Lift up your eyes and look to the heavens. – (Yeshaya 40:26)
The Torah describes Yitzchak’s blindness, which seems to double as a metaphor for his blindness to the essential nature of his children, and serves as a reminder to each of us to become more aware of our own blind spots and prejudices. (And yes, I did make significant steps in this direction through the highly compelling implicit bias training that I completed during my onboarding earlier this month as an application reader/evaluator for a prominent university.) Earlier on in Bereishis, we encounter Hagar, who despite having no physical blindness, needed an angel to open up her eyes to the possibilities and future in front of her. Even with 20-20 vision, there are still many things that we are blind to.
Here are a few ways that I see this play out:
- Many high school and college students believe that if they just do their “hishtadlus,” and work towards a 4.0 GPA, they don’t need to write a great college application or a convincing cover letter, because somehow their effort will speak for itself and the school or employer of choice will notice them among the hundreds of applications.
- Some talented individuals (both students or professionals) have a hard time identifying their strengths and “seeing” the core value they bring to their work and interactions with others. As with #1, a good coach or advisor can help you “see and be seen,” but often all it takes is an “angelic” other to point out.
- Speaking of strengths, rarely do 48 hours pass without my conducting a mock interview. When I began working in this field some years ago, I rarely simulated the question, “What are your biggest strengths?” because I assumed the person I was coaching needed more help crafting and articulating their response to the question, “What is your biggest weakness?” Turns out I was wrong. Many people can list their weaknesses with relative ease (just don’t do that on an interview please!), but have a harder time claiming their unique strengths. While in many instances strengths will have already been articulated in the cover letter that helped get them the interview, I still find many people need practice in being able to verbally articulate their strengths.
- When people come to me for help preparing for interviews, I frequently encourage them to make a follow-up appointment with another team member who is Latina or at least not visibly Jewish. Apart from the fact that my colleagues are very gifted and may observe nuances that I hadn’t picked up on (or had time to address), I don’t want the interview to be the first time they are in close quarters with an individual or a committee that looks very different from most of the individuals they commonly encounter in our relatively homogenous community.
- A common question at the start of many interviews is, “Walk me through your resume.” Similar to the “Tell me about yourself” question, this is your opportunity to not just regurgitate everything they can already see on your resume. Rather, you want to address what they are unlikely to know from reading your resume. Help the interviewer read between the lines. For example, depending on what job I was applying for, I might share that the theme that ties my former career as a chaplain with my current career as a career coach and college application reader is my passion for supporting others as they reflect on, uncover and craft their stories. This is a core driver for everything I do.
A friend and mentor of mine who was driven by similar motives had an uncanny ability to help others reflect on their achievements and uncover themes weaving through their lives that they were previously unaware of. Rabbi David Keehn, z”tl, (whose shloshim is this week) ministered as a hospital chaplain to tens of thousands of patients, families, and staff, and as director of spiritual care for many years led a multi-faith team that guided perhaps hundreds of thousands. Often, especially through the Covid era, he was the last person – and certainly the last rabbi – that those patients saw. His ministry is all the more remarkable, given the obstacles he overcame. After going blind during his years learning in Eretz Yisrael post high-school, he pursued psychology and smicha at YU and then became one of just a handful of YU and Stern alumni that have made it through the years of rigorous (CPE) training and the board certification process to serve as a healthcare chaplain at the intersection of science and spirituality.
I was surprised to find him standing at the back of the chapel when my aunt died some years ago. My aunt had had several hospitalizations and as her only family in New York, she hadn’t wanted to worry me; I only learned about them later. It dawned on me that David, as chaplain to my aunt, hadn’t seen just a senior citizen occupying the bed in his hospital. He saw an elderly woman that appeared to have no family visitors. His concern that few would show for her funeral was likely a strong factor in his showing up at the chapel. It was wholly in keeping with his consideration for the holistic circumstances of those he met, and humble advocacy for those that are lonely, isolated, and unseen by much of society.
Yehi zichro baruch.