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A little while back, someone asked me what I do to get my kids to pray, if they don’t feel like it. I told her straight: absolutely nothing. If my kids aren’t in the mood to formally talk to the Creator of the World, that’s OK: they’re 11 and 14, respectively. They get forced to pray plenty of Amidahs in school, so they know how to do it. And when the time is right, I’m sure they are going to want to start praying a whole lot more than are right now.

I mean, how much did you want to pray when you were 14? When I was 14, praying was pretty much the last thing I wanted to do, and now I talk to God for an hour every day. (Which is an open miracle, and really nothing to do with me.)

Sure, I want my kids to be connected to Hashem, but forcing matters is only going to backfire.

Someone told me a few years’ back about their son, who was at a very serious Torah High School, where they learned a heck of a lot of gemara, and rigorously tested the students on what they were learning.

He came out of that school hating Torah.

How could he not? Cast your mind back to your school days: is there any subject that you enjoyed more after being pressured to cram for it just to score an ‘A’ on an exam? I don’t think so.

And it’s even more the case with matters of the soul, because when you force your kids to conform externally, and they go along with whatever mitzvah it is you’re pushing down their throat, on some level, you just completely killed the inner dimension of that mitzvah for them.

The reason I don’t force my kids to pray, is because I so badly WANT them to pray, when they get older. Praying, talking to God, is so often pretty much the only thing that gets me through my day. It’s an enormous spiritual gift, and one that I want to pass over to my kids. But not by nagging them, cajoling them, guilting them or bribing them to do it.

When they’re ready, it will come.

How do I know? Because while I don’t force my kids to pray, I certainly expect it of myself: I try and pray for my kids on a regular basis, whenever they seem to need it (which can be every day, sometimes.)

I’ve been paying into their ‘spiritual bank account’ for years’ already, and like I explained to them, when they’re ready to start banking their own prayers, they should hopefully find that they’ve already got a fairly large amount of spiritual credit to start off with.

It’s such an upside-down world, isn’t it? So many of us are trying to muddle through with precious little idea of what’s really right, or not, and there’s so much conflicting advice out there from ‘experts’ who talk a good game superficially, but actually don’t help you very much.

The exception to this rule in my life has been Rav Arush. Once I read his ‘Education with Love’, I just knew that all the other nonsense out there about ‘tough love’ and ‘forcing’ and ‘being strict’ and ‘manners’ was exactly that: nonsense.

You can’t force good character traits, you can only model them yourself, and hope your kids will follow suit. So if you really want your kids to pray – take the lead, and show them how to do it.

I was talking to my husband a little while back (hey, that still happens occasionally, BH) when he mentioned that he was still feeling a little ‘out of place’.

Despite his attempts to blend in by wearing black and white, my husband’s peyot are still less than a foot long; I won’t let him grow his beard past the point where I’d have to send a search party in to find his face; and the streimel and stripey-dressing-gown-thingy on Shabbat is definitely off limits.

So there he is, kind of stuck being a wannabe chassid.

I know what he means. I’ve spent many a long day yearning to ‘fit’ a little better than I do, and hoping to find a community of like-minded individuals – until God sent me an amazing idea about it all.

It was the day I was wondering around my hood. For some reason, I was in the Old City, then I went down to Jaffa Street to do some shopping, then later on that day, I found myself walking through Meah Shearim on the way up to Geula to buy some groceries.

It suddenly struck me how at home I felt in all these places, albeit that they’re so incredibly different from each other. If I looked like I ‘fit’ in any of these places 100%, I wouldn’t be able to explore anywhere else without feeling like a rank outsider.

It’s like all the tourists I see by the Kotel sometimes, hiding behind their cameras and i-Phones to try to quell the obvious discomfort they’re feeling about being in such unfamiliar surroundings.

The upside of belonging someone specific is that you, well, belong there. The downside, is that then anywhere else you go kind of feels weird. Thank God, I don’t have that problem. It’s precisely because I don’t really belong anywhere that I feel so comfortable everywhere, from the most secular spots to downtown Meah Shearim.

I suddenly realized last week what a blessing that is.

Do you know how many cool people I’m discovering, from all sorts of background and communities? There are some truly amazing people all over the place, and if I truly ‘belonged’ to just one community or area, I’d never know about all the other fab stuff that’s going on in other parts of the Jewish world.

So I came home and told my husband: ‘It’s great we’re social misfits! How else could we spend one Shabbat hanging out with our friends in Caesarea, and the next one in deepest Chassidville, eating our shabbos meal at separate tables for men and women? I love that we don’t fit anywhere properly!”

And now that he’s thought about it a bit (and got over the idea that the gold stripey dressing gown thingy is just not on the cards…) so does he.

I’ve just finished reading a book called: ‘I remembered in the night your name’, by Varda Branfman, and I really enjoyed it.

A couple of things in particular caught my attention, one of which had to do with the author’s experience of seeing a true tzaddik, (who happened to be her Rabbi) in action.

Someone the author knew had been struggling with a massive decision, and didn’t know what course of action to take. Everyone was weighing in with their own opinion, just muddying the waters further, and the person was getting more and more confused.

The person with the big decision decided they needed to visit this particular Rabbi, to ask his advice. For 15 minutes, he gave all the angles of the problem, then sat back and waited for the Rav’s pronouncement. Here’s what happened:

“Until that moment, the Rabbi hadn’t said anything, but then he stood up and slapped our friend on the back. ‘Well, take a shot at one of the other.’ And then he left the room….The Rabbi was telling him that the choice between one or the other was not the crux of the matter. His own personal growth depended…on the way he, himself, chose to respond.”

Sometimes, we can feel so overwhelmed by ‘choice’ that we’re desperate to abdicate our ability to make a decision to others. But as I’m learning more and more, G-d sends us decisions, even very hard decisions, because He wants us to flex our free choice muscle, and decide for ourselves.

If we do that, even if we choose ‘wrong’, we still accomplish so much, spiritually – far more than we would by choosing someone else’s ‘right’.

I loved Varda’s ‘Rabbi’ story because it so simply and poignantly demonstrated this principle in action. When someone is really connected to G-d, they know that you actually can’t make a wrong choice (strange as that sounds…) These individuals believe so strongly in G-d’s goodness, and ability to ‘fix’ what’s broken, that they know that even if you take a wrong turn, or a misstep somewhere along the way, it’s not the end of the world, and you’ll still get to where you need to be.

That’s why even when pressed, genuinely holy people will very rarely make a decision for you, and even when they give you advice, it won’t be forced down your throat: they are issuing guidance to help you make the right decision, not barking out orders that must be followed.

Sadly, I’ve had to learn this lesson the hard way (maybe, there is no other way of learning it.)

The last few months, I’ve been picking over a lot of decisions I felt compelled to make after following other people’s ideas of how I should be running my life. It’s been very hard spiritual work, for a lot of reasons. Firstly, I realised that abdicating my free choice was not the high spiritual level I believed it to be. It was the shortcut that’s ended up taking me and my husband round a very long way.

Secondly, I’ve also had to work pretty hard on developing the emuna that even when we followed the ‘wrong’ advice, it was still exactly what G-d wanted. Let me tell you, when you’re trying to deal with the fallout from making a series of apparently ‘wrong’ decisions, it can be a very big test to see G-d behind it all, believe it’s good, and not start blaming anyone for the big mess you appear to be in.

But that’s the process of growth and development. And that growth, more than anything, has been the spiritual pay-off of all the apparently wrong ‘choices’ we made.

Now I’m seeing first-hand how bad decisions have hidden benefits, it’s making me much more relaxed over the choices my kids are making. My daughter is currently picking her high-school, or ulpana, and I’ve given her guidance, but left the actual decision of where she goes up to her.

She’s the one who has to live with her choice. She’s the one who will grow and develop from her experiences, however they turn out, even if they’re not apparently ‘perfect’ or ‘correct’.

And that’s OK! That’s G-d’s plan for her, for me, for everyone. We think, and we pray, and we choose, and sometimes it works out and sometimes it doesn’t, but ultimately it’s all ‘good’. No one can take away what is meant to be ours. No one can give us what G-d doesn’t want us to have.

That’s the real secret of happiness. And without all the mistakes I’ve made recently, I don’t think I ever would have discovered it.

You know, it’s just struck me how so many of us are so busy ‘competing’ for attention / kudos / success / popularity etc, that it’s making it really hard for us to appreciate what other people are actually trying to do to build the world. (As always, I’m talking about myself…)

Someone sent me a newsletter for her new website: it was beautifully done, and very colourful and professional. My first thought was: ‘Wow! This looks so impressive!’

My second thought was: ‘Man, I could never do something this good…’

My third thought was: ‘What the heck am I saying??!?!?’

Because instead of appreciating the time and effort that had gone into my correspondant’s beautiful site, my yetzer instead had me wasting time and effort on tearing myself down.

I had to work for a good half an hour to stop feeling like a complete loser again, and to focus on what G-d (and Rav Arush…) want me to focus on, namely, gratitude.

Whenever I get sucked into ‘competing’, I can’t be grateful for the beautiful light others are shining into the world.

The ‘plus’ that G-d sends my way turns into a ‘minus’, and instead of feeling happy that there are such amazing things going on around me, I start fretting that someone else’s light is somehow detracting from my own.

But it’s baloney!!

Once I worked all that out, I decided I needed to call the person in question, and tell her how great her site looked. I needed to appreciate her time and effort, and get my own insecurities out the way. So I did.

I’m currently re-learning, for the millionth time, that it’s not a competition. There is enough success / attention / kudos / appreciation / light available for everyone, and instead of worrying that I’m not ‘good enough’, I just need to appreciate all the good out there, and to trust that G-d will help me to shine my own light in whatever way it needs to happen, whenever it needs to happen.

The other day, I walked past a billboard in Meah Shearim for one of the local healthcare providers here in Israel, that had a big picture of a smiley charedi doctor doing two big thumbs up. The slogan underneath read something like: “A billion children’s visits to the doctor!!”

Apparently, the healthcare provider felt that this was cause for some celebration, but I walked away scratching my head.

Israel is not a big country – it’s got about 6 million residents. The number of children is clearly less than that. The number of children going to this particular health care provider (probably around 50%) is even less than that.

Now, I’m not a maths whiz, but that sounds like an awful lot of sick children, too me. I mean, by the time you’re taking them off to the doctor it’s usually already up to a level of ‘serious’.

What’s going on here?

Why are there so many sick children walking around?

(Of course, I have my own ideas, but what do you think?)

On a separate, but related note, I was telling someone about my new book, which G-d willing is approaching completion, which talks tachlis about how to keep ourselves mentally and physically healthy by getting G-d involved in our health.

I’m planning to do two versions – one for the ‘frum’ Jewish world, and one for the non-Jewish world.

She told me very candidly: “You’ve got an uphill struggle. Most people in the Jewish frum world will just tell you ‘G-d made Prozac, and He wants us to use it’, and that’s the end of the conversation.”

I was a little bit shocked.

Are things really that bad? I mean, yes, G-d made Prozac, but He also made heroin, cocaine, Rocket Propelled Grenades, Arab terrorists, internet porn and the IRS.

If someone came up and told me ‘G-d made heroin, and He wants me to use it to feel happy’ – that argument really wouldn’t fly with me.

G-d made EVERYTHING, in the world, absolutely everything. Our job down here is to choose between ‘good’ and ‘bad’, and between ‘what G-d wants’ and ‘what G-d doesn’t want’.

Sometimes, I can’t believe the moral madness I’m trying to deal with. If I was dealing with a bunch of atheists who were big believers in the idea that ‘bodies are all there is’, and they were telling me this stuff, that would be one thing. But when you’re dealing with the people who are meant to be the ‘light unto the nations’? It’s kinda depressing.

When G-d is out of the picture, who’s to say using heroin is wrong? I mean, if you could get it on prescription, what’s the problem? It’s probably cheaper to produce and has less side affects than most of the other things being produced by Glaxo…

Sigh.

One step at a time. One day at a time.

And who knows? Maybe one day, someone in Meah Shearim will still buy my book.

You know that dictum that ‘fools rush in where angels fear to tread’?

Well, I feel that my credentials as an official ‘fool’ must have finally been stamped, as the last week, I’ve been sticking my neck out all over the place.

One day, I decided to tear down a pornographic poster for some ‘club’ event that was posted up near Jerusalem’s crack alley. Usually, I would just make a lot of disapproving, tutting noises about how disgusting it was, that my husband and kids (and others…) had to walk past such offensive smut.

This time, instead of tutting I took action: I ripped the poster off the wall proudly, and I wasn’t scared to defend my actions should some crazed club promoter come storming out from under his rock to angrily berate me for removing his pornography from Jerusalem’s holy walls.

No-one said anything – and I felt really good that for once, I didn’t just put my head down and ‘accept’ the nastiness swirling all around without complaint.

I had the clarity, however brief it may turn out to be, that people who stick pornographic posters up on walls are acting in a mentally-ill, anti-social way, and that behavior needs to be challenged, not excused.

L’havdil, the next day I was walking into Geula via Meah Shearim and the frum yobbos had decided to tip over a bunch of bins and set the contents on fire. (Given that the garbage disposal people are currently on strike, it’s kind of a mixed blessing.)

Usually, I would just walk past and tut. But this time, I was seriously considering going over and picking the bins up, or complaining – something! – to register the fact that this is mentally-ill, anti-social, unacceptable behavior, whatever the excuse for it. My daughter stopped me from doing it (she’s seen what can happen when I get all fired up, and I’m not sure who she was more scared for, me or the yobbos), and after we spent a couple of minutes discussing it, I backed down.

The next day, one of my neighbours knocked on my door to ask me to start cleaning the outside stairs by my house.

Some of the building’s girls were doing it up until now, but they quit and now he wanted everyone to ‘do their part’. It’s not an unreasonable request, but the truth is that for the last few weeks, I’ve been struggling to stay on top my basic cleaning chores inside my own house.

Between trying to get the book out, trying to ‘be there’ for my kids in whatever way God decides I need to be, and trying to get out more so that I’m not stuck in ‘anti-social’ hermit mode, I don’t have a lot of spare time at the moment. And if I do, I want to spend it cooking a nice supper for my family, or finally putting on a wool wash, or having a good conversation with my husband, instead of schlepping up and down the stairs outside to keep my neighbor happy.

I don’t know if this is right or wrong. What I can tell you, is that just before he told me I should clean the stairs every week, I was thinking I’d like to go and give it a sweep. But now I’ve been ‘commanded’ to do it by someone else, I can’t!

It’ll have to wait another three weeks now, or something, for it to get really bad and for my own free choice to kick in again, and decide I should do a bit of cleaning.

The last few weeks have been so weird, and changeable, and pressured, and strange, I’ve been having troubles pinning it all down, or knowing what I think about anything. You might have noticed that in my writing, too, which has been quite ‘light’ while I’m figuring out what God really wants from me.

The last couple of days, some big shifts have happened, and BH, I’ll share more with you about it all this week, because I think it may help you too, if you’ve been going through anything remotely similar.

In the meantime, caveat emptor: I may be writing and acting from the place of a fool, and not the place of an angel at the moment. But if that’s what God really wants, so be it.

I was talking to someone a little while ago about the number of people taking SSRIs (what we’ll generically call ‘Prozac’), when they said: “You know, when you told me that half the people in your town were taking Prozac, I really thought you were exaggerating. But yesterday I was talking to one of my neighbours, and they started telling me about what’s going on with the people in my neighbourhood, and half of my village is also on them! The woman I was talking to was a pharmacist, and she told me that as fast as she’s stocking them, people are cleaning them out. It’s an epidemic.”

Since the latest war in Israel, anxiety has become a major problem for a lot of people. It’s easy to understand why: anyone with eyes in their head can see that the threat to Israeli security posed by Gaza and Hamas was only temporarily curtailed. Sooner or later, the rockets will be back, and they may well be joined by other rockets from Hezbolla in Lebanon, and who knows what else from ISIS, currently camped out on the Jordanian, Syrian and Egyptian borders.

And the economy? Pleeze, let’s not talk about the economy. Until now, Israel has escaped most of the ‘down’ experienced by the rest of the world, but the cracks are starting to show. I live in Jerusalem, and businesses are starting to close (including my own, in the Old City). Money is starting to be pretty tight. Banks are starting to pull in their credit in quite an aggressive way.

All of this puts a lot of stress on most people’s nervous systems. As a result, they are more on edge, more likely to fight with their spouses, more likely to have kids acting up and acting out, and finding it harder to unwind, relax and even to sleep.

It’s a vicious spiral down, and many people are struggling to cope, and hoping that drugs like Prozac are the magic panacea that’s going to solve all their problems.

One day soon, I’m going to write a few detailed posts (with citations) showing why SSRIs are dangerous drugs, that usually cause far more problems than they solve. But today, I want to focus on natural alternatives for reducing anxiety, because if more people knew there were other things out there that really worked to reduce their anxiety, they’d probably be less inclined to start trying to drug their problems away.

The first thing you can do if you’re feeling incredibly anxious is to gently hold the neurovascular points on the front of your forehead (the bony bits just above your eyebrows) for a couple of minutes. It’s a very simple technique, but it brings blood back into your forebrain and away from the limbic system, and helps to eliminate the physical ‘stress response’ that causes anxiety.

Just actively bring to mind the thing you’re worrying about, gently hold the front neurovascular points for up to five minutes, and you’ll see that it’s somehow ‘de-compressed’ the problem.

You can still think about the issue or worry, but without the pounding heart, nausea, dry mouth and sense of panic. You can go through all your worries one by one, and defuse them with this technique.

The next thing you can do is use aromatherapy. Put a few drops (up to 6) of sweet marjoram or chamomile (or another ‘sedating’ essential oil) in the bath, soak for 20 minutes and you’ll feel physiologically much calmer and able to deal.

The next thing is to turn off the news. Go ‘news-free’ for a week, and I guarantee you’ll notice a marked difference in your equanimity and peace of mind.

The last thing is to start talking to G-d about what’s bothering you. Drop the mask, and come clean, because the more we try to shove our issues and anxieties under the carpet, the larger they start to loom in our subconscious.

Today, we are all full of worries, fears and anxieties, whether we want to admit that or not. Running away from our problems is not an answer – the anxiety we continue to feel at an unconscious level will simply seep out into myriad health issues, ‘stress’, insomnia and anger.

We need to face our anxieties head-on; we need to be honest about what’s worrying us; we need to put G-d in the picture – and then we need to hold our neurovasculars in the bath for five minutes.

And if we do all those things, we’ll start to feel calmer, happier, and less anxious, and we won’t need the Prozac any more.