The light within us

Tonight is the fourth night of Chanukah. Each night as another candle is lit, we sing, we have a little dance we play with the Driedel, the fun continues, presents, latkes, oh so many doughnuts ( of course the game ” who can eat a whole doughnut without licking their lips” must be played… it’s an impossibility!) parties are had.

The feeling of happiness and togetherness as you wonder out in to the street, and see a snapshot through countless windows of families coming together, of parents dancing the same dance, singing the same song nourishes the soul.

The story of Chanukah has the same theme as most other Jewish holidays, to quote Jackie Mason “They tried to kill us, we won, lets eat”. The role that light plays throughout Chanukah can teach us so many lessons.

Miracles can happen, bringing light to the darkest times. A few can outnumber many when they have a strong belief in God. Throughout the darkest of times we can prevail, all it needs is one tiny spark, a weak light, a flame flickering in the night, when we feel only darkness around us can suddenly catch, its flames gathering strength, the light at the very end of the tunnel which seemed so distant can draw nearer.

I have always been fascinated by the story of Chana.  We have been told the story since childhood. ( Without the gory details). As children the story is one of hope and faith.

Chana lived under the tyranny of king Antiochus, a king whose sole ambition was to try to do what so many others have tried and failed, to wipe out Judaism. he forbade observance of all religious laws, anyone found practicing the jewish faith would be executed with no trial.

Chana had been blessed with 7 sons, she had raised them to be religious, God-fearing Jews. After being arrested and bound together with her 7 sons, the youngest only 7 years old they were presented to the king.

Antiochus, sat with each child and tried  to convince them to bow to him. He threatened torture and death, torture so severe death would have been welcome. As each child stood before him he was sure they would eventually prevail and do as he had commanded. Yet each child refused him. Saying ” Why do you bother with your long speeches, we are ready to welcome death for the sake of our holy Torah”.

Their mother, stood, watching as each son was presented with the option, bow or die, a slow painful death.

Picture the scene, a mother stands, seeing her children, one by one being tortured, her children’s agonized screams, as Antiochus forces her to watch their painful death.

6 Children lie at her feet, one child remains, a 7 year old boy. His mother whispers to him “My son, I carried you in my body for nine months, I nursed you for 2 years, and I have fed you until today. I have taught you to fear God and uphold his Torah. See the heaven and earth the sea, land, fire and water, know that they were all created with the words of God. He created man to serve Him, and He will reward man for his deeds. The king, he knows he has been condemned before God. He thinks that if convinces you, God will have mercy on him. God controls your life’s breath, and can take your soul whenever He desires. If only I could se the greatness of your glorious place where we would be illuminated with God’s light and rejoice and exult together”

Her son, the last child Chana would ever hold and kiss, refused to bow, suffering torture worse than his brothers.

As her last child lay at her feet, the distraught, desperate mother climbed to a roof and threw herself down, laying to rest amongst her children.

A horrific story, a story which can generate so many questions about faith, what would God have really wanted and so many more, but a few things stand out for me.

A mother, so willing to serve God in any way she was able, the millions of other Jewish mothers throughout the centuries whom have given their lives, whose families have been torn from them by those who wish to destroy everything we as Jews hold dear. Sometimes in life the real meaning of what it means to be a believer, to have a faith in God gets swept up in the shallowness of the world we all live in, what we wear, cars we drive, houses we live in become of utmost importance to us, imagine a world where religion was about true faith and none of the those things really matter, where we do not judge people on outside appearance.

The big picture is the second one. I know a couple of people who are tragically severely ill.  The words the big picture have been on my mind recently, talking to people who do not know, as Chana did not what tomorrow may hold has taught me a tough life lesson. Recently I had words with someone I hold very dear to me, it was a silly little thing that grew in to a frosty silence.  Looking at the situation it occurred to me, does it really matter? Is the big picture being lost here? We have so much to live and love for, do the silly little petty arguments we hold on to, we let grow, let the bitterness come alive, really matter? I know that I value her friendship and with that thought I will move on and hold on to the big picture, in which I can see friendship, help and support when we both need.

The final, and the biggestone is gratitude, we live in a generation where our lives as Jews are not under direct threat, ( we never know if another Holocaust is around the corner though) we can walk in the street, shop in any store, send to Jewish schools and live an openly religious life. How grateful we need to be to be born in to this generation. Tonight I am holding a Chanukah street party in my home, in our lovely little street resides, Hindu’s Christians, Jews and I am sure some atheists live dotted around. We will all come together tonight, in unity, in friendship to celebrate what Chana did not have, freedom, appreciation and joy.  I am comfortable in the knowledge that none of my neighbours want to cut my throat for being a Jew ( well I hope not anyway… that wouldn’t make for a party atmosphere) and tonight we will celebrate that unity, and who knows maybe learn to respect each other a little more.

Wishing you warmth from the light, hope from the flames that grow each night and love from the family and friends you will be with.

Sara xx

 

 

New year, New Anxiety

Anxiety seems to be the flavour of the month.

My Anxiety levels have shot through the roof over the last few weeks.

It is an interesting thing anxiety, as I have got older and had a child new, random worries pop in to my head, and create a nice cosy living space in my mind, settling down, rearing up and stretching at different times, for example a couple of my new anxieties include, pigeons, the sly creatures.. they hide out, under cars, behind dustbins and in trees and then swoop down when you are least expecting.  Escalators, oooo escalators are pure evil, I imagine a hook nose professor, deep underground in his cave, cackling and rubbing his hands together with glee as he invented them, they loom up, mocking you, daring you to step on, go down in to the abyss.

Right now, with the Jewish New Year having just passed, and the holiest day of the Jewish calendar arriving ( Day of Atonement) anxiety levels are sky high, which, considering its all happening up in the sky for the big man is quite appropriate.

God-of-Miracles

The Jewish New Year is vastly different to New Year in the traditional sense, we pray, a lot… a very lot, we eat, then we pray some more, on the day of atonement the order of the day is to stand in Synagogue from morning till night and pray for forgiveness for our transgressions, and that we be blessed with whatever our heart believes we need.

Around Christmas and New Year worldwide, suicide levels rise, anxiety soars and behind closed doors people cry, cry out of loneliness, cry due to their financial situation which can stop someone being able to fully enjoy the day, people cry for those they have lost, and those they ache to be with at a time where family and friendship is all around us.

 

close up of girl covering face
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

New beginning’s are so hard, children find it hard to adjust to going back to school after a long holiday and adults struggle with a forgotten routine, if we add to that the stress of knowing that we stand before God on Rosh Hashana ( the head of the year) and Yom Kippur ( Day of atonement ) it can be overwhelming.

My anxieties are rampant, how much bad have I done this year? how many laws did I break, who did I gossip about, who did I hurt, will those scales in heaven tip in my favour, will it be a productive, healthy year and the list goes on and on.

Bipolar in general does bring with it anxieties, people who have Bipolar tend to become anxious, and have, in addition to Bipolar, general anxiety disorder, so I know I need to keep an eye on the manic thoughts.

There is a concept of Jewish Guilt, we feel it all the time, I know people who have left the religion who still feel guilt years later when living their lives in a secular way.

The guilt is overwhelming, the fear ( even though I truly believe God is loving and wants the best for us) of anything and everything is eating me up and wearing me down.

Wishing one and all an anxiety free, peaceful , healthy in both mind and body new year .

Lots of love

Sara

 

Religion, mental health, leaving the path and more….

The subject of a direct link between a person suffering a mental health issue, and religion ( the orthodox way of practicing religion)  has always fascinated me.  In the Jewish religion, especially amongst teenagers, a vast number of people whom have a form of a psychriatric illness are leaving religion.

The close knit community I live in is an orthodox one, one where you follow the rules, you dress the same or similar to what is considered the “norm”, you know your neighbours, their family, the school they send to and the synagogue they attend, and a whole lot of judgements are presumed based on the above.   This is in no way a criticism, it is a fact of community, all small communities have their norms and this is just how it is in ours.

For those who find abiding by cultural norms, and are able to follow the unwritten rules this lifestyle can provide great comfort, you know where you stand, you know your role, you fit in, you will feel loved, accepted and can gain immensely from fitting in. But, what happens to those who don’t? what happens to those who despite being raised in a orthodox close knit community feel the need to break free? Feel stifled and caged by the laws and rules that they are born in to? Those who have perhaps been raised in a strict, cold home where following the rules is of utmost importance, and the ability to express any individuality is frowned upon. We live in a world where knowledge is just a click away, any child who wishes to know about the world around them just need to ask a computer, and if raised in a home where questions are frowned upon, where answers, love and warmth are not given readily the questions become secrets, secrets become lies, lies become anxiety and mental health is a downward spiral.

Religion can be a beautiful, wonderful way of life, it can bring stability and warmth, knowing that at any stage of life those around you will be there, by your side, helping, supporting you in any way you need.  I also believe that serving God, to the best of our abilities can be uplifting and provide a life of happiness and love. The Mitzvot (commandments) make sense, the laws are given for our benefit.  Women are not (contrary to popular opinion!) tied to the sink, downtrodden and belittled in Judaism, rather our role is so diverse, and we (sorry guys!) do have all the power!!

We live in a time where more and more teenagers and adults are opening up to others, bringing to light sexual abuse, sexual abuse which was not so long ago an hidden, horrendous and forbidden secret, many people in their 40’s, older and much younger are having memories, or strong desires to finally see their perpetrators bought to answer for their perverse and sickening crimes, when the perpetrator has been an orthodox person, or in some cases a Rabbi, a leader of the community, the victim is full of anger, and that anger is directed to the community, the religion and God, as the person who carried out their sickening desires seems or seemed like a man of God therefore it follows that people who follow this persons God are just like him, and mental health issues arise, upon remembering or opening up, or even keeping the secret inside, boiling over and over follow.

A person suffering a mental health issue in the community, has so much to loose, their siblings shunned by matchmakers, the family shamed and more, although the secret of mental health is slowly being talked about and accepted in communities more readily there is a long way to go, so a person who may have anxiety will have the added burden of keeping it a secret, leading to anger, depression and sometimes suicide, by leaving the community and becoming secular they are more free to express themselves in a way they feel is right for them.

So, why are teenagers and adults, especially those with mental health issues leaving the religion.  Below are some interesting points I came across, whilst researching the link between religion and mental health:

“Early 20th-century interest in religion and mental health was sparked by Freud’s view of religion as intrinsically neurotic. Freud described religion and its rituals as a collective neurosis, which, he suggested, could save a person the effort of forming an individual neurosis. For example, in an early paper, Freud (1907/1924) spelt out the similarities between religious rituals and obsessional rituals. He argued that guilt is created when rituals are not carried out, and assuaged when they are, so a self-perpetuating ‘ritualaholic’ cycle is set up.”

From the above, we can assume Freud was not a admirer of religion, and prescribed rituals, the guilt a person feels, when struggling with religion, when having questions about the way they were raised, questions concerning God and Judaism brings with it guilt, which in turn can bring with it mental health issues.

The way we are raised, how we are taught about God goes a  long way to either enrich or demean our mental health, is God a loving, forgiving one, has He put us here for our own benefit or for His? Does he really exist, what is our role in the world, etc. all these questions and the way we seek out answers go a long way in assuring we have positive mental health.

The below paragraph spoke volumes to me:

Religious factors, it has been suggested, are not always beneficial (Loewenthal, 2007; Pargament, 1997). For example, those who believe in a punishing God tend to have poorer mental health outcomes than those who believe in a benign, supportive God. However, some common suspicions about the harmful effects of religion have not always been borne out. For example it has been suggested that religion often fosters guilt, and this may serve to raise levels of anxiety, depression and obsessionality. Empirically, the effects are not so straightforward. True, generally there is an association between religiosity and measures of guilt and obsessionality, particularly in religious traditions that encourage scrupulous detailed observance, such as some forms of Roman Catholicism, Judaism and Islam. However, measures of guilt do not predict anxiety and depression, and measures of religiosity do not predict clinical obsessionality (obsessive-compulsive disorder, or OCD) (Lewis, 1998). Greenberg and Witztum (2001), in their studies of OCD among orthodox Jews, concluded that religion offers ways of expressing the disorder, but does not in itself foster the disorder.

Living according to the strictest of rules can therefore bring with it guilt, which results in many different mental health issues, but, if we live with these rules through love and devotion, in a positive way, realising that God is there for us, and guilt should not be a deciding factor surely our lives would be enriched.

Lastly, having been in the psychiatric ward, a huge part of people leaving religious lifestyles is living with people who to the day you entered the ward, have been aliens to you,  a strictly observant teen or adult may never have encountered the outside world, may never have spoken to anyone outside of their faith, met people who can dress how they wish, eat what they wish, see what they desire, and speak freely, to a vulnerable person, whom may not get many visitors, may not feel supported by the community due to the secrecy of the nature of their illness this life seems an answer to everything, the anger they feel towards those living close to them, and leading an observant life, is shown by leaving the community, publicly dressing and acting in a way they know will be shameful to their family and community, usually though they are crying out for acceptance and love.

Lots of love

Sara

 

 

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