Amsterdam, Anne Frank and Us

DSCN1186Picturesque canals, charming architecture, tulips galore and waffles-to-go, Amsterdam is a beautiful place to visit. I reread The Diary of Anne Frank in anticipation of my trip. We’ve all read it (if you haven’t, do!), and clearly, the young girl’s story resonates across cultures, languages and time, as evidenced by the long, winding line outside her WWII hiding-place-turned-museum.

Every girl identifies with Anne, and I am no exception. The pictures of movie stars on her bedroom wall reminded me of my own room growing up. Her dream to become a prolific writer, I also share. But what remains aspirational about the 14-year-old Anne, was her vibrant optimism, her ability to see the sun, if only through a mirror’s reflection, and to, despite the news and growing danger, hold fast in her belief that people are good, and that good would not only come, but triumph. How many of us, much older, can boast such clarity, courage and strength, though our trials are thankfully, much less severe?

2 Takeaways
anne frankTheir Would Haves are our Opportunities

Numerous notebooks and stacks of pages lay in the museum, miraculously spared, collected and preserved. These handwritten pages became Anne’s dream-come-true. Deliberately crafted with care, I marveled over her even script and draft rewrites. She didn’t know what tomorrow would bring, but she began writing anyway.

Since my visit to her Huis, Anne, and the many other Annes who don’t have museums, frequent my thoughts. Their chances to live their dreams or simply breathe fresh air were stolen. But our chances are now; their would haves are our opportunities. This takeaway has inspired the smallest moments from walking my dog, to resurrecting this blog. Long neglected goals continue to call for reasons we may not understand. We may never know the next step or for whom our work is meant; we don’t have to.

Otto FrankFramed Pictures Reframe Today

There is a photograph of Otto Frank returning to the Secret Annex after the war. Of the eight who hid there, only he survived. Chilling, in this photo, it’s as though we can see what he sees—the memories, faces and fates. I imagine my grandparents, also survivors, experienced moments like his when they returned to Hungary after the war to empty neighborhoods. And yet, from that place arose the greatest generation.

Hopefulness requires courage. The essential steps of lifting one’s eyes, trying again, building and striving to create a life, a family, a country; to unite with others, have faith, let go, and smile, all evidence that happiness is positively brave.

In Europe, every cobblestone stands witness. Now on city streets and squares, plaques stand where people stood. Were the year different, my shoes might be theirs.

DSCN1167Several co-travelers opted not to visit the Anne Frank Huis. They thought it would be too depressing. They were mistaken! The Anne Frank Huis inspired a way to vanquish whatever gloom dares darken our view! It also beckons with the promise of partnership: in converting their would haves to our opportunities, we help them live, elevate their holy souls, and engage in a level of mind-full living that ensures their memories are truly blessings, forever illuminating the everyday fortunes we might otherwise miss.



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A Jewish Definition of Freedom

Image courtesy of Light Matters Studio
Image courtesy of Light Matters Studio

A contemporary definition of freedom, according to magazines and ads might be chocolate without consequences, bungee jumping, or abandoning work responsibilities for a trip to Mykonos.

If you ask the Kardashians, they would say true freedom is the ability to do whatever we want, whenever we want with whomever we want.

Pesach inspired a lot of “freedom” talk, but Judaism relates to freedom as an inside job. True freedom is the ability to choose who you will be in any situation. It’s the ability to behave differently from animals who have no choice but to react instinctively and to instead rise above impulsivity to live deliberately, consciously.

All of us have habits, beliefs and behaviors that happen automatically. Whether it’s blaming others, negative thinking, reaching for a cigarette, checking out, or procrastinating, these reactions or ways of interacting with life can feel beyond our control.

“This is the way I always do it.”
“I must be the best.”
“I must control everything and not be controlled by anything.”
“I must do it all myself.”
“I can’t help it, this is how I am.”

We put ourselves in bondage. We limit ourselves and shut ourselves off from the enormous abundance Hashem wants for us. Freedom is the ability to get out of the way and let Hashem in. It means rising above our impulses so that we are not slaves to animalistic desires, habits, impatience, the past, or fear.

This real freedom lives in the balance between initiative and partnership with Hashem. It empowers us to turn off the autopilot and steer, to lead our own lives. To choose:

“No, I won’t raise my voice.”
“Yes, I will ask for help.”
“Yes, I can change.”
“Now, I will begin.”
“I’m not alone. Hashem is my partner.”

Freedom does not only depend on external circumstances. Free is the man who is master of himself.

Watch out for the self-limiting story you or others have told you that keep you a slave. Freedom starts the moment you truly believe you can be free, the moment you walk into the unknown with faith, the moment you decide who you will be.

And this is holy work. It’s a great mitzvah for each of us to feel that we ourselves have personally left Egypt.

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When Hashem’s Timeline Doesn’t Match Yours

“How wonderous are your deeds, Hashem.
All of them are done with wisdom.
The heavens tell of your glory.
And the earth is filled with your kindness.” -Tehillim
Art by Yochana Chavah Sandler

There are certain lessons that are particularly difficult to learn. One of the hardest ones for me is acceptance when Hashem’s timeline is different (sometimes dramatically different) than my own.

Example: I wanted my chosen career set by this age, the love of my life by that age, and my summer home in Israel by another age…and these important deadlines have passed.

Admittedly, I’m a big dreamer. Always have been. But never a magical thinker—I’ve also always been a fiercely hard worker (Thanks, Dad!), throwing myself toward my goals wholeheartedly. So, when that hard work doesn’t pay off in the way that I want, or in a way I can see at all, uncertainty rears its ugly head. It challenges my core belief system that hard work must pay off. Right?

Stepping back, I know it does pay off…however, not necessarily in the way I expect. That’s the rub. It will pay off, but 5 years later. It will pay off as I use those skills in an entirely different profession. But that effort and dedication will pay off. You just don’t know how or when. And that. Really. Sucks.

Emunah or faith means believing in what you can’t see. It means believing in what you just somehow know, sometimes in spite of physical evidence that suggests otherwise. Emunah is a choice. There is no challenge to believe when the proof can be written before you. The leap happens when you believe despite what is written before you.

However frustrating, confusing or maddening, the reality is that we don’t want a Gd whose every step we understand, who we can out-think. What good is that?

Moments of doubt build character. Who are you really? Show yourself. A visionary, an upstander, one who is true to his values come what may? Then, what will you do now? Shrink and choose the easy route because the fear is too intense? Or breathe and walk into the unknown remembering, “In the end, it’s all good. And if it’s not good, it’s not the end.”

“.בסוף~הכל טוב
.ואם זה לא טוב~זה לא הסוף”
“In the end it’s all good.
And if it’s not good, it’s not the end.”

At the crux of my conviction lays the idea that Hashem is good, and that the circumstances aren’t just for the good, but are actually for the best. This knowledge soothes me in the face of challengers like time.

Time scares me. I never have enough of it. It races ahead, I always want more, and I measure myself ruthlessly against it. But, underneath my moments of inner pandemonium, I do know it’s working. I do know that ha-kol b’seder. (Literally: it’s all in order.)

I don’t get to see the big picture in real time. That’s the bad news and the good news for the future is determined in the very moment I decide whether to quit, or persist with the emuna/faith that it’s all happening in the most harmonious way for everyone involved.

Today was a day where I didn’t understand Hashem’s process or timeline. Yet despite my frustration and impatience, I suspect I will one day look back and say, “Thank Gd.”

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The Floating Chuppah

Over the weekend, I attended a dear friend’s wedding. Glamorous and romantic, I couldn’t help but share my 3 favorite elements from her elegant soirée.

1. The Floating Chuppah.

Crowning the ceremony space, a white-on-white tallit floated in the air beneath an opulent chandelier, encircled by roses and white orchids. After the ceremony, the wedding area quickly transformed into a dance floor, but the chuppah remained afloat!

What I loved about this choice was that it allowed the couple to invite all of their closest family and friends to celebrate and dance with them, under their wedding canopy.

2. A Flurry of Petals

One of my favorite moments was when the band leader directed the guests to grab a handful of rose petals from the tables and throw them at the couple on the count of three. The magical result looked like a scene out of a snow globe.

Guests tossed rose petals found
at the bases of these centerpieces.

3. The Israeli Touch

The bride wore a gown by an Israeli designer, and the Persian-Israeli cultural fusion made for  untiring music choices, exuberant dance moves, and plenty of kebobs. (I even saw one guest skewer his sushi and eat it as a kebob!)

Mazal tov! To a lifetime of love!

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5 Ways to Let your Inner Queen Reign

Keep Calm and Esther On _ Joyish_Let queen reign_ Lara Dvora_ Berman_PurimYou rule. You know you do. But you don’t always feel that way. I get it—I’m talking to myself as I talk to you. Lucky for us, we’re in good company. Queen Esther herself didn’t feel like she ruled all of the time either.

Beautiful, sweet and ferociously intelligent (I know so many women who fit this description), her husband’s advisor Haman was dangerously close to enacting a plan to annihilate the Jewish people. Secretly a Jew herself, Esther was perfectly positioned to speak up and save her people! If she failed however, she faced certain death.

Esther’s potential to do great, important things shone to everyone around her. But internally, she felt doubtful and afraid. Fortunately, her dear Uncle Mordechai believed in her, and urged her to trust her abilities.

“Listen, you’ve got this! ” Uncle Mordi said, without a trace of guilt or coercion. “But, if you don’t do anything…well, the Jews will survive some other way.”*

We know what happens next: Esther faces her fears, heroically rises to fulfill her destiny, and Haman hangs on the very gallows he built for the Jews.

Esther was a queen, a hero and a human.

5 Ways to Let Your Inner Queen Reign:

  1. Trust Yourself. The root of the word “Esther” relates to the Hebrew word “hester,” which means “hidden.” Just because you haven’t done it before, doesn’t mean you can’t. I have doubts, you have doubts, every leader has doubts. So what? If your inner voice says, “yes,” if it nags and persists, listen. This is your hidden potential seeking to be revealed.
  2. Believe. I bet each of us has an “Uncle Mordi” in our life, someone who truly sees us. They believe in us and push us, but we dismiss them. Don’t they have to say those things? Well, no, they don’t. And actually, they can see what we can’t sometimes. Try believing them.
  3. Stand up for what you believe. Queens exercise their spines. They’re passionate and willingly stand for truth, even when it’s unpopular. That’s one reason they make and change history.
  4. Act Now. Do it now, whatever it is, because if you don’t, someone else will. Rather than cause panic (well maybe a little panic), I see Mordechai’s message to Esther as humbling and motivational. The world isn’t waiting for our grand arrival, but that doesn’t change the fact that we each have a unique role, a unique contribution to make right now. Someone else could do it, but not like you.
  5. Wear a Crown, Really!…or at least a sparkly headband. Socially acceptable forms of dress up—like headbands—add fun and playfulness. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think I’m royalty every time I wear one. But I do feel fancier, and it can cue some queenly consciousness each time I catch sight of it in a mirror or window.

Rule, reign, rock that crown. You got this.


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