chronic pain/fibromyalgia · food · Jews/Jewish/Judaism/Orthodox Judaism · writing

"Do You" and Stuff-Part 2

Whoa. Six more months until my husband becomes a rabbi and I need to take off those training wheels (from my new Rebbetzin-in-training wheels title). I don’t know how much or in what capacity I will be able to help out at my husband’s shul but I know that I would love to make synagogue a more meaningful place for myself and others (especially those who don’t fall into the “standard” married with children box because too many of my single friends, even the singles with kids, feel like synagogues think they’re invisible. I really want synagogue to be a place where converts and Jews of color feel welcome, like so many synagogues made me feel welcome. I know that I have only so much say on how to make this happen but I will do whatever’s in my power to make it happen.
Yeah, no joke, attending all these events is a strain on my body. It can be beyond exhausting and lead to flare-ups. I’m still pushing myself, even if I’m not on the computer as much. It’s hard to break bad habits and mine has always been ignoring my body, my limits and pushing further in a way that isn’t healthy (emotionally, physically or otherwise). The sitting, the sitting (walking, standing, stretching is much easier on my fibromyalgia) and the schmoozing…oy. If you’ve ever met me in person, you know how I love to schmooze. I love to connect with people and I keep meeting so many wonderful people at these events, especially because (at least on the on-set) I really have time and energy to invest in them now that I’ve begged off a bit from my freelancing career. At the WH&HD event, I especially enjoyed talking to a retired social worker who told me about how her family had helped founded more than two synagogues in Riverdale and who offered that her current volunteer work, in hospice care, was beyond fulfilling.
On Friday night, I attended the free weekly dinner (sponsorships ALWAYS welcome) at the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale which had its annual, inspiring and rousing Martin Luther King, Jr. Day event (I missed it but my friend blogged about it here in all its complex and inspiring detail). This wasn’t a good month financially and we weren’t able to have people over Shabbat (except for one of my siblings) but I invited 10 people (many with cats who can’t come to my home and vice versa) to “Abraham & Sarah’s Tent” as the meal is called and they loved it. I have gone more regularly lately and it’s become sort of like that saying about that old show Cheers “where everyone knows your name.”
At “The Tent,” I split my guests into two sections, bilingual-Spanish/English and English-only and I spoke the most Spanish I have in a while and probably ever at a Shabbat meal. I wish I could have paid more attention to all my guests but I was so pleased that when the meal ended, everyone wanted to continue to talk and connect. Some of us walked home together and continued to talk and talk and talk in the brisk weather that night. The sign of a great Shabbat meal is when you don’t know where the time went, you have no place you’d rather be and you don’t want to leave!
A friend asked me over Shabbat if I missed writing. I said “no.” I think the quickness of my reply surprised him. I still write in my head all the time. I write in my journal (I have three different sizes I carry or leave in separate rooms of the house) and I don’t always get to type it up. I could say the same about missing drawing (click the “art” label if you’d like to see my pieces). I don’t. Yet, there was a time in my life when I couldn’t go an hour without sketching (probably before the fibromyalgia made doodling a luxury as well). I love writing. I love drawing. But at some point they stopped fulfilling me in the way I needed and though I plan to go back to them, I want to do it with the same fervor and passion I had before.
This past summer in Los Angeles working with converts and newly observant folks, taking stand-up comedy classes, dropping in and out of art classes, made me realize that there are things out there outside of my usual bag of tricks, outside of my “work,” that make me happy in ways I had never imagined. Also, notably in Los Angeles, I was much more positive about my writing career. In LA, people respect that even if you haven’t been published everywhere (or anywhere), there is a lot to be said for the process of writing and how much harder it is getting for writers to get published these days no matter how good their writing is. Like many professions, writing, particularly freelance writing, is one of those perpetually underpaid professions because what you get paid rarely reflects the amount of work you’ve put in.
Non-creative types don’t realized how much work behind-the-scenes doesn’t get published or see the light of day. In New York, it’s always “where have you been published?” or “when will it be published?” or a snide remark about how little they think of writing and writers. Trust me, it’s not these nasty voices that keep me from writing the way I did before. Still, I can’t tell you how many times people haven’t bothered to roll their eyes when they asked, “What do you do?” and I responded “writer” or worse, “blogger.”
I realized I had a hard time achieving work/life balance not exactly easy when you’re a writer (or in the case of that linked story, anything else on top of it, like a Mom, wife, sister, person!) at the expense of my health and that somewhere deep down I was trying to please those nasty voices that didn’t think I mattered unless I’d been published in places they thought were prestigious.
One of my pieces that was published in a particularly prestigious paper incapacitated me for weeks. I’ll spare you the awful details. So yeah, someday, I’ll get back into the writing groove in a way that I think is less under the radar and that is more about me and my goals. A writer/lecturer at one event I attended noted, in such a frank way, that she had completely put her public speaking career on hold to work on her book, such is the all-consuming nature of writing a book and she refused to discuss when the book would be finished. “Preferably before I die,” she said.
Back in New York, I am really wishing my home were more accessible, my energy was more consistent and high and my funds less limited so that I would have the opportunity to do more of the work I enjoyed doing in Los Angeles here in New York. As it stands right now, I am trying to connect with every Dominican Jew in New York before I leave and I am still trying to keep up with the questions I get emailed daily and such from fans (sorry I’m still 15 letters behind!).
In New York, I’ve realized that there is an obsession with the idea that people are only as important as how much is in their back account or how many PhDs they have that they aren’t using. Maybe this is an obsession everywhere else, too, but I’ve lived all my life here “in the city that never sleeps.” Yes, I realized the Orthodox lifestyle, which includes private Jewish education for all the many children we’re expected to have while getting those PhDs is quite expensive, helped along by a culture of overachieving.
At one recent event, I heard a woman voice that the reason she, with all her degrees, should be a stay-at-home mother is because all of her degrees–none of them in early childhood education–make her a more suitable person to raise her kids. “Why would you want anyone less educated taking care of your child?” she said as if her logic made perfect sense. Forget that some people are just better with kids and what this obviously says about her thoughts about women with less than shiny Ivy League degrees tacked oup on their walls…oh yeah, do you see where that road leads? I get that she was trying to defend why someone would go to Stanford and then spend all day “playing” (this is what the “working mother” called it) at home. The “Mommy Wars” and “Whose a feminist or not?” wars are still in full effect in Riverdale for sure.
No, I don’t make a lot of money sitting on the phone or at the coffee shop just listening to people talk about their Jewish inner lives. I know there are more lucrative ways to do this but I’m not looking for advice in that area. I’m just doing what makes me happy. Me! Happy! I lived the first 25 years of my life surviving by the skin of my teeth, surviving so that others (my sisters) could survive, surviving because I didn’t know how to do anything else. I think I’ve more than earned a little “happy.”
I know a lot of people (especially women) who give, give, give, give (or work, work, work) right up until they enter a fresh grave too early. I want to give but I also want to just try living. No, LIVING. L-I-V-I-N-G. I can only surmise but I imagine living is much more fun that surviving. I want to see where that takes me. So I’m trying to stop and smell the roses (okay, not really, come on, with my allergies? Please!) and figure out how I can spend whatever time I have on this Earth doing Jewish and being the best Aliza Hausman I can be. Yeah, it’s corny but luckily you’re not allergic to corn, are you?

6 thoughts on “"Do You" and Stuff-Part 2

  1. Aliza,

    As a rebbetzin you will have an important role in the community. Your desire to make the synagogue welcoming to converts or Jews of color is a great goal. As an outsider (a Catholic who is interested in Judaism) I believe that making newcomers and people who are visiting feel welcome is vital to any faith community. Abraham and Sarah showed the way by making hospitality toward their three visitors so important.

    Your desire to do well shows me that you will be successful. ¡Animo, muchacha!

    Shalom,
    David

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  2. No excuses needed. For some of us (such as those married to someone with fibro, who need to be the financial support), “just living” is a luxury, and I'm envious.

    But I am starting to rethink what is essential, and how I can rework my obligations to others to try to live my life now, instead of always deferring it to the future, when things will magically get easier.

    Oh, and yes, the obsession with degrees and money is an East Coast thing, come out to Oregon and see all the raw-foods-hemp-wearing hippie Jews who don't care about either. 🙂

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  3. Yeah, Tzipporah, you make a great point, I wouldn't be able to do this without the support of my husband and family. We realized early on that when I worked part-time or full-time instead of freelance, I was barely a person. I couldn't do what I do without the support of my support system.

    But I just don't want to look back someday and find that I spent my time as a pain zombie instead of doing what made me happy, what was meaningful even if that meant I couldn't afford to do X, Y, Z.

    When I was little, I went hungry all the time, hot chocolate (just water and chocolate mix) and canned food (chickpeas!) kept me going. It was hard. I did what I needed to do to survive, often at the expense of my body, of my mental, physical or emotional health. I don't have the luxury of surviving anymore, I want to THRIVE.

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  4. Aliza – no argument from me. That's why we sent Bad Cohen back to grad school for a not-entirely-practical arts degree, that he really enjoys. He's only got so much energy and time in a day, so we want to make it count.

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