Thursday, June 22, 2017

Talking About Making My Soul Juicy

I write about it and I talk about it.
I believe that our purpose on earth is to develop our souls. I call it: making my soul juicy.

We may be born with a tiny raisin and it's our choice what we do with it. 

I want to make my soul like a humongous watermelon full of juice!

I also offer my perspective about relating to cancer patients in the community.

I was honored to speak for Life's Door back in 2015. They recorded my talk and I've edited it. I took an hour of me blabbering on and whittled it down to about half...

For anyone who's interested... here it is:

Monday, June 19, 2017

Sponge, Mirrors, and #Happylanche

There are days when I feel the physical burden of constant torture - too many people suffering, too much pain.

I still believe that it's all for the good. 
I still believe that everything happens for a reason. 
I just don't know what the reasons are. 

In my world, I experience so much kindness, love, and support from family, friends, community, and strangers. 

Being on the other side of suffering; seeing my friends suffering whether it be from illness, the illness of a loved one, divorce, financial crisis, depression.... or any number of reasons - is perhaps even worse. I'm a mirror - reflecting pain. What's especially tortuous, is marinating in and soaking up the anguish, fear, and agony like an emotional sponge.

I imagine that many people feel this way in reaction to the pain of others. We hurt from within - even if it's for strangers on a different continent. 

I know the helplessness of literally not being able to "take away" the pain of someone you care about.

Life is painful. It doesn't take away from the joy and the gratitude and the love. The pain strengthens my faith - doesn't diminish it. My faith is solid yet it doesn't ease the pain I feel for others.

Lately, more and more reasons to ache arise: terror attacks around the world, baseless hatred towards different groups of people, the challenges that people in my inner circle must suffer (for reasons unknown). 

It all became too much recently and I exploded.

I experienced an explosion of my physical body; an actual manifestation of human emotions that could no longer coexist with seeking my #Happylanche s.... and positivity. My soul simply couldn't coexist with my body and I fell to the ground in a pile of physical affliction and disassociation.

First my face, hands, and feet became numb. Later, I felt like my limbs were dismembering from my body. I became a floating skull - the only proof that my body was still here were the hugs and hands of my dear friend, who came rushing to my side, and my husband. What a hopeless picture... how helpless my explosion must have made my husband feel as I screamed, cried, and writhed around on the floor.

I was somehow lifted or perhaps I flew, floated, or swam to my bedroom. I somehow arrived at my bed, where I collapsed.

Later I found myself in the emergency room with excruciating abdominal pain and some medical irregularities. I was home by midnight, thanks to another dear friend who accompanied me to the hospital.

No need for too many details.

I reached a new crossroad. Chemotherapy-resistant metastatic persistent disease. I've known this for quite a long time. This is when grasping at straws ensues and the insurance companies start questioning each and every test - as if to say, "You're still alive?" or, "We don't need to waste anymore money on you, honey, you're on your way out...". 

HOLD ON a moment there! Not so fast!

The time has come to think completely outside of the box of protocols. I've used them all up.

For anyone following my journey from close or afar... this is why I recently spent a week in San Diego, California, meeting with oncologists at UCSD Medical Center. That's where I'll restart my treatment - or continue my treatment with new and experimental regimens that may save my life (God willing).

There is so much suffering.
There is so much pain.
I have so much hope!

Please, if you feel helpless and you want to do something.... you can help me! Please, in my honor, reach out to someone who is lonely and shine some light into their life. Smile at strangers regardless if they smile back. Seek ways to do random acts of kindness from small to large. Please do this for me and for the people you love who may be suffering for any given reason.

Cancer doesn't care - people do. Be that person for someone.


Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Two Roads Diverged On My Cancer Journey

I'm 4 treatments into my current round of chemotherapy + Avastin and yet I have new tumors in my liver and most of the tumors (stomach, lung, lymph nodes etc) have grown stronger.

The news from my PET CT doesn't surprise me. It confirms that I'm truly in touch with my body. I can feel from within that the treatment is only making me sick, tired, and bald. 

I'm living outside of my body as if I'm floating. I've finally reached that crossroads that can either be crossbones or something miraculous. As I walk across the lava and the razorblades, I know I will be surrounded by love and support. This might be my last chance.

  Chemotherapy isn't working for a second time in under a year. This is where I stand and peer down two completely different roads. Which one shall I take? 

I choose road: Plan Be. There is a treatment that I plan to try far far away from my home in Israel. I am teetering on a very narrow bridges of hot lava and razorblades. The "unknown" is agony. I'm blessed and hopeful yet terrified.

God, please help me live on with Plan Be. Please let this road, be the fairest of them all, and lead me to the right places. It may be new and not yet mainstream yet just maybe Plan Be will have the better claim - Because it is grassy and needs wear to clear the doubts.

Plan Be seems like an adventure worth taking and it is my greatest hope!

Please keep Ahava Emunah bat Chava Ehta in your prayers.
Thank you.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

How Long Will I Love You?

What will happen? How long do we have? Only God knows. From hopeful to hopeless and back - I live and breathe for you, for my precious children. No matter what happens... I will always love you as we travel through time together - every day of our lives.

How Long Will I Love You
Ellie Goulding
How long will I love you
As long as stars are above you
And longer if I can
How long will I need you
As long as the seasons need to
Follow their plan
How long will I be with you
As long as the sea is bound to
Wash up on the sand
How long will I want you
As long as you want me to
And longer by far
How long will I hold you
As long as your father told you
As long as you can
How long will I give to you
As long as I live through you
However long you say
How long will I love you
As long as stars are above you
And longer if I may
We're all traveling through time together
Every day of our lives
All we can do is do our best
To relish this remarkable ride
Songwriters: Mike Scott
How Long Will I Love You lyrics © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC

Monday, May 1, 2017

Dust Clay And Broken

I have thoughts that I'm not ashamed to admit but I won't often share out of compassion. My worst fear is of causing pain to others.
I have no secrets.

Anything worth doing or knowing reflects truth, values, and morality which, brings light to This World.

Secrets are like ulcers that silently fester, and eat away at their keepers. Secrets are a toxic burden that must be sworn into darkness. Secrets can damage souls beyond repair and perpetuate and spread sadness and misery, and sometimes even drive people to embrace evil and cruelty. 

The burden of living with an incurable illness is constant. It's an enormous responsibility being a human with morals and values that limit my choices. Choosing not to exist isn't an option.

However long or short my future is, it's forced purgatory with terrible side effects. No oncologist, doctor, or surgeon knows how to cure this cancer. My life doesn't belong to me.

I am dust and ashes. Adama, is Hebrew for ground; earth, and that's why the 1st person was called, Adam. The physical and spiritual were dis-joined when Adam ate the forbidden fruit. Humans were sentenced to return to dust and  an expiration date was put on every being housing eternal souls.

Where exactly is God in all of this mess? The human condition either strengthens or weakens faith. If this whole "God business" is nonsense, than we must live in a world that's just cruel, arbitrary, and meaningless. Broken hearts are spiritually open because we become more perceptive, conscious, and thankful for things we once took for granted like just being alive for another day. No matter how trivial or insignificant those "old" blessings may seem, suffering intensifies empathy to the suffering of others.

People expect life to be good. You don't hear anyone crying, "Why me?" when they're thriving and on top of the world. Being human includes enduring pain, loss, suffering, and tragedy. There's really no choice whether or not to live - unless you opt out of life, and that's just not an option if you have faith. Every human feels broken-hearted at times. We pray to be mended or feel bitter about our misfortune.

I didn’t do anything to deserve cancer, and neither did my children, husband, parents, siblings, family, friends or you. Pain is inseparable from Life and without purpose, every struggle is more excruciating than pain itself. Knowing that my struggles accompany my purpose gives my life meaning and empowers me to embrace my journey with love, faith, and joy... most of the time. My expression of these truths, my perspective, on my "tragic" journey creates an illusion of insight, revelation and inspiration. I assure you, I'm nothing more than a broken vessel, dust, and ashes.

Broken vessels slowly deteriorate back into dust. The cracks of this dusty clay vessel have been glued back together so many times and soon the glue will engulf the clay. I'm stuck to the surface like brittle un-fired clay that becomes weaker and weaker from attempts to repair and smooth each breaking crack over and over and over and over....

Like a vase full of flowers, one day the water will evaporate, the stems will rot, and petals and pollen will shrivel and fall. The vessel will be emptied, cleansed, and interred into the ground. It's because our Forefather, Abraham said, "I am but dust and ash," God promised that future generations would earn opportunities to do good deeds with dust and ashes.

"The dust returns to the dust as it was, but the spirit returns to God who gave it" - Ecclesiastes 12:7

Our human responsibility is to heal and repair broken vessels but there is no eternity on earth. So, what happened to the broken tablets (10 Commandments) smashed by Moses? According to the Talmud (Bava Batra 14b), the broken tablets weren't buried. They were put in the sacred Holy Ark next to the second, unbroken set. From this we learn that broken pieces are beloved and therefore the broken pieces that remain from loss and devastation stay forever in our hearts and souls.

The importance of preserving the broken tablets with the intact tablets, in the holy Ark, symbolizes and reminds us of our responsibility to be sensitive to people who are broken and suffering. It's our responsibility to reach out and embrace people who live with "broken tablets" in their hearts. Opportunity for acts of kindness and good deeds are made from the pain and suffering of others. My life isn't mine.

Seeds planted in the earth grow into a beautiful plant or a tree and it's a miracle so taken for granted that it's magnitude has faded.

In several places in the Bible, souls are compared to candles which, must refer to fire and light. For me, the fact that our bodies are created to be vessels for our souls is obvious. Fire can exist without a candelabra but a candelabra requires a flame in order to emit light. Fire and passion are only as great as we are and what we choose to do with them. Fire makes light but it can also burn.

Personal tragedy pushes some people away from faith however, people summon God more often during tragedy and catastrophe. People pray and ask for prayers during crisis. 

"God is close to the brokenhearted" - Psalms 34:18

Ashes are things we would rather not see, smell, or acknowledge. They remind us of how we took the wrong path, hurt people with our words and actions, and how we "burned" people with our fire. Some of the most admirable and meaningful sacrifices contributions are made to ordinary people. Ashes nurture our ability and willingness to set aside pride and conceit and recognize our failures and weaknesses. Honesty with ourselves and others exemplifies the symbolism of ashes. The ashes are our regrets that we hide beneath our physical facades. Those ashes shouldn't be left on the "sacrificial alter". I constantly think about them and replay how they got there and how I can prevent doing harm in the future.

We instinctually stay near a dying person, so that they don't die alone. Some think that the "World To Come" is a spiritual dimension yet I connect with the belief that the "Next World" is a new stage of life - a better place than This World.

Life goes on, differently than before after a loss. We're burdened with "carrying two sets of tablets"; one broken and the other complete. We carry sadness and joy, the broken and the whole together in the same heart and soul.
 We must relearn how to experience joy without abandoning the sadness of our suffering and losses. 

Broken hearts can be healed, the shards held together by dust, wetted like clay. The wetter the better: The more water between the clay particles, the more they can slide around and intermingle when clay pieces are next to each other. The softer the clay is, the easier it becomes to physically blend broken pieces back together. As clay dries it shrinks and the clay particles draw nearer to each other. If a wet clay piece is joined to a drier piece, the wet piece has more shrinking left to do than the drier piece, and it will create stress and want to crack away from the drier piece. We can help heal broken hearts when we stay soft and wet; more sensitive to those that need our love and support. 

And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul. And the Lord God planted a garden eastward in Eden; and there he put the man whom he had formed. (Genesis 2:7-8)

God didn't say, "Let there be man!", like He did with other creations. God "breathed into (Adam's) nostrils" and gave him a soul. Humans were created physically, from the dust of the earth, and spiritually from the breath of God Himself.

Every person has free choice to give in to the physical pull; the dust of the earth or to defy physicality and focus on developing their soul.

I know that this vessel isn't mine. The scent of the flowers and the bright colors of the flower petals are part of my soul; not the broken vessel, nor the dust.

I express my truth and I have nothing nor reason to hide. I am broken and whole. I am dust and ashes. I am tired. How broken does a vessel become before it can return to dust? How many times must we mend and glue the shards together before we can respectfully put the broken tablets away?

"With the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, until you return to the ground, for you were taken therefrom, for dust you are, and to dust you will return." - Genesis 3:19


Wednesday, April 12, 2017

What Is Love?

Today, while uploading old files from CD's to the cyber cloud, I found the "speech" I wrote and recited at the engagement party thrown for my future husband and me by my future In-Laws. August 2000 - Perth, Australia.

Love and affection between a man and a woman, husband and wife is such a powerful phenomenon.  Not only is love an emotion and a sensation, but a state of being.  You are actually in love… But what exactly is love?  If you could describe it, what would it be? What causes it?  There are many definitions of love.  Love is physical desire, or a biological urge to reproduce.  Love is gratitude.  Love is a need to be wanted and a want to be needed.

Here’s an interesting question: We see that love and giving always come together but which of the two comes first?  

Is it the giving a result of the love or is the opposite true: is the love a product of the giving?  

It seems that the obvious answer would be that love initiates the giving.  When a man loves a woman he brings her flowers, he takes her out to dinner.  But there is another side to the case.  Giving may bring about love for the same reason that a person loves what he, himself, has created or nurtured.  

Whether it be a child you have brought into this world or a puppy you’ve fed and cuddled, a house you’ve built, or a garden you’ve planted – a person is compelled to love the work of his hands, for in it he finds himself.

To find the truth about love, all you have to do is go to the source, the Torah, in Sefer D'varim (Deuteronomy) 20:5-7, where among the categories of warriors allowed to return home before battle are the following:
  • Whoever has built a new house and not yet consecrated it
  • Whoever has planted a vineyard and not redeemed it
  • Whoever has wedded a woman and not yet taken her home

All situations are treated in the same way.  The Torah reveals to us that the love we bear to the fruit of our labors is directly comparable with the love of a man and wife.  There is no doubt that this is an example of the love produced by the power of giving.

Love arises between husband and wife because they compliment each other and by giving each other this completion they come to love each other… one who gives - loves.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Peace and Truth On Earth

From birth until the age of 12, I was raised as an assimilated American Jew. I only learned of Israel’s existence when I started Jewish Day School in the 8th grade. We had the unlit house at Christmas time and my brothers and I were the only kids without Easter baskets; how I longed for those jellybean filled eggs and marshmallow Peeps! At public school, I was the nominal Jew, the one in a sea of White Christians, a handful of Native Americans, El Salvadorians, Mexicans, and two Black kids. My family seemed to stand out in the small towns and Reservations we lived on.
Now, I speak to you from the Capital of God, Israel, the Holy Land, the celebrated birthplace of all Abrahamic religions: Judaism, Christianity, Islam, and officially in Israel, Druzeism, and the Bahai Faith. My mind is engaged and my heart is pulled thin and yanked in every direction in response to racism and terrorism against Israel and Jews worldwide, genocide of Christians in Arab countries, civil war in Syria, and Islamic terror attacks around the world and the New World is too naive or evil to call it what it is. Since the Obama administration ended and President Trump took the coveted seat at the White House, it seems that the strife in America is now "Alt-Right vs Neo-Liberal-Left"and if you fall somewhere in between - beware of haters on both sides ready to eat you alive. Reality indicates no end to religion-based terrorism and hatred around the world. Crazy times invoke crazy needs and crazier deeds.  I originally wrote a similar post to this at the end of 2014. Things have gotten worse.
It’s difficult to lock down focus or maintain an audience from start to finish. The phenomenon of Going Viral and Meme-spiration come from some all kinds of fanciful places including tiny little chocolates covered in colorful candy that have been around since 1941.

I rarely share internet memes, those phrases typed over iconic imagery which include irony, pop culture, or some other revelation. Years ago, I was inspired by colorful chocolate candies by virtue of an M&M meme with the following phrase on top: Prejudice based on skin color is like favoring one M&M color over another. Every M&M is made of the same thing and arguing that they’re not makes you look very stupid. Over the years, M&Ms have tried on a variety of shades and colors and those rainbow colored milk chocolates that “Melt in your mouth, not in your hand” remain on every respectable candy shelf in 100 countries around the world. I’m psyched by the core of M&Ms, not the colors.
Born in New Jersey, I grew up in Sayville, NY, on Indian Reservations in New Mexico and Arizona, in a prison town called, Lompoc, CA,  in wine country Santa Ynez, from age 12 in Orthodox Los Angeles, and from age 15, in melting pot Israel. I was, “The Jew,” even before I knew anything about Judaism. I knew I was Jewish and that meant I was different, wouldn’t wear a cross or go to church, and felt uncomfortable singing, Silent Night, in my school Christmas show but I didn’t know much else. The only Jewish thing we did was light Chanukah candles and sometimes we had a Passover Seder. People always seemed to know; like Jewdar (radar for Jews). As a child growing up in some not-so-Jewish towns in America, it seemed like Jews were basically circumcised deviant Caucasians whose grandparents had either escaped or survived the Holocaust and made it to the Promised Land, USA.
Though we weren’t observant practicing Jews, my parents instilled in me that all people are created in God’s image and respecting our differences just seemed like a given. I remember being fascinated by the body builders featured on the posters on my dad’s workout room wall. Some of the big muscle men were black, some were white. In the late 70’s, we lived on the San Carlos Apache Indian Reservation in Arizona. My normal was being the only Jew living amongst the Indigenous People of North America with unique culture and traditions. I was 4 years old when I asked my dad about an oiled African American muscle man in a majestic flexed pose. “Why is he brown?” I asked. My dad told me that he’s Black and his ancestors came from Africa. I remember innocently asking, “Why is he called, Black? His skin is brown not black.” My dad explained that that is what Black people want to be called and I said that White people aren’t really white, they’re pink so they should be called, Pinkies, and Black people are really brown so they should be called, Brownies, and my dad said, “Don’t EVER call a Black person a Brownie!” That was my inauguration into the world of political correctness and when I first realized there could be offense attached to skin color and categorization. My dad was teaching me about respect and social rules and I learned of our earth’s oppressive truth. The truth is there’s no harmony in respecting our differences if we won’t internalize what makes us the same and embrace our human kinship. There's also no use in committing suicide by loving your enemies - hundreds of millions of individuals who pray and intend on our demise and are themselves prepared and honored to die joyfully as long as they take a few of us with them.  
I’ve written about this before. The whole world has cancer. I’ve been in this Cancer Club for almost 5 years. I’ve embraced a wider circle of friends and a new role. Cancer is a part of me that I know how to live with. Almost every person is affected by cancer or had it or might have it, and if not, their mother, grandmother, sister, cousin, or aunt had/has it. We blame it on the cellphones and the pollution, obesity, alcohol, fast food, chemicals, coffee, radiation, and even the red M&Ms.
Just over 3 years ago, I participated in a women’s retreat with an organization that supports people with cancer. For three days and two nights, I disconnected from my life and connected with 80 women, each on a journey with cancer. Most of the participants were Ultra Orthodox along with a sprinkling of traditional or non observant Israeli women from at least 10 different cities across Israel. When I first arrived, I was nervous. Who would I share a room with let alone common ground for more than small talk? The workshops were intense. We also enjoyed music, dance, lectures, and some comedy. A few hours into the retreat, I found myself being hugged and hugging back. I danced with a secular widow, who lost her only son, until both our cheeks were wet with sweat and tears. I connected with an older woman from a long line of Chassidish ancestry and she opened herself to share her story. My roommate was an immigrant from Ethiopia and we laughed together in our pajamas and one night she cried in my arms. I became absorbed in the stories of strangers. Beyond the layers of clothing, and the accents, and the cancer, we are just people. Of course we all have blood, sweat, tears, and souls. Cancer may have brought us all together but it soon leaves us to our own devices. Experiencing love and unity with strangers is something that gives me so much strength and hope. When I came home from that retreat, I promised that I would find a way to take this Cancer Journey Lesson and make it contagious.
Cancer sends me into places and situations I never would have had the chance to go. In the past I was invited to speak at a multicultural conference of medical professionals and counselors, including men and women from the Palestinian and Arab sector, about happiness and faith during a life threatening illness. Again and again, I find myself moved by the power of my cancer journey. I've participated in the filming of a documentary during a retreat for cancer patients and survivors. I've experienced days of lectures and activities in a multicultural group including Jewish, Christian, and Muslim women from all areas and "territories" of the Holyland. The world is full of conflict and segregation. In Israel, we live in close proximity to enemies who seek our destruction. We live in sheltered communities separated from different cultures and religious sects. 
The world is full of fear and animosity towards those who think differently, dress differently, pray differently. We are divided and we have no common ground, no place to meet, and maybe no desire to do so. I ask a very controversial question, is God Himself providing the reason and the venue? I know that the suggestion is risky but we cannot ignore the fact that cancer is, by far, the fairest equal opportunity provider.
Speaking opportunities are CPR for my soul. One gift that cancer gave me was a renewed view of humanity. As soon as we begin to share stories and experiences, we can create new future together. I believe that we are supposed to live, love, interact, and share. It’s the only way to bring peace into our homes, our communities, and our world. I've also learned that you can't force friendship and respect from those who were born and bred to hate you and believe it's a deed rewardable in Heaven to kill you.
Sugar is sweet but not nourishing on its own and will possibly kill you. Understanding, acceptance, tolerance and peace should be goals of all humanity via whatever moral guide, code, cult, or religion you follow and believe in. I don't think we should ever lose hope and each of us should seek ways to bring light to our world. While trying to bring light, we must also never forget the past, learn from history - don't accept revisions! Most of all, don't let the goodness and kindness of our souls get us all killed! Recognize evil and call it what it is. Fighting terrorism and evil won't bring down the imaginary politically correct house of cards. Tolerance based on ignorance and complacency aren't noble or sustainable. Cancer kills and it's our responsibility to purge cancerous practices and oppression from Our World. 
On the eve of Passover, 2017, I am seasoned enough to know that world peace isn’t made with memes or candy but I will try to share what my Cancer Journey is teaching me and I’m sticking with the colorful and sweet M&Ms Theory of Humanity and also recognizing right from wrong and speaking out against evil.
May we all merit true Freedom from slavery and may we turn our personal bread of affliction into a reminder of history to strengthen and unify us. Wishing  a chag Pessach kasher ve'sameach (Happy Passover) to all who celebrate. To those who don't celebrate yet seek truth and goodness - may you be blessed!