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August 24, 2016 / 20 Av, 5776

Posts Tagged ‘LIFE’

Talk About Art, Change Your Life

Monday, August 22nd, 2016

“I wandered for a time looking for what was always right there” – Astrid Daley


Do you notice the things around you?

Do you really see the homes, stores, and buildings that you pass every day?

How well do you truly see?

Art Historian Amy Herman’s new book Visual Intelligence: Sharpen Your Perception, Change Your Life argues that most of us do not notice the things around us. We do not really see the homes, stores, and buildings we pass every day. And we do not truly see well.

For many years, Herman has been teaching a workshop at the Frick Museum in New York City entitled “The Art of Perception.” The workshop began when she brought a course created by a dermatology professor at Yale University to New York medical schools. This course taught students to analyze works of art in order to improve their patient observation skills. In other words, students looked at works of art and described the “who, what, where, when, and why” of the object. Shockingly, a clinical study found that students who took the “The Art of Perception” course had diagnostic skills that were 56 percent better than students who did not take the course. The presumably unrelated skill of observing art correlated with the skill of diagnosing patient illness.

Herman’s work poses and then answers the questions: “How can looking at Monet’s water lily paintings help save your company millions? How can noticing people’s footwear foil a terrorist attack? How can your choice of adjective win an argument, calm your children, or catch a thief?”

In reality, we all see just fine, but what Herman teaches and refines is visual intelligence – a set of skills that we are born with but do not know how to use effectively. Looking at art and describing what we see, helps sharpen our visual intelligence and communicate more effectively.

Over the last two decades, Herman has trained police officers, business executives, medical professionals, and customer service representatives in the art of perception. Of course, Herman understands the skepticism involved in using works of art to train people to do their jobs in very different fields. “Looking at old painting and sculptures is definitely not the first thing most people think of when I tell them we’re going to get their neurons firing and increase their brain-processing speed. They picture engaging in cutting-edge 3D computerized training or at least wearing Google glasses while walking down a busy street, not strolling through a museum viewing objects that have sat still for hundreds of years. But that’s exactly the point: art doesn’t walk away. If you want to study human behavior, you can park yourself somewhere public and people watch: guess at who they are, why they’re dressed that way, where they’re going…until they leave. And you’ll never know if you’re right or wrong. Or you could analyze words of art that we have the answers to: the who, what, where, when, and why. Art historian David Joselit describes art as ‘exorbitant stockpiles of experience and information.’ It contains everything we need to hone our observation, perception, and communication expertise.”

Looking at art forces us to engage in an entirely new thought process. Research shows that people learn best when they are in a slightly stressful situation (which novel experiences like looking at art can create). Therefore, perhaps the best way to reevaluate and reassess something we always do – the way we parent, the way we interact with others, the way we do our jobs, or the way we view the world around us – is “to step outside of ourselves, and outside of our comfort zone.”

Rifka Schonfeld

Life Chronicles

Monday, August 15th, 2016

Dear Mrs. Bluth,

For some time now I have been secretly delving into alternate religions because I have lost all faith in Judaism, so much so that I am no longer keeping Shabbat or eating kosher. My family and friends in the community have no idea what I am going through, even though they are largely responsible for my animus towards and disenchantment with God and with my people.

I have a severe speech disability, having been born with a cleft pallet, and I think I started questioning God’s mercy and love from my earliest memory. How could God punish a newborn child with disfigurement and a lifetime of torment by schoolmates, strangers and even family members? Why would He do this to me? What sin did I commit in utero that I and others like myself should be made to suffer endless taunts, be excluded from taking part in sports or being passed over for team events? Where is His mercy?

So, from infancy, this disenchantment with Judaism grew, but I was not fully cognizant of the silent metamorphosis that was taking place within my soul, eating away at my spirit and turning me off from all the teachings and indoctrination I was force fed in yeshiva. The shame and pain I endured at the hands of teachers, rabbis and my peers was more than I could bear, often with no one coming to my defense. I would come home crying and when I told my father what had happened, he became angry at me for not standing up for myself, he said that is why the bullies picked on me and others ridiculed me. He refused to come and speak to the principal on my behalf and said that I had to “man up,” and that the world was a hard place and everyone had to forge their own way.

I would cry myself to sleep almost every night, begging the Great Almighty Hashem who, I was taught to believe, loved little children and looked after them, I begged for a miracle, to be whole, or at least to be accepted the same way as everyone else. But no help ever came! And as I grew older and nothing changed, in fact in many instances it got harder, I slowly stopped believing, even though I pretended to.

Now that I am in college and exposed to so many other people, kind people who do not judge me for being different and are tolerant of my appearance and difficult speech issues, I feel like I have found my place in the world. I will not miss any of my Jewish friends because I have none, I no longer care what my parents will say or do because they never lifted a finger to help me, all I was to them was an imperfect son who would never be perfect, as well as an embarrassment and a burden. I’m writing this without return address or any identifying factor, as I really no longer exist in my old form. I guess I’m writing as the last remnants of my Jewishness falls away because of an uncaring God and a cruel people.



Dear Friend,

Since you have not as yet fully closed the door on your faith, or lack thereof, I will take the liberty to put my foot in it and try to stop the process, even at this late juncture. I truly felt the pain and disillusionment you must have experienced throughout your short life, at the insensitive hands of many of your friends and some of your family members and teachers. This can certainly destroy one’s hope and faith in humanity.

Rachel Bluth

Life Chronicles

Monday, August 8th, 2016

Dear Mrs. Bluth,

This letter has been a long time in the making, I guess courage comes when the realization that things will never get better, only worse, if no action is taken.  As I wait for the swelling about my face to subside and force my aching body to go about packing a few necessary things for myself and my baby, I am trying to fight off the terror of leaving by telling myself it is better than the terror of staying.

Two years ago, I married the man of my dreams, or so I thought. I had held out far longer than any of my school friends and my parents, family and friends had just about given up hope that I would ever find my bashert. And then I was redt to “Mr. Perfect,” who seemed to be exactly what I was looking for.

At twenty-eight, I couldn’t believe my luck, and smugly touted “I told you so” to all those who accused me of being picky.  On my first date with Dan,* a cosmetic surgeon who had come to town to work in one of our major hospitals, I was smitten.  Good looking, brilliant, worldly and intelligent, Dan was the man of my dreams and I became the envy of all my married friends.  We dated for four months, during which my parents’ enthusiasm waned, as rumor and gossip reached their ears. But I was not concerned; Dan was my soul mate and I closed my ears to all the hearsay and went about planning my wedding.

Three weeks before the wedding, I received an unsigned letter from a woman in another state, who said that she had been married to and divorced from Dan and that I should not to go through with the wedding.  She wrote that Dan was charming and attentive at the beginning, but within a short time after their wedding he had become angry and physically abusive.  His anger was also evident to his colleagues and superiors at the hospital where he worked and he was consequently fired.  Without a job and below par recommendations his anger was constant and she refused to stay with him. They had been married for seven months. She warned me that by marrying him I was signing up for a lifetime of misery.  I tore up the letter and convinced myself that this woman was jealous that Dan had moved on with his life. I never told my parents or anyone else about the letter and the wedding was on track.

We got married on a beautiful night in June and started life in a little apartment in the city.  Between my job and Dan’s we lived comfortably and enjoyed the first few months of marriage, eating out most nights and going to theater.  And then, one night, when we were married about five months, Dan came home from work early.  I smelled alcohol on his breath and when I asked him what had happened, a completely different Dan entered my life.  He started yelling at me to leave him alone and stop nagging him.  When I tried to explain that I was concerned for him, he picked up a heavy vase and threw it in my direction. When it didn’t hit me, he sprang forward and began pummeling me about the face and head, all the while shrieking and howling that everything was my fault, and I was the reason he lost his job.  We had no money in the bank as we spent everything we made, how were we going to live or pay the bills?  Why had I not foreseen this?  I should have been more prudent about our spending, and then maybe we wouldn’t be in this mess. As he yelled, his fists rained down on my body and I cowered on the floor.

Rachel Bluth

Life Chronicles

Monday, August 1st, 2016

Dear Mrs. Bluth,

I would like to reply to the woman who claims to read your column simply for the “entertainment,” factor and does not believe that any of the letters you publish are true. It seems she has a difficulty accepting that these terrible tragedies can take place amongst religious Jews. I am writing to vouch for the fact that they do.

I worked in a reputable mental health facility for over thirty years. While I myself am not Jewish, many of my clients were. Every imaginable mental and emotional affliction that is evident in the secular population can be found in the Jewish community as well.  What I have found among married Jewish women is a deep and silent depression, often culminating in an attempted suicide.  During my sessions with these women it is clear that they have suffered bitterly, over long periods of time, and have not sought help in any way for fear of being branded in some way or treated as an outcast.  They keep silent and suffer emotionally, and often physically, until they can no longer bear it and resort to suicide.

Guilt, betrayal, domestic abuse, fear of divorce or not being able to get a divorce through the Jewish courts are all part of the problem. Many of these women know of cases were women filing for a Jewish divorce walked away with little or nothing in support and may have been denied custody and visitation of their children.

When I would ask why they couldn’t go to secular court, they almost always said it was forbidden or that they did not have the finances to hire an attorney.  The common thread in all my Jewish cases was that there was little support emotionally or otherwise for a woman who’s marital plight became public knowledge.  Her family, friends and community abandoned and shunned her, siding with her husband.  She ended up an outcast within her community, a ghost amongst her own people, until suicide began to look like the only means of escape.

I am retired now, but I still see some patients on a limited basis. Their stories are still the same, differing ever so slightly in detail. I have come to understand that the insular community is often the reason these women resort to life-ending alternatives.  When there is no one to whom one can turn to for help, and rumors abound in regards to the situation, these women are technically “walking dead.”

The reason for this letter at this late date is to get a better understanding on how to deal with the issue before it is too late to save these women.  Your help and clarity would be invaluable.



Dear Friend,

Let me first say that I am impressed with the deep concern that comes across in your letter and your desire to find solutions by which you can better assist your patients in their darkest hour.  However, what you are asking me to do is nearly, if not totally impossible.

Suicide is a place that no one with a clear and solid understanding of hope will ever consider going to.  It is the absence of all hope that enhances the idea that suicide is the answer to the unceasing pain and grief.  It has little to do with being Jewish, Catholic or an atheist. It is more about the limits of a person’s capacity to handle emotional or physical pain, without respite.  What makes it different, to some degree, in regards to Jewish women is that the lessons of modesty taught in schools and in many homes encompasses the idea that one’s home life and marital issues are kept to be kept private and dealt with internally.  More often than not, this means that the woman will not confide in family or close friends, thus ensuring her a life of suffering in silence.  It is only when suicide enters the thought process of a mind so distorted by pain that the problem comes to light and help arrives, hopefully before it is too late.

Rachel Bluth

The Simple Life

Sunday, July 31st, 2016

Judaism is all about celebration.

The frequent festivals, barmitzvahs, batmitzvahs, weddings, sheva brachot, SECOND barmitzvahs… the list is endless.

Now it’s wonderful having so many occasions to grab a pair of heels and a lovely dress, but recently I’ve started to feel like the aim is to try and make it better than anyone else’s.

I understand the idea of trying to make a day, especially weddings, fantastic and memorable but the amount of money that’s being spent is sometimes shocking. The dripping crystal arrangements, thousands of flowers, an endless supply of food and liquor and the fancy attire, all make up one hefty bill. In fact, the amount some people spend can fund 20 occasions other people less fortunate cannot afford. The number of charities that could help people with that wealth is incredible!

Surely, this isn’t what it’s all about?

I’ve attended many weddings in the past as a lot of my friends got married before I did. The guest list alone ranged from 150 people, all the way up to 800! EIGHT HUNDRED! I can’t even physically talk to 800 people in one day, let alone dance with every single one of them. These evenings have turned into a show where people are more focused on how the wedding looks than on who the couple are.

I’ll never forget a wedding I went to which was held in the small hall inside a shul. There was a maximum of maybe 180 people there and yet it has got to be the best wedding I’ve attended. There were no frills; it was plain and simple, and it was beautiful. The couple were genuinely happy and all they wanted was to share that with their closest of friends and family. They didn’t care about the food or the flowers or even the dirt on the bridesmaid’s dress. This was their day, about their union and not about making a big entrance into a room full of acquaintances.

The focus of events needs to shift back to their purpose. People need to strip down the excess and return to basics to remember why they’re celebrating in the first place. 17 different types of lamb is just not necessary to rejoice in a simcha. Materialism isn’t happiness, finding reasons to live is; and there’s no amount of money that can buy you that.

I’m not saying that having some luxuries are wrong – on the contrary! Having a nice day is important. But nice doesn’t mean extravagant. There doesn’t need to be tens of thousands of pounds spent, it’s so superfluous. The fact is, the days are easily forgotten, last approximately 6 – 8 hours and then it’s all over. That’s it, finished. All those different types of meat are eaten, drinks consumed and all that’s left is a headache from the loud music.

Imagine if you saved all that money and started off your life with it. Paying a deposit on a house is more important than 8 hours, isn’t it?

Simplicity is easy – it means fewer appointments, fewer meetings, fewer hassles and fewer worries over the amount of things going wrong. Stay relaxed, keep it easy and be happier than you could have imagined.

Selena Myers

Life Chronicles

Monday, July 25th, 2016

Dear Mrs. Bluth,

Two weeks ago, I ran away from home. Please understand, I am not a wayward teen or addled young adult, I am a 43-year-old man who reached his breaking point and can no longer live with his elderly parents.

All my life, my parents doted on me and when I started shidduch dating, as far they were concerned, no one was good enough, pretty enough or smart enough for their “tzaddikel.” My friends all married while I sat waiting for the “right one” to come along, someone who would meet with my parents’ approval. My friends had children and made simchas, while I watched the years slip by. Eventually, shaddchanim stop calling thinking there was something wrong with me mentally or that I was gay.

Nothing could be further from the truth. However, I have come very close to having a nervous breakdown as I realized there was nothing more to my life than changing my father’s diapers, suctioning, and spoonfeeding my mother and having to put up with their constant demands and incoherent babble.

In the clarity of a single moment I understood that they have robbed me of a life with any kind of happiness, just to satisfy their own selfish needs. That my three older sisters escaped this fate is to their credit and I now understand why they have distanced themselves from my parents and seldom visit. As envious as I am of them, I am also extremely happy that they got to marry, have children and experience love and happiness. In the same breath, I am a dead man walking.  Two weeks ago as I was feeding my father, he began yelling at me for not being quick enough with the spoon. It was the final straw. I threw it on the floor, stood up, walked into my room, packed a few things and walked out the door as my mother wailed behind me not to leave. I was at the point of no return.

I don’t remember driving, but I have recollections of getting on the plane that took me to an old friend’s house in California. Both he and his wife graciously invited me to stay with them as long as I wanted. They have been so kind to me, clearly seeing the awful state I was in.

Over the past few weeks, as I rested and mended mentally, emotionally and physically, a strong sense of guilt has invaded my new found freedom. On the one hand, I finally realize that I can enjoy spending time with other people and have found a sense of self-worth I have never experienced before. I know that I am worthy of all the blessings and joys others have attained and that, perhaps, there is still a chance for me to find a life-partner. Yet, visions of my parents hound me and threaten to obliterate all that I have accomplished. My conscience reminds me that I left them alone, unattended and that they may have suffered life-threatening situations since I walked out. What if they needed to be hospitalized or even, G-d forbid, that one or both of them died and I wasn’t there?

I am afraid to call them, if that’s what you’re thinking – afraid that I will be guilted into going back, terrified in fact. I can’t do this anymore, day in and day out. My friend and his wife have been wonderful and empathetic but remind me that I must make the decisions for myself. In truth, though, I don’t think I can. Please help me sort this out before I lose my mind.

Rachel Bluth

Life Chronicles

Monday, July 18th, 2016

Dear Mrs. Bluth,

I must admit I have been a closet reader of your entertaining column for many years, never once believing that the sordid and contrived letters and stories you showcase each week about infidelities, sexual deviances and corruption are anything but figments of a fertile imagination for entertainment purposes.  You can imagine my shock and chagrin when I overheard my daughter and two of her classmates discussing a letter recently featured in your column, about the young girl who defied her parents by staying friendly with a non-religious neighbor and attending a party with her that had a tragic outcome.

Mrs. Bluth, these are fifteen-year-old girls who obviously believe these letters are true!  My daughter and her friends were actually debating the virtues of your response and whether or not the girl should have heeded her mother’s warning to break off the friendship.  This motivated me to write this letter.

Perhaps you don’t realize that it is not just adults who read your column but youngsters and teenagers as well.  These kids are impressionable and naive and the stuff you print can have a terrible impact on them.  When I confronted my daughter about this, I was floored to learn that practically all the girls she knows read your column and accept your words as truth.  When I told her that all those letters and stories were contrived, make-believe tales, she told me I was wrong, the proof being that one of her friends had written in about her home-life issues and that you responded with information that has helped her cope.  Nothing I said could sway her belief that what she read in your column was anything but the truth.  I think you owe it to her to set the record straight, come clean and reveal the truth.



 Dear Friend,

Thank you first for being an avid reader of this “entertaining” column and for writing in about your concerns. It may interest you to know that this column highlights real life stories of people who exist in the Jewish world. So I thank you as well for giving me the chance to address any other “doubting Thomases,” and rest assured there have been many, who have raised the very same question about the validity of this column.  Every letter, story and phone call is 100% true. I would love to let you look through my many e-mails, phone records and file cabinet chock filled with them, however, my vow of confidentiality forbids this.  So you’ll just have to take my word for it.  Or you can go back to secretly reading them for entertainment value.

I am saddened that you could find pleasure in reading even a “contrived” letter from an abused wife, a victimized and bullied child or a tormented husband.  Where is your heart?  These are real people who use this forum as a way of reaching out for help. The substance abuser, gambler and the petty thief, those suffering with eating disorders, questioning their personal orientation and those in the shidduch crisis, have all found a place here to voice their fears, pain and concern. Here is where we learn to be more compassionate with each other and how to better deal with adversity.  Life is a hard row to hoe for many people in unfortunate circumstances. Look around you and see the lonely and forgotten elderly, the poor and hungry who rummage through garbage cans in the late night hours, and the women with nowhere to live after being left homeless and penniless by a divorce. They exist below the surface of our lives, hiding their pain and shame so that no one sees, trying to maintain what little dignity is left to them.  And this is the place they pour out their sadness, frustration and pain.

And please remember: there is no way to stop anyone of any age from reading. If you stop your daughter from reading it at home, she will just read it at a friend’s.

I and this wonderful publication are extremely proud of and grateful for the assistance, resources and education we provide to those in need and the public in general, helping to create a heightened awareness of ahavas Yisroel.

Rachel Bluth

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/family/life-chronicles/life-chronicles-77/2016/07/18/

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