magic

And the Sea Parted by Susie Lubell

Sometimes connections and messages present themselves and I happen to have my eyes open and then I get to witness something extraordinary.

Last week was the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz and my Facebook feed was full of Never Again sentiment with all of the horrifying imagery that, together with chicken soup, Sabbath candles, Fiddler on the Roof and standing under the chuppah, forms the core of my Jewish soul. I clicked on a few links and managed to see images I had never seen before which I didn't think possible. One link in particular focused on the children of the holocaust and I stared at the tiny, terrified, malnourished faces and I thought of my own children and the world we live in today. This year the anniversary of liberation coincided with the Torah portion Beshalach, the splitting of the Red Sea. And just as the Israelites were released from bondage and crossed over to redemption, so did the survivors of Auschwitz. Except even now, after so much time has passed, nothing much has changed. Humans around the world are still enslaved and broken. European Jews live in fear again. Humanity hasn't learned. Let's just say I was not in a good place. 

The next day, on Thursday, I went to a bat mitzvah in Jerusalem. In fact I just went to drop off a print that the mother of bat mitzvah girl had bought from me as a gift for her daughter. This was a client of mine from Sweden who had flown to Israel with her family to celebrate the occasion as they had done for their three older sons. She invited me to join them for the ceremony but I had a doctor's appointment and anyway wasn't sure I would want to spend my morning at a bat mitzvah service for a family I didn't even know. 

That morning I looked up the address and discovered the ceremony was at Congregation Har El in Jerusalem, the founding congregation of the Israel Movement for Progressive Judaism. And it turns out the rabbi there was the first rabbi of our Reform congregation in the little town where we live. I had a feeling I'd be canceling my doctor's appointment.

When I entered the modest sanctuary my client Anneka walked over and welcomed me with a big hug. I gave the print to her daughter Hannah and when she saw Magic Girl with her name inscribed in Hebrew she actually squealed and bounced on her tiptoes. I spoke with Anneka and her husband for a few minutes while we waited for the other guests to arrive. In fact they were German but had moved to Sweden many years ago because of a real estate opportunity. They lived an active, progressive Jewish life in Sweden but were thrilled to be able to celebrate the bnei mitzvah of her children in Jerusalem. Their daughter had learned her Torah portion by studying via Skype with Congregation Har El's cantor.

Once all of the guests arrived (we were only about 25) Rabbi Ada welcomed everyone in English and invited Hannah to the bima to read the poem "I am a Jew", written in 1927 by Jewish French writer, poet, translator and playwright Edmond Fleg. Je suis Juif. But Hannah read it in her native German. And to hear this beautiful twelve year old girl, with the clearest blue eyes I have ever seen, read and affirm again and again, in German, on the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, felt like redemption itself.

Together we chanted the prayers of the morning service, the same ones I read when I became bat mitzvah almost thirty years ago. And when it was time for Hannah to read her portion from the Torah, which was passed to her from her father to her mother to her older sister and three brothers, the rabbi mentioned that the breast plate decorating and protecting this holy book was donated by Otto Frank, Anne Frank's father and sole surviving family member, when he visited the synagogue in the 1960s. On it, in large Hebrew letters, is engraved In Memory of Anna. Both names, Hannah and Anna, are derived from the Hebrew word for grace. And indeed Hannah was the essence of grace as she chanted her Torah portion, before family and friends, seventy years after the ovens at Auschwitz and only a few weeks after the horrific violence in a changing Europe. Her voice was brave, almost defiant, as she affirmed her sacred place in the history of the Jewish people. And with belief and hope restored, she walked us through the parted waters to the other side.

Big Dreams by Susie Lubell

Her dreams were much bigger than she originally admitted.

Her dreams were much bigger than she originally admitted.

I've been lying to myself and most everyone else. Or rather, I haven't been totally truthful about my professional aspirations. I have minimized them because of this fear of owning my dreams. That if I told anyone that what I really want is to have my work hanging in galleries and museums, to have exhibitions all over world, to teach workshops in self expression through painting, well then they would know. And maybe they would laugh at me. Or say, oh yes, wonderful, but then secretly snicker and think, who does she thing she is? She's not an artist. She can't even draw a cat! She doesn't make art. She makes decorations. She can't teach people to paint because she never learned how to paint! And anyway, once anyone knows that I have these aspirations, then I would be held accountable for making good on my declarations. Like taking out a mortgage.

A few years ago, when I was taking steps to design a career as a creative professional, I took an eight week coaching class based on the book Creating a Life Worth Living by Carol Lloyd. This paragraph from the book sums up everything for me:

"Some fear is healthy. It keeps us from jumping off buildings and saying smug things to violent drunks. But fear also works against us. Fear colludes with our most conservative self and allows us to stop before we try, dismiss before we think, mock before we imagine. We've all seen it in others; it is so easy to perceive when ou watch a friend refuse to take advantage of some remarkable opportunity, simply out of fear. But tey don't often say, "I'm too afraid." They say, I don't know if I'm ready," or "I'm just too busy right now." At the heart of their fear is the message, "If I try to get something really wonderful, I'll have to screw up everything that is already just okay."

So I've been keeping my dreams small because I fear the kind of criticism and rejection that comes with sharing and achieving big dreams. But there's another side to that fear (psst. I'm like the three billionth person to share this quote. It's still worth sharing):

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.
Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.
It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us.
We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?
Actually, who are you not to be?
You are a child of God.
Your playing small does not serve the world.
There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do.
We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us.
It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone.
And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.
As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.
- Marianne Williamson

I just can't do it anymore. I can't be small. Being small serves no one. I'm big. Like a whale. And my aspirations are whale-sized too. Unfortunately my whale-sized aspirations have to live in harmony with the everyday demands of my regular life including the whale-sized pile of laundry to be folded on my bed.

But it doesn't matter does it. The thing that matters is the truth. And the truth is that I dream big. Because anything else only serves to deny the world my gifts. We all have gifts don't we? And gifts are meant to be shared.