How not to say the wrong thing — on offering comfort in times of distress

A friend of mine was recently diagnosed with leukemia. She asked on facebook not to be inundated with concerned messages but for people to send her stupid kitty videos, cartoons, and things to make her laugh.

Her husband, a rabbi, recently posted this article. I think it is right on, and such an elegant way of expressing what is sometimes difficult to otherwise grasp: How to be sure you are offering comfort, instead of releasing your own discomfort at someone dealing with trauma.

Susan has since developed a simple technique to help people avoid this mistake. It works for all kinds of crises: medical, legal, financial, romantic, even existential. She calls it the Ring Theory.

Draw a circle. This is the center ring. In it, put the name of the person at the center of the current trauma. For Katie’s aneurysm, that’s Katie. Now draw a larger circle around the first one. In that ring put the name of the person next closest to the trauma. In the case of Katie’s aneurysm, that was Katie’s husband, Pat. Repeat the process as many times as you need to. In each larger ring put the next closest people. Parents and children before more distant relatives. Intimate friends in smaller rings, less intimate friends in larger ones. When you are done you have a Kvetching Order. One of Susan’s patients found it useful to tape it to her refrigerator.

Here are the rules. The person in the center ring can say anything she wants to anyone, anywhere. She can kvetch and complain and whine and moan and curse the heavens and say, “Life is unfair” and “Why me?” That’s the one payoff for being in the center ring.

Everyone else can say those things too, but only to people in larger rings.

See the full article here.

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Fighting for religious freedom in Israel — Women of the Wall

Me at a march for religious freedom in Jerusalem, spring of 2010. The bumper sticker says "Ha-kotel l'kulam/n -- the Kotel for all" with all being written in both the masculine third person plural and the feminine third person plural.

Me at a march for religious freedom in Jerusalem, spring of 2010. The bumper sticker says “Ha-kotel l’kulam/n — the Kotel for all” with “all” being written in both the masculine third person plural and the feminine third person plural.

Exciting news in the fight for religious freedom in Israel. After years of Rosh Chodesh prayer services at the Kotel (Western Wall), with minimal disturbance until the last few years, when participants have been detained and arrested for simply wearing a tallit (prayer shawl), Women of the Wall are poised to win a great victory.

As reported in the New York Times, a proposal has been brought forth to add the Robinson’s Arch area, currently out of the way and only accessible at certain times, to the main complex of the Kotel, thereby equalizing access and honor to the area.

Women of the Wall had rejected a solution the state had already offered of holding egalitarian services at Robinson’s Arch, saying that was not an equal option. Currently part of an archeological garden, the area is tucked around a corner, out of sight, and access is limited to certain times.

Mr. Sharansky’s vision calls for unfettered access to the area and for platforms to be used to bring it to the same level as the rest of the Western Wall, a remnant of the retaining wall of the mount revered by Jews as the site where their ancient temples once stood in the Old City of Jerusalem.

The renovated area must be connected to the wall itself, Mr. Sharansky added, and there must be one entrance for all worshipers, regardless of the section in which they choose to pray.

I appreciate what Rabbi Anat Hoffman said about the plan, because she is trying to make it work. Compromising now, I think, can leave room for further pushing later, as women’s roles in prayer are normalized in the Kotel complex.

“It’s very ambitious, a dramatic change, and it will make history,” Ms. Hoffman, who is currently in the United States, was quoted as saying. “It’s not everything we were hoping for, but we will compromise. You don’t always have to be right, you have to be smart, and compromise is a sign of maturity and understanding what’s at stake here.”

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The Tent Peg Business

I was talking with Rabbi Ron Aigen the other day and he pointed me to an article by Rabbi Larry Kushner on making congregations thrive — or rather, on avoiding the pitfalls that cause congregations to stagnate and lose sight of what is really important. I loved the article and I think it is important for all congregations to keep in mind, especially rabbis and lay leaders.

I was most interested in Kushner’s point that synagogues are for the purpose of congregants’ doing “primary religious acts that they should not, and probably cannot, do alone.” He writes that we should not get confused between primary religious acts (“communal prayer, holy study, and good deeds, or in the classical language of Pirke Avotavodahtorah, and gemilut hasadim”) and secondary religious acts which are to support the primary (“running a photocopier, attending committee meetings, and organizing bingo” as well as “maintaining a building, raising money, and perhaps forming a board of directors”). When we as Jewish professionals and lay leaders spend all our time encouraging secondary religious acts, we lose sight of the whole reason the synagogue exists, and we lose the opportunity to create and maintain Jews in their Jewish exploration.

I’ve pasted the whole article below, with the link.

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