Sunday, July 25, 2010

IF by Aliza Davidovit

There are many strong, eloquent words in the dictionary, even very long ones, such as Floccinaucinihilipilification. At 29 letters it is considered one of the longest non-medical words in the English language. While saying it you even get to spit in someone’s eye and pretend it was by mistake. Ironically, the word is much ado about nothing and means “the estimation of something as valueless.” It seems like a lot of effort at articulation to deem something worthless.

Conversely, the word "if," so short and succinct, is often taken for granted though it is among the most powerful words in our lives. It is upon this very simple two-lettered swivel point that our entire lives spin.

It means, basically, “on the condition that.” We learn the conditional value of "if" early on in childhood: “If you behave, you will get a toy”; “If you eat your spinach, you can have cake.” It’s a slippery word that slides so easily off our tongues that we don’t take notice of how it controls us day in and day out.

If my parents weren’t so tough, I’d have more confidence.

If I was working full time, I wouldn’t be gaining weight.

If I get a promotion, I’ll propose to her.

If I saw a miracle, then I’d believe.

There is not a second or circumstance of our lives that is not controlled by ifs. It allows us to manufacture excuses by the dozen whereby we blame conditions or the lack thereof for every move we make--or don’t make.

After 40 years of wandering and blaming their rebellious nature on the desert conditions and every possible reason to justify disobedience, God brings the Jews to the border of the Promised Land with an "if" of His own. Basically, He tells the Jewish people that they will be impervious to anything harmful, such as illness, famine, enemies, drought, infertility, etc., on the proviso, “IF” they keep his laws. But in the Hebrew text, the same word used to imply if--the word ekev--also means “heel,” as in the heel of a foot. In short, the same foot that hits the pavement to usher them into the land has the ability to pivot—to turn on one’s heel--and to drive them out if they stray from God’s laws.

We thus learn from this week’s Torah reading that our own actions will contribute to creating perfect conditions and not vice versa. I’ve heard many a Jew say, “If I had more money I wouldn’t work on the Sabbath” instead of having full faith that by not working on that day God would step in and help. When we start doing what we must and stop making excuses why we can’t, we will find Him there to sustain us even in our times; for, “man does not live by bread alone, but rather by whatever comes forth from the mouth of the Lord does man live.” We survive not only by the sweat of our brow but also with faith and service to the Almighty.

I can’t begin to tell you how many times as a student, as a journalist and working at ABC News and Fox how observing the Sabbath posed a challenge. Yet I chose God and things always worked out in my favor regardless of how I stressed over it at the time.

Both in our personal lives and in our relationship with God, we have to stop relying on ifs, i.e., those perfect conditions in which we will find the impetus to pick up our tuchuses from the couch and start doing what’s good for us in life. We have to create the conditions in which we thrive and thrive in all conditions. The plant, the Wandering Jew, was named as such because like the people no matter where it is planted it adapts and grows. As individuals we must all learn to do the same. The perfect time and place hardly ever comes. And so, perhaps the best sentence starting with the word "if" is from the great rabbi Hillel who said, “If not now, when?”
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Sunday, July 18, 2010

Where Do I Go from Here? by Aliza Davidovit

I’m sure most women can relate when I say I tried on everything I own, nothing looked good, nothing fit right and by the time I left it looked like a hurricane had hit my bedroom, leaving clothes scattered all over the bed and hanging from door knobs. Even as I drove to the event, I grumbled inside how I hated my shoes and lusted for a glass of cold wine to fix my foul mood. But as I entered the hotel to attend the black-tie event, it was not the big mirrors of the banquet hall that made me realize I was a schmuck of epic proportions, nor was it the gorgeous and fabulously dressed who’s who also in attendance. It was the hundred-plus individuals who entered the building at quite a different pace—they rolled in on wheelchairs to attend “A Magical Evening,” the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation fundraiser dinner for those with spinal cord injuries.
The startling contrast between the two worlds of those on heels and those on wheels breathed life into the old adage: “I envied the man with a pair of [designer] shoes, until I saw a man with no feet.” But, as the night unfolded, the adage transformed before my eyes. Those who could not walk took to the dance floor in their wheelchairs, while others took to the stage to inspire us, demonstrating how life can go on beautifully despite our handicaps. Where one initially saw those who could not stand or walk due to spinal cord injuries, one could yet envy these individuals who have outpaced most people with their courage, unyielding determination, and joie de vivre. By night’s end it became less clear who was there to help whom.
I wondered, however, whether it was equally bad to compare oneself with those who have it “worse” as it is to compare oneself with those who have it better. I concluded in my mind, that as long as we are looking at each other to learn and not to judge or covet, then it is okay.
The question I was left with is how can we go on when our life changes overnight, when everything we have lived for dies?
I can never forget the story of female basketball player Rayna DuBose. She was 6’3”, very pretty, and embarking on a promising college basketball career at Virginia Tech in 2002. Her skills as a player were quite special. She could have reached the “heavens” with her talent and jump shot. One day at practice, Dubose wasn’t feeling too well and fainted. She was rushed to the hospital where the doctors told her parents that she was the sickest girl in Virginia and may die. She was in a coma for three weeks. Dubose had contracted meningococcal meningitis, a bacterial infection that had wreaked so much tissue damage the doctors were forced to amputate both her hands and feet. Today, wearing prosthetics and high-heeled shoes, she sees only the good in her story. Her website is themed: “Winning the Game of Life.” When people tell her that she inspires them or is very strong she asks, “How can I inspire when I feel so normal in this world?”
When Tour de France champ Lance Armstrong was asked how cancer changed him his answer was, “It was the best thing that ever happened to me because it made me a better man.” He went on to say that “there are two Lance Armstrongs, pre-cancer and post and evidently, the best man won.”
When Parkinson’s disease threw Michael J. Fox out of the driver’s seat of his life, he was distraught. Today, he says, “I’ve seen illness. I’ve seen, you know, certainly over the years, a lot of young children get ill… if I want to feel bad for anybody… there is a long list of people’s names—and my name is not on it.”
He recounts how every morning he passes the mirror, “I look at it and I say, what are you smiling at? And then I realize that because it just gets better from here.”
Although sometimes we can become petty, believe me my wardrobe is the least of my problems and I’m certain the least of yours too. But when big things do hit us in life -- sickness, divorce, bankruptcy, the death of people we love -- undoubtedly a part of us dies too, but it is still not yet time to put up our tombstones. Don’t tell God how big your problems are, tell your problems how big God is. Chose the tree of life and live to love another day. Just keep on walking even if you hate your shoes.
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Sunday, July 11, 2010

You Can Do it! by Aliza Davidovit

The Talmud asks, “Who is wise?” The answer: “He who learns from every man.” So please indulge me in that from all the world’s sages, I have chosen to quote Bon Jovi and not Aristotle.
"Welcome to wherever you are
This is your life, you made it this far
Welcome, you gotta believe
That right here right now, you're exactly where you're supposed to be

We are often so hard on ourselves and critical of where we are in life that our negativity ends up being the biggest blockade of all. “I’m not smart enough,” “I can’t do it,” “The best years are behind me,” “Things are so bad, they just can’t get better,” are phrases with which we often brainwash ourselves, all the while hating where we find ourselves in life. Can you then imagine if you are finding yourself in a rut, how the wandering desert Jews felt going in circles for 40 years. Could God and Moses have been better served with a GPS? Why did they have to make 42 encampments and wait so long between their Egyptian enslavement and tasting the milk and honey of the Promised Land, all the while complaining bitterly?

In our lives, we too often feel like we are going in circles. So many yesterdays merge into one big blur, one indistinguishable from the next. But the truth is we really are on a spiral, and though we think we are passing the same point over and over again, it is always on a different level: either a higher one or a lower depending on what we do with the moment.

The reason we often find ourselves stuck in one perpetual Groundhog Day is because we have not yet learned the lessons and passed the tests. As such, until we get it right, “right here, right now, you're exactly where you're supposed to be.”

The same was true for the Jews who left Egypt. They were not physically able to seize the prize, i.e., the land, because they were not ready spiritually. Each encampment was a testing a ground for them, and they did not move on to the next one until their spiritual mission was accomplished. Their shlepped-out journey was boot camp for the soul. God is always trying to teach us something and make us better, even if we don’t approve of “the accommodations.”

In our own lives, instead of hating every second of the “now” perhaps we should question what spiritual failing is holding us back. But there is another point I want to emphasize, and that is the language we use when we talk to ourselves--which also solidifies the status quo.

In the case of the Jews, throughout every century and within every country they have lived, they have been called the vilest of names by antisemites. Considering that type of talk, it’s a wonder that Jews haven’t developed an inferiority complex and confined themselves to the ghetto to make mud patties, but rather have excelled in every industry and jumped to the forefront of the world stage. It is because, in my opinion, their main coach, GOD, talked up their game, called them a special and chosen people and told them they are to be a light among the nations. All the confidence that haters of Jews tried to suck out of them, was ineffectual because God breathed his eternal confidence and praiseworthy words into them.

Therefore we too, as we struggle to move forward in life and to fight our spiritual battles, must alter the language we use when we talk to ourselves: “You are smart enough,” “You can do it,” “The best years are ahead,” “Things are hard, but they will get much better.” Don’t think of yourself as stuck in a dead end, think of yourself as engaged in an opportunity. As Bon Jovi says, “Welcome to wherever you are” and work with it, don’t let it work against you. God’s faith and his word are upon each of us, and the slogan for his “army” has always been “Be All You Can Be.” For in truth, what makes a land flourish with milk and honey is what we bring to it, not what we take from it.
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Sunday, July 4, 2010

Throwing Pessimism on the BBQ

Ask most people what they want from life and they will say, “I just want to be happy.” Yet with that goal in mind most of us are still walking around depressed and miserable, especially when we are sober. It’s funny how when we drink girls look prettier, we believe we can dance, and our problems don’t seem that bad. These alternate perspectives enhanced by Cosmos or Screwdrivers should tell us one thing, that our minds have the power to re-frame reality. And though booze may provide the express train to positivity, if we can get there with it, we can there without it too. A greater part of reality is created by our attitudes and our outlooks. As Dennis Kucinich once said, “We are not the victims of the world we see, we are the victims of the way we see the world.” And so, my friends, it is time to throw pessimism on the BBQ and start grilling the process and the things that make us so hard on ourselves.

I can point to a few causes. There are so much external stimuli telling us what’s wrong with us on a regular basis--from advertisements promoting picture-perfect people to a slew of shows that bring in figurative and literal wrecking balls to knock us down and make us over, offering better versions of our lives. Anyway you look at it a makeover show is saying what you are now is not good enough. Personally, I wasn’t fully cognizant of how deficient I was until I walked into a Barnes & Noble bookstore and was assaulted by hundreds of titles that promise how to make yourself better and to be the best at just about anything: How to be the Best Lover, How to be the Best Date, How to be the Best Terrorist, How to be the Best Friend, How to be the Best at Being the Worst—okay, that one I made up. But the point is that these books are really trying to sell us prescriptions for “happiness,” though, I think, they really just contribute to misery. They set up impossible goals for us and when we fail to become all they promise, we become depressed and insecure and wallow in the valley of the gap that exists between our fantasy world and reality.

And just let’s say we follow the directive of one such “self help” book, what happens then when another “better” person comes along? Does our happiness commit suicide? What if a few people buy the same book, (as publishers hope they might), who will be the “best lover” by the last page, you or the other reader? Can there be two bests? We live by such exaggerated standards it is little wonder people are depressed in increasing numbers.

The exit to “happiness” is not found along that interstate of false versions of ourselves. We see so many people today who go through endless plastic surgeries to achieve “bestness.” These processes, however, have nothing to do with being the “best YOU can be”; they are really about being better than the next guy or gal. Well brace yourselves, for there will always be someone better, younger, faster, sexier etc. The only winnable competition is against yourself and the only measurement for true happiness is are you a bit better of a person than you were yesterday? Have you overcome your own stubborn nature and done what’s good for you today? Or are you still trying to be better than your brother-in-law?

Start looking at yourself as if you were drunk and start liking what you see. I believe that there really is only one book that can help you be the best you can be and that’s the Good Book. In it you will find how great and precious you already are. For, how can we really love our neighbors as ourselves if we hate ourselves? Change your attitude from baditude to gratitude and you will see the world change before you.

In such difficult times, it’s evermore important to put smiles on our faces and start appreciating all that we do have. Stop coveting your neighbor’s ass and start watching out for your own.
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