine that the multitude of changes that occur when a teen enters college along with the drinking and drugs that many students are exposed to would even increase the likelihood of these mental illnesses emerging. Along with the establishment of independence from parents at this time, and the large college campuses where I imagine it's easy for a student to completely slip under the radar, I worry about the number of cases that probably do not get the attention that is needed. I know when I was in college, no one was aware of difficulties I was having until they got huge, and I lived only 20 minutes from home.

College counseling centers are a great start, but how many students really utilize them and how qualified are the individuals working in these centers? I know many of my classmates, not yet certified in counseling, are the ones attempting to meet the needs of these students, but I am not sure they are really equipped to identify and help students suffering from severe depression or bipolar disorder.

I'm not saying that students should stop attending college. On the contrary, I think it's important for teenagers to establish their independence (though I won't start on how I think so many students don't value the education they could be getting). But I think awareness and communication of issues such as mental illness should be more widespread and made a bigger priority. I don't think it should take the suicides we hear about all too commonly to force college campuses to step up the measures they take in order to assist their students in successfully making it through college.

Friday, December 08, 2006

The Obligatory Birthday Post

Yep, it's my birthday, I'm officially 29(!) years young - wow! (I just keep taking solace in the fact that everyone says I look 22, and they probably think I act 12!)

Funny anecdote I feel the need to tell - A friend e-mailed me an e-card to wish me a happy birthday. In the card, it said something about wearing funny hats, and I thought, "Wow, how perfect is that? She found a card that talks about the cool hats I like to wear!" And then I realized that it meant the cone-shaped hats people wear at birthday parties.

Anyway, feel free to leave me happy birthday wishes and have a great Shabbos (or weekend)!

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Pearl Harbor Day...

AKA - Not my birthday.

On December 7, 1941, the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. Some 36 years later, my parents were celebrating the birth of their first child (that would be me). Oh wait, no they weren't. I wasn't born on Pearl Harbor Day, I was born 36 years and one day after that historic day.

I always wondered why my parents insisted that they recall Pearl Harbor Day as the day I was born. Now almost 29 years later, I've finally figured it out. It's because they had such a good time enjoying the last day of peace and quiet that they would ever experience, that the pain and agony of my coming into the world a day later (at least, I'm sure it was painful for my mother) was eclipsed by such celebration.

We often remember these last days with fondness and sentiment - our last day of high school, our last day of college, the last day in a particular locale. So it makes sense that my parents would remember their last day without having to worry that their child was sneaking out of the house at 2 AM, or was going to bring home scary friends with multi-colored hair (oh wait, that's my brother). And the last day that they would not fear hearing the fatal word coming from the next room - "Oops", the days before carpool and "I want X, Y and Z."

So, happy Pearl Harbor Day to my parents. I know it's been a long time since y'all had so much peace, but I hope you can still channel the memories.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Telling My Story

It's time for a new post at Beyond BT - along with their one-year anniversary, I think it's been almost an entire year since I have been writing for them as well (I know my first post there was about Chanukah).

Check it out - Telling My Story. Enjoy!

Saturday, December 02, 2006

SaraK's First Guest Post : T minus 11 days!

A friend just sent me this beautiful short film that really got me in the mood for my trip. For all of you who are not able to join me, I'm sure you will enjoy.


Hat Tip (even though she will probably never see this blog): PG