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November 26, 2014 / 4 Kislev, 5775
At a Glance

Posts Tagged ‘strength’

The Cat Lady’s Message

Thursday, August 9th, 2012

I was going crazy. I couldn’t stand it another minute. Yes, I was feeling sorry for myself.

I had been blessed, b’li ayin hara, with children very close in age. Surely having one child after the other was a blessing to be grateful for. I knew there were many people who would give a million dollars to have such a “problem.” But still, it was very stressful. But that wasn’t the hardest part, and it wasn’t the main reason for my feelings of despair.

I was in such a terrible state of mind because in addition to the normal stress of being blessed with one child after the other, I was also dealing with our oldest – a severely autistic boy who was profoundly developmentally delayed, and prone to tantrums and aggressive behaviors.

So there I was that Shabbos, feeling depressed and alone. I was feeling nothing but utter despair. In short, I was at the end of my rope.

Suddenly there was someone at the door.

Oh no! Who was it now? I was certainly not in the mood for anybody just then. But I went to the door.

I opened the door and there stood a short woman who was obviously not frum. I didn’t think she was even Jewish. “I’m sorry to bother you,” she began. “I’m just going around the neighborhood to let people know that I lost my cat.” “I’m sorry,” I said, pretending to care.

She took out a photograph of her cat and showed it to me. I nodded. “If you see my cat, please let me know.” And then she said something I will never forget: “My cat is my whole life. I have nobody else.” I expressed polite words of sympathy and assured her I would let her know if I found her cat.

When I closed the door, I had no doubt that Hashem sent this woman to my door to deliver a message. The message: Stop feeling so sorry for yourself. Yes, you have it hard with children so close in age and a child with a disability, but think about the fact that you have something to live for. Think about the fact that you have a family who needs you. There are people who have nobody to live for – but a cat.

And now even her cat was gone.

The Cat Lady thought she was knocking on my door to ask for my help. But in truth, Hashem sent her to help me. Like magic, my whole attitude changed. Yes, life was still tough. But I was now imbued with renewed strength.

I wish I could say I learned my lesson for the rest of my life, and stopped complaining. But we humans don’t learn that easily, do we?

We all know what happens. You go to an inspiring lecture. You come home feeling enthusiastic and ready to make some real changes for the better. But how long does the enthusiasm usually last?

So fast-forward to years later. My children are older now. The oldest is in a group home.

Life always has its challenges and problems. The challenges just take on a new hue as our children and we get older. And one day this summer, I once again found myself in one of those moods.

One thing I was particularly frustrated about that day was that I had been davening about certain issues for a while but Hashem was not giving me what I was asking for. Yes, I knew the hashkafas. I knew the purpose of davening is not just to get what we want. But on an emotional level, I just couldn’t go on anymore. It was getting harder and harder to open that siddur, harder and harder to ask Hashem for anything.

That morning, I found myself walking down the street. There was only one thing I managed to bring myself to ask Hashem for that day. While walking down the street, with my last energy, I made one more bakashah: “Please Hashem, give me the strength to continue davening.” That was all. I was not up to more, and I didn’t expect Hashem to say yes to this request. After all, He had been saying no to all my requests lately.

The Olympics Obsession With Body Glorification and Might-Makes-Right

Monday, August 6th, 2012

The Olympics focus on physical prowess places brawl over brain, and body over spirit, in the hierarchy of importance. This paradigm needs to be shifted. Fitness comes from feeding both soul and body and strength is not only about defeating others but cooperating with others.

My revered mentor the Lubavitcher Rebbe (1902-1994) often admonished that it is incumbent to maintain optimal health because a healthy body is a healthy spirit. Studies demonstrate that exercise helps reduce anxiety, promotes better sleep, combats disease, improves mood, and even chemically alleviates depression by releasing endorphins and neurotransmitters.

Bodily health alone is not enough. One needs a healthy body in conjunction with a healthy mind. Obsessing over body image can lead to anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, malnourishment, depression and compulsive overeating. Neglecting the body by entirely focusing on the mind is also not the answer. We need a balance of fit mind and fit body.

My grandfather Reuven Helman was born in Israel-Palestine in 1927. He was an Olympian recognized as a weightlifting champion, distinguished athlete in Track and Field, the Decathlon and for his career as an athletic instructor. His ability to handily hoist 330 pounds wasn’t enough to keep him healthy. He needed a sense of purpose, peace of mind.

That moment of synergizing his physical health with his spirit came in the early 1950′s when the Rebbe handed him a sefer Torah, a handwritten scroll of the five books of Moses, on the Holiday of Simchat Torah - telling him to “dance with the Torah like a true champion.” The message was that you need purpose, spirit, and soul to be a champion not just a good physique.

Pirkei Avos, a book on Jewish ethics, teaches that the hallmark of true strength is self-discipline. Not conquering others, but conquering ones self. Working cooperatively with others is what civilization is based on, not exerting brute force over others.

Several Olympians this year have made racially hateful remarks toward their fellow competitors. The Greek triple jumper Voula Papachristou Tweeted: “With so many Africans in Greece at least the West Nile mosquitoes will eat homemade food;” and Swiss soccer defender Michel Morganella Tweeted after Switzerland lost, 2-1, to South Korea: “I’m going to beat up every Korean. Go on — burn yourselves!”

There is nothing wrong with competition and testing the limits of the body, when it is coupled with mutual respect and ethical sportsmanship. The Olympics is about uniting nations not dividing them. It is not all about which country is ahead on the leader board. By combining a healthy body with a healthy spirit we can help achieve the goal of unity, respect and cooperation.

Three Reasons To Buy Dividend-Paying Stocks

Wednesday, July 18th, 2012

Have you thought about investing in dividend-paying stocks? As the name suggests, these are stocks that pay out a certain percentage of the company’s earnings as a dividend periodically (usually quarterly) to the investor. Recently, dividend-paying stocks have received a good press in publications such as The Wall Street Journal. Have you considered why dividend-paying stocks might be good for you?

Here are three possible reasons for thinking about dividend paying stocks:

1. You can reinvest the dividend payments in the same stock. Chances are you originally bought the stock because you believed in the fundamental strength and stability of the company. As long as you continue to believe in the strength of the particular firm, if you reinvest your dividend income in the company and continue to buy more shares of the same stock, you will increase your position in a company that you believe is strong. If you choose carefully, your investments might turn out like those of Grace Groner, a secretary at Abbott Labs. Her $180 investment in 1935 eventually grew to $7 million (which eventually went to fund a foundation to benefit students of Lake Forest College.)

2. Dividend-paying stocks have the potential to maintain a certain amount of stability when the market gets rough. Stocks that pay dividends are generally considered safer in a down market because they still keep a certain level of value and generate income in the form of a regularly paying dividend. Even if the stock value drops, unless the board of directors vote to eliminate the dividend, you can still anticipate receiving a periodic check.

3. The need to pay out dividends to shareholders can keep a company’s management in check. If the board of directors knows shareholders expect a dividend on a regular basis, they may be more likely to avoid embarking on risky projects that could end up fundamentally destabilizing the company. Since stockholders will only continue holding onto their shares if they believe in the fundamental stability of the company, both the board of directors and shareholders have a common interest in furthering the company’s profits.

If reading the above has convinced you that to buy dividend-paying stocks for your portfolio, wait a minute before you call me (or your broker). First, read my next post, to learn about potential problems with dividend-paying stocks. As always, don’t invest in anything until you get proper advice from a licensed financial advisor.

Israel’s Gas Cost Drops, Tax Still 55%

Sunday, July 1st, 2012

The price of gas was lowered overnight Sunday by 2.15%, making the maximum price of self-serve 95-octane gasoline 16 agorot per liter less – NIS 7.27.

According to a report in Haaretz, the price cut was reduced by the decline in European oil prices being offset by the strength of the US dollar and 15-agorot increase per liter in excise taxes on gas.

The excise tax on gasoline was temporarily reduced in April due to public pressure, but was not renewed despite a drop in world oil prices. 55% of the maximum retail price of gasoline is tax.

Blogging Tomorrow at the President’s Conference

Friday, June 22nd, 2012

My first stop on the final day of the President’s Conference was a special bloggers meeting first with Dr. Yossi Vardi and then with President Peres. Bloggers joked on Twitter that they felt like calling Peres ‘Saba’ after spending the past few days with him, and I can understand why. He certainly has a grandfatherly type of spirit made up of a kind smile and a warm glow that radiated through the low lighting of Exhibition Hall.

The bloggers had the opportunity to ask President Peres some questions at the gathering. Bloggers from both national papers and personal websites were represented and asked questions that ranged from straightforward politics to ones that were more personal. One inevitably centered around the status of Iran, in which Peres answered that Iranians are using dangerous means that don’t give Israelis much of a choice when deciding what to do next. Peres explained that in the recent nuclear negotiations, the Iranians came to the table half-hearted. If the leaders don’t agree to economic sanctions, then all options will be on the table. A heavy calm had permeated the room throughout Peres’ discussion, but hearing the idea of the potential for more extreme measures took it to a deeper level.

That feeling was lifted during one of the most moving parts of the session when Peres was asked about his reflections during his time in America with President Obama. A clear advocate and friend to America, Peres explained he was charmed by the President. He said the unique thing about America is that it’s the only power in history that got its strength not by taking, but by giving. “This is a new concept about the strength of generosity,” he said. As kind as his words were, I can’t help but poke a hole in the message. I don’t think the Native Americans would be so quick to talk about America’s generous nature. On top of that, America is a capitalist country that inspires starry-eyed youth with the idea of the ‘American dream.’ The greed and corruption that can result from the concept doesn’t match up. Further, when America started the War on Terror, they exercised their strength under the cover of generosity, wanting to set up a democracy in a less fortunate area, but the true reasons for invading were far less altruistic. That being said, even if America may not be the most generous historically, honoring Israel certainly falls into that category. Seeing Israel in that respect was incredibly moving for Peres and for many bloggers in the room.

Some questions were injected with religion. One blogger asked Peres what he would ask God for at the Kotel. Peres said that God resides in each of us and He guides us. We can follow him or we cannot follow him, but he would ask him to continue to give the right advice and in turn, we will do the right things. It’s an idea that I’ve been learning about at seminary for a few weeks now, and an aspect that can be included in all areas of life. The overarching idea mimics the theme of the conference in general. We don’t know what’s in store for the future, but we must have faith that tomorrow’s world will be better than today’s. Peres said that in the Hebrew language there is only past and future, no present. In response to the words of the prophets, he said that “there is nothing on the waiting list.” The prophets’ words advise us in which way to change for the future. Peres’s actions set the stage for that. By creating the President’s Conference, he is setting up a means to exchange ideas and meet new people that together can create that change.

Peres exuded the same fervor in response to the most fun question of the day. @Roopunzel (on Twitter) asked, “What’s on your wish list for your next birthday present?” Peres didn’t hesitate. He responded that his wish is for all people to have happy birthdays. I hope that’s a message that can be delivered.

Day Two of the Presidential Conference Closes with Pessimism about the Global Economy

Thursday, June 21st, 2012

Harvard Professor Niall Ferguson, President of the Council of Foreign Relations, Richard Haass, and Financial Times Reporter Martin Wolf headlined a panel led by Governor of the Bank of Israel Stanley Fischer.

The panel, which focused on the future of the global economy was highlighted by a general sense of pessimism, with several members noting that tough times lay ahead, particularly for Europe.

When the discussion turned to the strength of the Eurozone, an especially grim picture emerged.

“If things are just left to unfold as they are now,” said Wolf, “with the resources they put up for it – the Euro zone is going to fail.”

Ferguson echoed this stormy forecast, noting that the current stagnation may be a precursor for larger problems, saying, “We ain’t seen nothing yet. The flash crash (of 2008) will be nothing compared to the next crash.”

The session also included Governor of the Reserve Bank of New Zealand Alan Bollard and was preceded by an address from Alassane Ouatarra, President of the Ivory Coast.

While the panelists tended to see a bleak picture, President Outarra’s address was filled with optimism in the strength and potential of the growing African economies, calling them the “African Lions.” Yet, he too recognized that economic prosperity needs stability.

“The democratic process is irreversible,” said Ouatarra, “but we need to win the war of security for economic development so that the next generation can benefit too.”

A Letter To My Camper

Monday, June 11th, 2012

Dear Ariana,

It was a steep, downhill walk from our bunkhouse to the marquee where we would be lighting Shabbos candles. A weak sun sank lower into the mountains, the sky behind it a hazy yellow with streaks of pink weaving their way through purple accents.

As we walked, I listened idly to the conversation of your bunkmates, my campers. You were at that age where you are young and innocent enough to cruise comfortably through life, yet old enough to start understanding the dynamics of social equality. The discussions were light, yet already, certain elements of subconscious peer pressure were beginning to make themselves known. Two or three girls walked at the center of the group, their laughter dominating those at the sidelines, their silent but obvious confidence and self assurance automatically portraying them as leaders.

Those who trailed behind that halo had shoulders stooped over in humble, yet sad defense against the powers that were just too forceful for them to break into.

As we walked, we were joined by other groups of girls heading for the lighting ceremony. I observed similar group dynamics in the other bunks, but it appeared to me your loneliness and stark isolation from the rest of the bunk was that much more apparent. Undercurrents of bullying had been playing into effect all week and I had already dealt with enough scenarios to know that I was in for a tough summer. This, I knew, was particularly due to the ringleader of our bunch. I had watched the goings on through careful eyes but hadn’t quite been able to pinpoint exactly where things were going wrong in our bunk.

We reached the dining room. Over one hundred candles were set up on a long row of tables. The girls, most of them not from religious homes, were dressed in their Shabbos finery. For some, like you, it would be their first time lighting Shabbos candles. For others, it was a yearly ritual they only got to practice when they came here, to this camp in the mountains every summer. And others had taken on the mitzvah and had shared it with their families.

Each bunk was called up one at a time to light the candles. The head counselor stood by the table, overlooking the sacred moment. The large hall was electric with the atmosphere of Shabbos and we felt it as soon as we entered.

In due course, our bunk was called up. Ten fresh faced, tanned, eager young girls stood around the candles. Some were already lit and the air was filled with the fumes of burnt matches. I inhaled deeply, the smell awakening in me countless Friday evenings of lit Shabbos candles.

The head counselor surveyed the cluster of girls seriously, her gaze taking in every upturned head. She started to speak in a low, soft voice.

“Since the time of our forefathers, Avraham and Sarah, Jewish women and girls have been lighting Shabbos candles. Some start doing it at the age of three, some start at Bat Mitzvah and some start when they get married, lighting two.”

Behind us, bursts of laughter and echoes of lively conversation faded away. It was just us, the candles and the lulling explanation.

“Lighting the candles for Shabbos is a mitzvah that has belonged to Jewish women and one that has helped them keep their faith throughout history. The candles are lit to bring in the holy, sacred day of Shabbos, a day when we on this world get to taste a little of what the angels above experience near the Heavenly throne.”

All the girls, you especially, were silent, enraptured.

“The time of lighting candles is a wonderful and auspicious time for asking G-d to bless us in the forthcoming week for whatever we need. It is at this time that the heavenly gates are open and our prayers go straight to Hashem, where He receives them with open arms.”

I turned to look slowly at you, gauging your reaction. You had been through a lot this week. You were, undoubtedly, the social outcast of the bunk. If the girls had just ignored you, that would have been almost fine. Instead, with one clever instigator at their head, one who manipulated the rest of the group, you had been subject to a week that had left me, never mind you, broken hearted.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/magazine/teens-twenties/a-letter-to-my-camper/2012/06/11/

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