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Tragedy in Mumbai

By the time my ten year old son returned home from school, late yesterday afternoon, the situation for Rabbi Gavriel and Rivka Holtzberg, the beloved directors of Chabad of Mumbai, was not looking good. Conflicting reports were circulating but it was confirmed that their two year old son, Moshe, had been rescued by his nanny who managed to escape with him in blood splattered clothes while both his parents were reportedly lying unconscious, still hostages to the terrorists.

For the entire evening as well as this morning, our minds and hearts were consumed with thoughts and prayers for the Holtzbergs. But while we all prayed and hoped beyond hope, a little voice in the back of my mind asserted that the situation did not bode well. Reality was sadly reality and the more time that expired the worse it looked.

He also asked if he could bring me a tea, or do a chore. Any chore.

From the moment that my son came home, he, like Jews the world over, was consumed with the situation. He mentioned how his class had recited Psalms for over two hours that day. But that didn't prevent him from immediately beginning to recite some more…And more…And then patiently trying to convince his four year old sister to repeat just another chapter together with him.

Later, I noticed him slip some of his money in the pushka. He also asked if he could bring me a tea, or do a chore. Any chore. It was clear that he was trying to gather as many positive deeds in the Holtzberg's merit.

Like the rest of us, my son was glued to the news sites on the computer, for any shred of good news about this family. At one point, he mentioned to me how he had heard that Moshe had cried for his parents in the middle of the night. He was visibly affected by this image.

"But," he assured me confidently, "tonight is Rosh Chodesh (the new month of) Kislev, the day that the Rebbe recovered from his heart attack. And tonight," at this point his voice rose slightly, "we'll also hear how the Holtzbergs will be saved. It will be good!"

I listened and I nodded. "G‑d willing," I replied.

And yet that little voice in the back of my head once again wondered if perhaps I should warn my sensitive child that things didn't always turn out for the good. Perhaps I should prepare him for what we hoped we would never hear, but that was still a definite possibility.

My son went to sleep last night only after asking that if we heard the good news (that he was sure we would hear), we should please wake him immediately. And when I woke up very early this morning, I found him curled up on my bedroom floor, clearly wanting the comfort of his parents nearby.

As the unfolding situation became more and more grim and I saw my son still reciting extra prayers this morning, I once again wondered, should I perhaps warn my child that we live in the "real" world, where things don't always turn out the way they are supposed to? A world where prayers and good deeds aren't always answered. A world where darkness often obscures light.

But I realize too, that if I succumb to that little voice in the back of my head, I'll only be giving greater power to the evil around us.

No, I didn't say anything to my son.

Because I came to realize that it was he who had the right perspective on the situation and not I.

As I write these words, we all know that unfortunately no miracle happened. I, like all of you, am consumed by such sadness, such grief for the life that could have been… for Gavriel and Rivka…grief for little Moshe…and grief for the terrible pain that their families must be enduring.

I am plagued by questions too.

How could this have happened? How could all of our prayers and good deeds not have weighed in?

How could evil gain such control over our world? And over such good people whose sole life's preoccupation was bringing light, joy and meaning to our world? How could goodness be so vanquished?

Heavy, unbearable, haunting questions.

But I realize too, that if I succumb to that little voice in the back of my head, to this perspective of doubt, pain, and immobility, I'll only be giving greater power to the evil around us.

We can't remain crushed, afraid, and unable to move forward.

Because now is the time to fight—not with doubt and questions, but with the innocent faith of my child, with unity and love towards one another, and with as many rational and irrational good deeds that we can muster.

For the sake of Gavriel and Rivka.

For the sake of little Moshe.

And for the sake of good in our world.

Chana Weisberg is the editor of TheJewishWoman.org. She lectures internationally on issues relating to women, relationships, meaning, self-esteem and the Jewish soul. She is the author of five popular books.

The Lost Art of Listening

Here's an experiment to try the next time you meet someone—it could be an annoying telemarketer over the phone or a neighbor in the local grocery store.

As he mechanically and politely utters his greeting of, "Hi, how are you?" instead of responding with the standard, "good, thanks," try something different. Answer something totally strange and unbelievable. Try this, "Great, my monkey just ate its banana," or "Good, the skies are covered with gold." The only caveat is that your tone, body language and facial expression must reflect nothing out of the ordinary.

I'm curious how many people would actually notice! Would they continue their mindless dialogue, "Oh, that's nice," or would they just nod perfunctorily as they continue on their hurried way? How many would actually hear you?

Many educators nowadays lament the lost art of communication. Some claim that with the popularity of Instant Messaging, chat and e-mails, our children are losing out on the richness of expression, the nuances and variations of vocabulary and the beauty of creative writing.

But maybe our dismal state of communication stems from our lost art of listening, without which real communication can never occur.

In your mind's eye, think of someone whom you consider an exemplar teacher, mentor, advisor, or even just a really good friend. Chances are that along with his or her other admirable qualities—like wisdom, kindness, charisma and a generous spirit—high on the list will be the ability to truly listen.

Real listening means the ability to focus entirely on others and on their issues, with an open mind and heart.

It doesn't necessarily mean agreeing with them. But it does mean the ability to hear things from their vantage point, and to understand how they see life.

Only someone who is able to appreciate where another is coming from can help him to move from where he is to a more enriched perspective.

Yet how often do we neglect to listen? How often do we respond to our children, our spouses or those important to us with auto-responses, without ever really hearing them? Sensing that they haven't been heard, it's no wonder that our children or spouse will continue to complain/request/nudge/nag, over and over, in the hope that they will finally be listened to. The nudging eventually does stop, but only once they have given up on ever being heard, as the lines of communication close and die.

In Judaism, one of the most fundamental statements of belief is the declaration of the Shema—"Listen, O Israel, G‑d is our G‑d; G‑d is one."

Look closely at the words. It doesn't say to "proclaim" or "declare" G‑d's unity, but rather "listen."

Because listening is an intense experience involving perceiving, deeply thinking about and internalizing. It's also a transformative act, one that forges a strong bond between the speaker and listener.

The next time someone whom you consider important to your life speaks to you, treat him with the respect that he deserves.

Stop, focus and really listen. You might just be surprised at the whole new awareness that opens before you.

And if you do try this experiment with a telemarketer or a neighbor, I'd be curious to hear your results…

Chana Weisberg is the editor of TheJewishWoman.org. She lectures internationally on issues relating to women, relationships, meaning, self-esteem and the Jewish soul. She is the author of five popular books.

Realness. Authenticity. Sincerity.

Are these all lost qualities in our day and age?

As you look around you, do you ever feel that our world is full of such hypocrisy, such pretense, such phoniness that it seeps into every facet of our lives?

Our sages call our world alma deshikra, a world full of falsehood, where the true perspective and value is often upside down.

Our political leaders reek of it. And unfortunately, often enough, even spiritual, religious or moral leaders don't fare much better.

How often are those very same people who espouse such high values and morals exposed for their own downright unethical behaviour? Spiritual and religious mentors teaching lofty concepts such as kindness, humility and transcendence are in their own day-to-day lives, behind the glare of the limelight, found to have the greatest, thirstiest egos.

So is there anyone out there who is really real?

Of course there are the exceptions—some great leaders and spiritual mentors who lead sterling lives of goodness, humility and kindness. But still, the grand picture that emerges for the most part is quite unpretty. In fact, I think some of the kindest and most sincere people I've ever met—the ones who I'd consider really "real"—were the simplest, least sophisticated types who weren't out to prove themselves to anyone. They weren't seeking a communal reputation as a "do gooder" nor the most social ballots for leadership. They didn't need to prove themselves as "religiously" moral and exacting or adhering to the law. They were just simply nice, kind, honest people seeking to do what's right, largely unrecognized for their simple greatness.

I'm often asked with all the hypocrisy in our world, with all these spiritual people acting so unspiritual, with all these unkind acts done in the name of religion, in such a climate, how does one remain "religious"? Doesn't it ever turn you off from "religion"?

It can.

Or it can turn you on to "real religion."

Precisely in moments when I feel such a bankruptcy of leadership, such a deficiency in truth and realism, does it make me personally want to bypass this whole façade, the whole pretense and cut to the core.

To the Reality beyond it all.

This has all been predicted long ago by our sages (Tractate Sotah): "In the time period before Moshiach arrives, there will be no one on whom to rely, other than our Father in heaven." And (Sanhedrin): "Moshiach will not arrive until there will be no leaders in Israel."

Surrounded by falseness, living in a world of corruption and untruth—perhaps there is really only one place to turn to seek the inherent truth of all existence.

The Creator of all Reality. And the only true Reality.

Real Realness.

Chana Weisberg is the editor of TheJewishWoman.org. She lectures internationally on issues relating to women, relationships, meaning, self-esteem and the Jewish soul. She is the author of five popular books.

As part of my responsibilities here at this website, I work with many authors who submit their articles for consideration for publication on our site. One of the authors that I deal with is a prolific writer, who authored several books and writes extensively for many Jewish publications. She's also a therapist, counselor and mentor to many individuals and couples worldwide.

At one point, after being in contact with this woman a few times, I sent her an email thanking her for her articles and expressing my gratitude to her for her wonderful writing -- and as a result for the many people that she inspired and touched with her wisdom, sensitivity and thoughtful ideas.

Immediately I received an email back. She thanked me for my positive feedback and told me, "Your words mean so much to me because I rarely receive any feedback!"

Rarely receives any feedback?

I was dumbfounded. Such a prolific author and known personality. I would have imagined that she would need a press secretary just to take care of all her fan mail. Rarely receives feedback.

Hmmm.

Her statement made me realize how often so many of us forget to give feedback. We assume, "Oh, I'm sure s/he already knows…there's no reason to say it."

When's the last time you told your spouse or your child that you love him or her? When did you last thank your husband for working so hard to provide for your family? When did you last tell your wife how much you appreciated all the many things that she does to make your life so much more comfortable? Or how about your child for trying so hard to please you? For the pleasure and nachas s/he gives you just by being your child?

Though there were 12 tribes of Israel, the Jewish people are called Yehudim, Jews, after the name of fourth tribe, Yehudah, Judah. When the ten tribes were conquered and exiled by the Assyrian king in the 5th century BCE, and the only remaining Israelites were the residents of the Kingdom of Judah, the term "Yehudi" or "Jew" came to refer to all Jews.

On a deeper level, the name Yehudah shares the same root as the Hebrew word hoda'ah, which means acknowledgement and gratitude. The trademark quality of a Jew is one who acknowledges and shows gratitude to G‑d for all that he has and is.

The more we gratefully acknowledge all the many little and big things being done for us, the more we inculcate within ourselves this quality--and the more we realize all the good that our Creator, and those around us, are constantly showering us with.

We all need positive feedback. Let's give it generously.

Chana Weisberg is the editor of TheJewishWoman.org. She lectures internationally on issues relating to women, relationships, meaning, self-esteem and the Jewish soul. She is the author of five popular books.

A few years ago, we were headed back home from a family vacation in the Laurentian Mountains.

After exulting in a tranquil week surrounded by the simple beauty of nature, away from the modern day pressures of cell phones, wifi and high speed connections, we were ready to plunge back into the onslaught of life, with renewed vigor.

It was about a six-hour drive back and our van was loaded down and piled high on top with suitcases, bedding, a barbeque, a small refrigerator and of course a week's worth of clothing for the entire family--and lots of food. We were a little over an hour away from our home in Toronto and I was already mentally planning out what would need to be taken care of the moment we returned. Our time away was wonderful, but now I was ready to jump back into our regular routine. School would be starting in another few days and there was so much to prepare.

Just as I was thinking these thoughts driving along the highway, our van began slowing down and emitting strange sounds from under the hood. My stomach lurched as I thought, No, not now! Just hold out another ninety minutes and we'll be safely home!

But apparently our van had a mind of its own.

The man who towed us to the closest town, reassured me that there was a car repair shop only ten minutes away. Though it was late Sunday afternoon, we could still make it there before closing.

I heaved a sigh of relief as I saw the garage still open and the mechanic intensely at work. I was even more relieved as he did a quick check on our van and told us that it was a minor issue which would not take him more than an hour to fix.

But then he broke the news to us—he'd be happy to work on it first thing in the morning.

"No," I protested. "You just don't understand…" I tried to reason with him that we have a car full of children…how we needed to get back home…how we couldn't possibly unpack all our stuff…how the baby wouldn't sleep in a strange room…how we needed him to fix our van now, not in the morning.

But the mechanic insisted that he understood all too well. He, too, had children at home, eagerly waiting for their Daddy to get home after a long day of work to their special family dinner.

My pleading, cajoling, bribing, guilt treatment and offering him a gift of lots of extra cash—and even calling his wife on his cell phone and attempting to convince her—were all to no avail. He was determined to leave and it seemed like we were destined to spend the night in this little town, just ninety minutes away from our own comfortable home.

We did our best to unpack just what we needed for the night, locked up our van and taxied over to the nearest motel.

We spent a restless night crowded into a motel room and by early the next morning the mechanic called, just as he had promised, that our van was now in smooth working order.

The entire evening and morning, I kept wondering why this was happening. Why, when we were so close to home, did something so small have to go wrong? Could there possibly be a lesson here?

It was only as were back on the highway, driving west again towards Toronto, that my husband mentioned to me what had happened to him that morning.

He had gone off to the park area behind our motel to pray the morning prayers in quiet solitude. As he stood wrapped in his tallit and crowned in his tefillin, a woman approached him and stood politely at his side.

"May I share your siddur (prayer book) with you?" the woman had requested.

And for the next several minutes the two stood side-by-side, reading page by page. It must have been a strange site—him a tall, bearded religious man wearing his prayer attire and, she, an older woman, dressed in casual pants and t-shirt.

As my husband and the woman concluded their prayers, the woman explained, "I am an Israeli, so of course, I speak and read Hebrew fluently. But it's been over twenty years since I've recited the Shema prayer, or, for that matter, held a siddur in my hands. When I saw you, I knew I just had to pray. Thank you for providing me with this opportunity."


There are times in life when we don't know why events happen as they do. Most times, we are never given the opportunity to answer this perplexing question.

But then there are those special times when we are given a glimpse into a higher reason for why we end up in a certain place and location.

And it is at those moments that we understand that our little detour in life is, in fact, exactly where we are meant to be.

Chana Weisberg is the editor of TheJewishWoman.org. She lectures internationally on issues relating to women, relationships, meaning, self-esteem and the Jewish soul. She is the author of five popular books.
Often we need a break from our daily routine. A pause from life to help us appreciate life.

A little pat on the back to let us know when we're on track. A word of encouragement to help us through those bleak moments and difficult days.

Sometimes, we just yearn for some friendship and camaraderie, someone to share our heart with. And sometimes we need a little direction from someone who's been there.

So, take a short pause from the busyness of your day and join Chana Weisberg for a cup of coffee.

Chana Weisberg is the author of Tending the Garden: The Unique Gifts of the Jewish Woman and four other books. Weisberg is a noted educator and columnist and lectures worldwide on issues relating to women, faith, relationships and the Jewish soul.
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