September 17, 2020
Last Friday, my husband and I escaped the bad air quality in our apartment on Capitol Hill by heading across Lake Washington to my Mom’s where there were cooler indoor temperatures, stronger window seals, and more space for our very mobile nine-month old.
At home, we don’t get a newspaper. Instead, I subscribe to a number of online news summaries and carefully select only the stories most relevant to my work. But on Sunday, I picked up my Mom’s copy of The New York Times. I read a cover story about the swath of death and destruction the West Coast wildfires are leaving in their wake. Then, I flipped the page to read about the millions of children across the globe on the brink of starvation because of COVID-19.
Tears slowly started falling down my cheeks. I was overwhelmed. My heart ached for the families who are enduring trauma and have lost loved ones. And, I was also immediately filled with gratitude for my health, safety, and economic stability.
This push and pull is ever-present. For many of us, our basic needs are met, but because of the global pandemic, civil unrest, political toxicity, the fight for racial equity, and now, unprecedented wildfires, we may also be struggling. Isolation, depression, financial uncertainty, homeschooling, job loss, and anxiety are realities that we face.
So many of the challenges of our world seem ever growing in both number and severity. How do we honor the difficulty of our experience while also acknowledging that we may be fortunate? How do we stay grounded and informed, motivated to take action, and also take care of ourselves? These battles are the work and journey of a lifetime.
Hillel famously said, “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? If I am only for myself, what am I? And if not now, when?”
This invitation from Hillel to first care for ourselves, then care for others, and then to act, can be a roadmap for these turbulent times.
For me, Hillel’s words translate to finding rest and quiet (as much as one can with a nine-month old!), honoring the Sabbath, meditating, and spending time outdoors. By prioritizing these self-care practices, I am able to create the space to truly listen to, empathize with, and care for my family, friends, and colleagues. After, I can unearth the capacity to learn and grow, focus on my work, and, from a grounded and authentic place, step towards justice and repairing our world.
The new year is upon us. It promises to be one like none other. I hope we will find sweetness, health, and safety. But the serious struggles we face are numerous and certain. Rabbi Lauren Berkun shares, “When we are depleted of our own resources, we are incapable of providing for those around us.”
In the upcoming Days of Awe, our sacred time of reflection and introspection between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, as always, we seek self-transformation, forgiveness, and practice teshuva. But also, in meditating on how we can do better in the coming year, ask, “How can I better care for myself? How can I care for my loved ones and our world? How will I show up and meet the challenges of our time?”
L’shana tovah u’metukah,
Director of JCRC and Government Affairs