A thank you to everyone

I want to express a quick, but heartfelt thank you to everyone who works on and contributes to this blog.

It makes my day to open everything up and find nicely written posts just waiting to be tagged and published. No edits, no proofing, no begging for a submission, they’re where I need them, when I need them.

I can’t express my peace of mind for knowing that all the technicalities are being managed smoothly without my needing to worry. Running a website is not easy, but my job has been halved with all the help on this aspect.

Though they’ll never appear in print, everyone who has encouraged me to keep going and given advice has a huge role here. You know who you are, and I most certainly do.

Above all, a thank you to everyone who is mentioned in the stories here –  for being people who add light to the world, and for being people who appreciate the good in their lives and cannot help but share it. I cannot wait to hear more from you.

You all have my respect and appreciation, and I hope your light only shines brighter.

Prayer is Power

One night, I was lying in bed thinking about my life, specifically the not so good parts. I thought about someone who I’d done many not -so-kind things too, and I knew there was no way to make it up for her. So, I sent up a quick teffilah that G-d should send her an extra measure of goodness and bracha in her life.

Not even a week later, I hear that she survived a potentially near-death experience. That nighttime bracha came to mind. Prayer is powerful, people!

Bonus TotW: Spotting the disguise

A disguise of the yetzer harah I noticed personally yesterday. Giving you all the heads up!

Finally deciding you’re just going to get it over with and deal with the smelly garbage can should be a good thing, right? After all, I’d been waiting on it for too long. But it just so happened (read: sarcasm) that I finally made up my mind to do it while I was trying to convince myself to daven mincha NOW and not hope I’d have time for it later. It’s amazing what horrible jobs you can suddenly LIKE when there’s a mitzvah on the line, I realized, and as soon as I was done I didn’t give myself another moment to think of more jobs.

That’s a little too convenient motivation, don’t you think? So, for all of you to keep in mind– procrastinating chores is not good, but watch out that the chores aren’t making you procrastinate a mitzvah! After all, Mr. Yetzer Harah, in real life it’s much more fun to daven then to scrub the floor!

Thank you for the nagging

I’ve got a bad habit. A fairly harmless one, that many people do. I know I need to work on it, and yet I justify it. ‘I need it to cope.’ ‘I am working on it… a little.’ ‘I’m working on so many midot (traits), I’m just not up for this one yet.’ ‘I’ll be counterproductive, cuz I’ll just end up being resentful and doing it more.’ These were all valid points; I gave the matter some thought, and they went from real excuses to a battle plan for the future. But still, I was doing pretty poorly in the here and now.

Let’s use an example, for simplicity’s sake, and say this trait was complaining. I don’t whinge about the little minor things ‘oh, we have to share a bus with xyz’ or at least, what I call the little things (I guess the vending machine not being plugged in when I’m falling asleep and want soda is kind of a medium thing,) but I didn’t think I’d ever be one of those people who just quietly absorbed whatever life threw at them. a) They’re all tazadikeses and b) It just wouldn’t work for me. I need to get stuff out of my system, in order to stay healthy and sane. My friends have learned to live with it, and I’ve learned to pick a new friend each time I want to vent (or whatever my bad habit really is.)

So all the anti-complaining messages I’ve been hearing pretty heavily the past year (in a general sense, eg. school-wide campaign, never directed at me) just dropped my self esteem, left me defensive, made me resentful and justifying everything, and on occasion, left me in tears. (Inadvertently. It wasn’t her fault, she was only trying to help.) I just told myself everything you read above, and it was true. But it also seeped in.

I still indulge in my bad habit; I know I just need to let my feelings out. But I’ve also started paying more attention, in small sometimes subconscious steps. ‘Ok, so she needs to know I was sick for a week, but can I say it in a more positive way?’ ‘Ok, I need to vent, but how quickly can I change the topic?’ ‘Can I push off saying this for five minutes (at which point I will promptly forget it?)’ ‘Can I ask about her day first?’ I think it has less to do with a shift in behavior, and more just to do with having a more positive mindset, and realizing that my friends don’t always need to deal with this, even if they’re happy to. I just try and ‘vent’ in a more positive, long term, cheerful tone, and it takes the edge off. I’ll catch myself as soon as I feel better and not go on any longer.

So, this is a very long post to say a very short thing; To all the persistent, annoying, cheerful, inflexible, nagging people/messages over the past year, thank you for being that. I guess that future time I was going to start changing is now. Now, to work on my procrastination… let’s discuss it later 😛

A need for thanks

Saying thank you for a favor is easy. Saying thank you when you know you’re admitting to the world that you’re vulnerable and you know you couldn’t have managed without is harder. Nevertheless, I have to thank my vice principal today, for not just helping as she has had to so much recently, but how she helped.

I’ll make a long story short and just say I ended up in the office sick for the second (or maybe even third) time in a short while. The Vice-Principal is the one who usually deals with sick people in our school, and knows a lot about my medical history. In the past, when I end up in her office, I’m so worn out that after waiting it out a while, and a few protests and tears, I agree to be sent home. This time, though, I put up quiet the miserable fight. Someone was counting on me to be there today, and I didn’t want to let them down. These days, being sick has put an even bigger burden on everyone around me than before, and I let all my misery out to her. Another caring person who tried to help made things much worse and she dealt with it discreetly and properly.

The whole thing is a blur in my head, but I remember her thoughtfulness, her humor, her trying to accommodate me and help me stay as best as possible. I vividly recall that even when I was acting like a baby, she still talked to me like I was sane, and when I was ‘with it’ again, she talked to me as much like an adult as a Vice-Principal ever would to a baby-faced student. She made the whole thing less painful.

I didn’t just want her help, I needed it. And therefore, though I might not want to share my painful experience, I need to.

G-d in our lives; Chanukah post 1

One major theme of Chanukah is seeing G-d in life; not just the huge miracles and victories, but nature and the ‘ordinary’ things He arranges with a Hand too subtle for us to see.

Thank You for the seat in the crowded bus so I could get home without tiring myself out. Yes, that’s a big deal.

Constructive Criticism Pocket guide

(Yes, you can print this out for personal use, but please do not distribute without written permission.)

First of all, make sure that your words will be listened too. Double check. Are you sure you’re the right person to address this? Is this an issue to worry about? Is now the right time? If you’re as sure as you can be:

  1. Start in a pleasant, friendly voice. Keep it light.
  2. Talk somewhere quiet where you won’t be overheard.
  3. Don’t judge. Just point out, nicely, that you’ve noticed something, and you thought they might want to know.
  4. Don’t sound like the authority on the subject. You’re talking as a peer, a friend. Friends are awesome mentors and you don’t need to sound better than them to get your point across!
  5. Offer help and follow up, if you think it’s wanted. Not needed, wanted. You don’t want to force the issue.
  6. Plan what your going to say to make sure it’s the right words for now.
  7. Make sure it’s the right time to say it. Make sure it’s not just a quiet place, but a quiet time, and that your friend is in a good enough mood to listen.
  8. And finally, daven. Offer an informal prayer, or a quick kapital tehillim beforehand that it all go well. This is crucial!

If you use common sense and keep your best intentions for your friend in mind, you can’t mess it up too badly. Ask a mentor if you’re not sure. It can’t hurt to wait on it. GOOD LUCK, caring friend!

How to be a critic

I’ve mentioned constructive (I don’t like to call it rebuke, that’s for parents and teachers) criticism in posts in the past, and I thought a longer post about it might be warranted. What exactly is constructive criticism?

Did you know that just like it’s a mitzvah to rebuke someone, it’s a mitzvah not to if you know it’s not likely to be listened to? More often than not, my response is to turn a blind eye, and work on being machmir with myself instead, but sometimes, it has to happen. Here are some tips for being heard, without humiliating anyone or destroying a friendship. (FYI, yes, this post is long, but it’s worth reading. There’s a link to a short form at the bottom.)

  1. Keep a pleasant voice
    Start with something kind and friendly, such as ‘Hey, Shprintza, do you have a moment?’
  2. Move it to a private place
    99% of the time, this isn’t just an ‘if possible.’ Most people will willingly come somewhere quiet for a moment, but if no-where quiet can be found, you should almost definitely wait until later. This is to avoid anyone accidentally overhearing, which could be lashon Harah as well as rather embarrassing. Use your discretion! Also, keep a quiet tone of voice– my ‘inside voice’ carries quiet well sometimes, so I have to constantly remind myself to go one level softer than I would otherwise– if you think that will help.
  3. Again, be cheerful and non-judgmental.
    You should approach this at an angle of ‘You know, I’ve noticed sometimes that you blablabla bla bla. I don’t know if you realized but that’s really abababab. I thought you might want to know that smurfy smurfy smurf.’ You can’t deny that you noticed what their doing, but for your own peace of mind as much as for the other person you should assume that they didn’t know better. Often, that’s all it is. Even when you know that they probably do know and just need a reminder, taking that tone can get you listened to. Also, have you ever heard about ‘I statements’ vs. ‘You statements?’ Even when you’re talking to someone else about them, ‘I statements’ can soften your words. Look above for an example.
  4. Do NOT patronize
    Approach them as a friend, on their level. You’re just giving advice.
  5. If relevant, offer to help in the future
    Sometimes, one little reminder is all it takes. But if your ‘notice’ is a bolt out of the blue for the other person, or they’re genuinely interested in learning more, remind them that you’re available to follow up.
  6. Plan what you’re going to say before you say it.
    When I have something important to say, at any time, I know I’m not always going to get it right on the first time. So, I’ll rehearse it in my head beforehand. (This is helpful beyond measure in all areas of life.) Often, I can’t find a quiet place for some time, and that gives me the chance I need. When you’re planning, think about your friend’s nature. Are they the sensitive type who needs to be gradually led to an idea, or are they blunt and straightforward and would much rather just hear ‘Um, Sarah, you’ve got a huge run in those tights and you might want to find a new pair STAT’?
  7. Don’t heap it all on at once
    It’s happened more than once where I’ll say something that doesn’t even really register as criticism, ‘Lea, that bun looks great but there’s a cute little curl sticking out at the back. Just in case you don’t have eyes in the back of your head;’ and then, notice or see shortly after something that fits the ‘do say’ conditions above. Maybe it’s just that I’m the sensitive type mentioned above, but I wouldn’t like so much ‘problem fixing’ all at once. Unless it’s something really really minor (you be the judge) I’d rather wait a little while and see if the problem will resolve itself. Sometimes, it does, and then you don’t have to say two things at all.
  8. Remember, you can ask a mentor if you’re not sure.
    They are always available. If you don’t want to get ‘the authorities’ involved in whatever minor thing this person did, you can leave out names and the most crucial details, or ask someone who dosn’t know your friend. Sometimes, though, knowing both sides of the story can give a more careful response. And, above all these tips, DAVEN!!

Whew, that was quiet the post! Makes up for all the other weeks, I hope. In all seriousness, though, the goal of reading this isn’t for you to become an expert at criticizing your friends. We’re all perfect :), and I hope you’ll never need these skills. This way, though, if you ever see the need, you’ll have a better idea of how to encourage maximum improvement with minimal pain.

(Pocket guide! here, along with a few more tips.)

The downside of writing…

… for me, other than not getting anything today because I was bitten by a plot bunny, is much more serious. Everything that happens in Israel, especially when I’ve been writing for about three hours today, is like a personal punch in the gut.

The solder killed in the most recent attack, השם ייקום דמו? He could have been my main character. Any of the young, promising Yidden in their army service. The people injured? His family, friends, cousins, shadchan. The children living in fear, because stabbings don’t even come with an air-raid siren and can strike, ה ‘ישמור, out of the blue; are the characters who grew up as I did, and are as much a part of my life as my own friends in Canada. My story is set in Israel, and the blood-streaked stones are the ones I wander in my mind every time I close my eyes. Usually, it’s a blessing, but today, it feels more like a punishment.

Perhaps I’m the only one who prefers being in pain to being numb, as I was with all the other past (I’m not going to call them incidents. They were) murders. The tears that came days after reading about the Jew who stabbed another Jew were almost a relief– they proved the pain had not made me loose touch with reality. This soldier was a world of his own, created personally by the Almighty.

We’re living in a paradox. The way I see it, we’re meant to accept what G-d’s already done, but remember the pain and storm the heavens that it never happen again. Hear that? We small humans have the power to make it NEVER HAPPEN AGAIN. But on that, I’ve said enough. Tonight, I just need to cry.