For a while, I really wanted to write a post about having confidence and being happy with ourselves but I’ve put that off because Netflix told me not to but instead watch more seasons of Parks and Rec but I realized that my would-be post and the upcoming Jewish holiday of Rosh Hashana kind of intersected nicely so that is what this post is about.
For those of you who do not know, Rosh Hashana is the Jewish New Year. But unlike the January 1st New Year, we don’t put a flimsy shimmery noisemaker in our mouth but a dead ram’s horn. Fun for the whole family!
Other Rosh Hashana traditions include: eating apples, inevitably getting sticky honey on your new H&M dress, anticipating parody songs about the new year by popular Jewish a capella groups, sitting in synagogue for hundreds of thousands of hours and for some, making small talk with elderly aunts, putting animal heads on our tables.
Rosh Hashana is also a time when Jews tell God “Hey, you’re still pretty rad, thanks for not letting me die in a fire this year (especially considering how many times I accidently put tin foil in the microwave when I was drunk…oh, is that just me? Okay then), I will try not to be such an bonehead this year and will pay more attention to my actions i.e. thanking you for the neat things in my life like food and not putting tin foil in the microwave.”
We also go to our fellow Jews and non-Jews and say, “Hope I wasn’t too much of a blockhead to you this year. Sorry about losing the first season of Dexter you lent me and then lying to you about having borrowed it. Also this year I’ll try to stop telling people about the hilarious time you tripped on a rug at that Chinese restaurant and fell on a waiter (but that 50 bucks I promised to repay you? Yeah, you probably won’t see that again. My bad)”.
Rosh Hashana is when we take a break to say “What am I doing with my life?” (Although if you’re an almost-college-grad like me, you’ve probably been asking yourself that on a near constant basis.) We want to evaluate our life choices, are we still “good people”, do we truly recognize all the terrible things we’ve done this year, do we even feel bad about them? Are we trying to be good friends, neighbors, roommates, daughters, sons, and subway passengers? Or do we stuff our headphones in our ears when someone comes around asking for change?
Rosh Hashana focuses on a bunch of things, namely renewing our love for God, our love for our fellow man/woman but another idea that often gets overlooked, loving ourselves.
Five years ago, I was on a seminary program in Bet Shemesh in Israel called Machon Maayan. I remember sitting in my first day of class where our first lesson on Rosh Hashana was the famous concept of “V’Ahvat L’Reiach K’mocha” or “Loving your neighbor as yourself,” an idea that Rabbi Akiva said was the very fundamental message of the Torah and our religion.
It’s important for Jews (and really all people) to stick together. In the Parsha (Torah portion) leading up to Rosh Hashana, Moshe Rabbeinu on his deathbed basically says to the Jewish people in the desert “You guys have a good thing going here, I know you’re all gonna muck it up sooner or later but if you act like a nation every once in a while then no one will mess with you and you’ll be OK.”
Being a part of the Jewish nation is less like a family and more like a really weird fraternity. You may have no clue who the elderly man sitting next to you on the plane is but he knows the secret passwords and handshakes so you know he’s all right and you may even be able to use that connection to get yourself a job in his law firm.
However, the phrase ‘Love your neighbor like you love yourself’ has a flip side too. That is, if you don’t love yourself enough then you can’t love your neighbor. If you don’t invest in yourself, then won’t have enough to share with others. It’s so important to be happy with who you are, how God made you, how you feel about yourself (even if you don’t believe in God). Five years ago on that Rosh Hashana in Israel, I wasn’t happy with my life. I was in a new country without any of my friends from home. I was shy and awkward. I hadn’t been diagnosed yet with the hormone imbalance PCOS but I had noticed persistent dark fuzz on my jaw due to the elevated levels of testosterone. I had developed some sort of allergy to all hair products leaving my head a big poodley mess.
I remember feeling that Rosh Hashana that I wasn’t good enough to make friends. I wasn’t good enough to help other people. I wasn’t pretty enough to pray to God.
It took me a long time to love myself. To learn that I wasn’t going to become a better person if I didn’t believe that I deserved to. That I wasn’t going to become a better friend, Jew, neighbor. It took me years to fully internalize the message I had learned years before.
So here are my tips on becoming a happier, self-loving person this year. I hope my words help you find peace in yourself. I hope this year you realize how important you are just as yourself and to the Jewish people, how amazing your potential is and how precious your numerous page views are to my blog *hugs computer.*
Doing things is hard sometimes. Some people (me) can be awkward and at loss of the right thing to say at times (i.e. Doctor: “Have a good semester in school!” Me: “You too! Or, a good semester being a doctor. Or, just life being a doctor. OK bye forever!”) As humans sometimes we’re apprehensive with new situations, with talking to new people. I firmly believe that fear is the number one worst thing in the world. I mean, besides for fear of snakes. SNAKES. Snakes everywhere. That’s the only thing you should be afraid of.
I read in a magazine once that we should have pictures of ourselves as children hanging up, to remind ourselves what it was like to always be happy and try new things or something. That’s stupid. Kids are dumb, they don’t know when people are laughing at them or with them. Never pretend you’re a kid. Instead, imagine yourself as yourself but at age 95. Take a second and imagine your wrinkly skin, bald/grey head and achy bones (FYI this game only works if you’re not 95, sorry 95-year-olds no offense, congrats on being hella elderly. Hellderly?)
Got it? Now imagine your old self is a sarcastic snob. And every time you’re too afraid to do something, be it sing karaoke, ask someone out, dance, learn an instrument, speak a new language, make a speech, ask a question, give someone a compliment, sing etc., imagine you’re sarcastic old lady self saying “Ohhh, thank goodness you’re not embarrassing yourself. Wouldn’t want to give me any memories or anything. Nope, you just sit in your T-shirt and shorts while everyone else goes in the pool. Whew, someone might think you’re too fat to be in a bathing suit. Nope. You just sit there. Don’t even think of talking to that cute lifeguard either. I’ll just sit in my rocking chair and think of my safe life never taking any risks. Ah…that’s nice. Maybe dementia will set in and I’ll make believe I was Lady Gaga. That’s good. Carry on not asking someone to explain the situation in Syria or anything about politics. Wouldn’t want them to think you’re stupid. Time to take a nap.”
Usually, I find that the thought of me getting to 95 without any risks or stories pushes me to do the thing I’m afraid of. We should tell people how we feel and don’t be afraid to live our lives without other people’s permissions. We should be doing the things that scare us. It’s why we’re here. Unless that thing involves snakes. Then stay FAR AWAY.
When I was younger, like a lot of girls (and guys) I used to measure myself against other people, especially physically. I used to scan each room I went into, to see if I was as pretty as other girls. If I talked to them, I would see if I was funnier, smarter or nicer than them. I was always comparing myself. It was exhausting. I would pore over the magazines I loved, hating myself for not being model skinny. I would read articles about girls who started amazing initiatives and charities and ask myself why I wasn’t starting some fund for children in Africa. My life was just a scale that I hardly ever matched up with. Until one day I read this in a book by Zelig Pliskin called Gateway to Happiness.
“It is unnecessary to have low self-esteem when you can easily invent some criteria by which you are a success. What makes anyone else’s criteria more valid than your own?”
I realized that day that I didn’t have to play life by anyone’s rules but my own. I was jealous of models but did I want to be a model, was that my criteria for success? No. I envied the students with amazing voices who sang solos in choir. Did I even care about having a good voice? No.
What I was jealous of was were the people who knew what they wanted and went for it. I didn’t have any idea what my own idea of success was. These days my idea of success is to be able to write, maybe making people think and laugh. My idea of success is having friends who feel they can be honest with me. My idea of success is having a job I enjoy and feel like I can help others. Now that I know that, I no longer feel angry with other people for what they have.
This year it’s not enough to say, “I want to be a good person.” What do we want to get good at? Do we want to be smarter? More considerate? Volunteer more? Take on more responsibility religiously? Learn to salsa? If we don’t know what we want out of life, we’ll never get it.
Little problems are hella annoying. They make us late. They distract us. They make us take time from our busy days to go to Sears to buy new microwaves.
We walk through the door at night, stressed from a grade we got on a paper and snap at our roommates about the dishes. Annoyances are our computers being crazy slow when trying to pay bills online. They’re the dingbat driving like an dadburned idiot on the highway when you’re just trying to get home that makes you curse the day the world was created.
But tiny problems are a sign that life is pretty swell.
I once heard this little story about a woman collecting charity from people at the Western Wall. When someone would give her money, she would say “Bless you, I wish that you always have little annoyances.” Finally, someone was like “WTH lady, what kind of blessing is that?” She replied, “When someone you love is in the hospital, you don’t give a hoot that your Amazon order got delayed. When your house burns down, you don’t care that gas prices shot up another 10 cents. Tiny problems in your life means you don’t have big problems, and that’s always a good thing.”
When I get really upset over small things (which is pretty often), I play a little game called parenthesis. It kind of goes like this: I take a what I am super mad about and break it down until my annoyance seems like a pretty silly thing to be truly broken up over. If I’m still annoyed, then I’m still annoyed. It’s not foolproof. Like this:
“I am angry that the dry-cleaners didn’t have the dress I wanted to wear to my friend’s wedding in time for me to wear it.”
And then I say this:
“I am angry that the dry-cleaners (which, thank God, I have enough money to spend on) didn’t have the dress (which, again, is something that I had money to buy something a lot of people who don’t have the ability to) I wanted to wear to my friend’s (a friend, I am lucky to have, considering a lot of people are pretty lonely) wedding (what a happy time for my friend that she found her soul mate) in time for me to wear it.”
“I am upset that my brother borrowed my car without asking and now I have to take the bus to my job.”
“I am upset that my brother (that I love and am fortunate to have a sibling who is healthy and alive) borrowed my car (that thank God, works and I am lucky to own whereas a lot of people do not have) without asking and now I have to take the bus (which is pretty reliable and I can afford) to my job (which thankfully I have).
Little things will pop up and ruin our day forever. That’s life. But when you say these things, especially out loud. You’ll find that they’ll make the situations a tiny bit easier to endure.
Obviously, we should always rely on our inner glow or whatever to be happy. But sometimes, we just don’t feel like going to the party because the outfit we chose doesn’t look as good as we thought and it’s already kind of put a damper on the whole thing. If that doesn’t happen to you then congratulations!
For me, it helps to think of God. And how bored I would be if I created infinitely complex and fascinating, capable human beings to do/build/create/imagine amazing things and they spent hours and hours each day plucking their eyebrows and staring in the mirror. I’d be like “Oh ME! If I knew you guys would be so boring, I would’ve made you all amorphous blobs or something! Can you go outside and interact with people? Can you go find the cure for cancer already? Turn off Netflix and call your grandma. She always has something interesting to say. Fine, you wanna spend 2 hours crying over a haircut? If you need me, I’m gonna be watching some ancient Mesopotamia. Maybe a guy will kill a snake or something. That’s always fun.”
Life is really short. Our friends and family do NOT like us just because we have frizz-free hair. They probably think you’re funny or interesting so go hang out with them and not worry so much about how you look. If they wanted to be friends with something perfect they would’ve brought a cardboard cut-out of Mila Kunis to the movies last week instead of you. There is more to you than your thighs. You were born on this planet and therefore you belong here.
In conclusion, Rosh Hashana is a good marker in the year to take one second from ‘ugh-ing’ about things, complaining about other people and beating ourselves up.
Let’s celebrate that we completed ANOTHER year of being on this awesome swirling blue and green ball of crazy. We have so much potential to be something incredible. Wonderful people. Remarkable nation. Amazing world. It has to start with us believing in ourselves.
I will leave you with another favorite quote.
“Man must guard himself and his uniqueness and not imitate his fellow man. For initially man was created in his own image and only afterward in the image of God.” ~ Kotzker Rebbe.
Happy New Year.
Ps. Stop putting tin foil in the microwave.