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broken hearted(Trigger warning: This excerpt may be harsh for those who have experienced childhood trauma or who love me.)

My mother tried to kill me.

I don’t say these words lightly nor do I know if my mother’s intention was in fact to kill me. I will never know that. And in truth, the moment she started swinging the butcher knife towards me may not have been a conscious one for her. Marilyn was mentally ill, a drug abuser, and a very sick soul.

But none of this matters. What matters is that I had no where to go to be safe. No one loved me enough to take me in or to protect me from the barrage of eruptive energy that I faced daily. I was alone. Or should I say that I felt alone.

The feeling of loneliness has never left me. My childhood impacted me on a cellular level and while I have family, friends, and tools that fill me with love and often show up when I need to be physically or metaphorically held, it doesn’t always help. The shattered feeling that has been part of my life since birth is still part of my life; it just is. And the good news is that I have filled my world with so many beautiful people that I can usually push through my default sense of loneliness.

My work is to keep showing up, living authentically, and sharing my stories so that others don’t have to be alone and so that we can all inspire one another. And today, I know I can reach out to my tribe. While I will not necessarily ask for help or even share the specifics of what is hurting me, I am so much better at letting those who love me know that I am having a hard time and that I need to be held. Perhaps one day, I will learn to better ask for help.

Back to the knife . . .

As a child I used to love living across the street from my synagogue and celebrating the Jewish holidays. Judaism was always in my blood and the fall holidays when I was in 8th grade were no different. I would walk out of my house, turn right and walk up Pikeswood Drive. I knew just about everyone who lived on my block. Once I got to the traffic light at the top of the street, I felt somehow more relaxed, safe, and free. I would cross over Liberty Road and my synagogue would be awaiting my return. I loved Beth Israel.

The deal had always been that I could stay home from school on the Jewish holidays if I went to Beth Israel for services. This was a no brainer; I loved going to shul, which is what I called my synagogue growing up. I loved everything about the congregation. I loved the services, the onegs (nosh after services), my friends, their parents, and all of the older members. As long as I was at Beth Israel, I felt a sense of solace in my stressful life.

Nearly every Shabbat/Saturday, I went to the morning services and on most every holiday too. After services were over, I would read and do homework during the afternoons and evenings.  By junior high school, now known as middle school, I was a fairly good student. I did have some challenges, but I generally tried to do well.

On the night my mother came into my room swinging a butcher knife, I was so worried about a biology test I had coming up. I hated the teacher who seriously had it out for me. I was hyper-focused and trying to learn the material; I didn’t want to fail. But life took a dark turn that would forever impact any false sense of security I had.

Initially, I was hearing my mother screaming, slurring her words and banging something against my door. This was not unusual, so I tried to ignore it or maybe I screamed that she shut up. By junior high school, I was done withstanding abuse, but that didn’t really change anything. I was bigger and stronger which helped, but my mother was still a mentally ill addict.

When the noise didn’t quiet down, I opened my door in exasperation and was stunned at what I saw. A huge knife getting ready to come down on me or into me or wherever. I was scared shit-less. All I remember is somehow pushing my mother down and hearing her yell obscenities at me as I ran out of the house and to a neighbor. I can’t imagine what my friend’s parents thought of me when they opened the door to see me sobbing and shaking.

Sadly, I only have a vague recollection of what transpired over the next few hours. The police came followed by social services and I was taken away to temporary foster home. As time went on, I realized that no one in the foster care system believed that a young Jewish child could be abused by her Jewish mother.  The nightmare was horrific, but the aftermath was even worse.

Without anyone there to believe me or see me, I was forced to navigate the world differently. And my mother was mortified about all that was going on and begged social services not to put me into a Jewish home. She was really worried about what would the neighbors think. So they did the next best thing, they took me to live with a couple that were active in their beautiful Methodist church. So during my time in that foster home, I went to church every Sunday. Sigh.

So not only did I lose my home, my school, Beth Israel, my friends, I lost my spiritual home. I was really on my own.

Not being seen and not being heard started me on a path of self-destruction. I did drugs with little or no worry for what I was taking, I climbed moving trains and jumped off the top of them, and I had little regard for my life. I wasn’t worthy enough to be heard so I started to embody a life that reinforced just that. I also learned that my voice didn’t matter, so silence became my closest friend. Over time I stopped sharing my stories and started lying. Nothing I said mattered so I learned to share what I thought people wanted to hear.

Months later, I returned home. The alternative was going to a girls’ group home where the girls were brutal to one another. At least at home, I only had to keep myself safe from my mother not another 15 – 20 teenage girls. The good news is that I don’t remember as much violence once I returned. The eruptions never stopped, but I don’t remember any more physical pain upon my return.

But 14 years of hell and many more years of volatile outbursts caused a lifetime of healing ahead of me. While I accepted that I was broken, I also understood that I was a thriver and actually quite whole too. I am a work in progress. My work has always been to keep taking one step and then another. I had lived through hell and I had ultimately found my voice.

And the good news is that my mother didn’t kill me.

Hineini, I am here!

Onward with love, light, and blessings,
Chava

PS: Thanks for reading what will likely be part of my memoir which at this point is being called, Thriving: No Option. . . . If you like what you are reading, please take a moment and like it on WordPress or any social media site, And if you have feedback, I’d love to hear it.

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(Note: To learn more information on #The100DayProject which is also known as #ActivistCardsByChava, you can see https://wp.me/pthnB-3cH.)

Day 12 - Follow Your PassionIn a funny way #ActivistCardsByChava have fueled my passion for activism in a way that I never saw coming. In this moment, I am charged by all the beautiful things I am doing both professionally and through activism.

Just this morning, I woke up and took my 5 mile walk so that I could make sure I took care of myself. If I don’t take care of myself, I won’t be able to do half of the things I want to do.

In the last 36 hours, I have not stopped except to sleep. EVERYTHING I am doing feels like holy work from collaborating on a workshop with two amazing people from the Episcopal Church that post Hurricane Harvey is sharing space at my synagogue to getting ready for a new program/school year at my congregation.  I love my work!

And then there is my work with Door l’Door, my nonprofit which gives Jewish ritual objects to those that lost their homes due to natural disasters. One year, post Hurricane Harvey, I just got off the phone with not one, but two families that are rebuilding their Jewish toolboxes. They lost nearly everything to the floodwaters that would not stop coming. For more information: https://www.door-ldoor.org/ Fortunately Door l’Door will be able to make a difference, we will be able to give them a kosher mezuzah to go on the doorpost of their homes and other Judaica too. This is only due to the generosity of those that have given money and ritual objects to Door l’Door.

And tonight I followed up with the visionaries behind Project Lifeline and let them know that I was ready to recruit some people for our amazing caravan to take supplies to the children in McAllen, Texas. https://www.facebook.com/events/201578690513600/ On September 29, Join Us in Standing Up for Humanity. We need to witness as we try to get the supplies to the children that are missing some of the most basic of needs while being held in detention centers.

And I have been active in political actions as well as seeking ways to bridge gaps between people that simply don’t see things along the same lines. I am seeking to support preexisting organizations that are creating opportunities to listen and share differing political views. I am also working towards becoming a better listener myself.

And I helped a neighbor who was struggling with her precious, but tenacious rescued puppy. Of course, I also took time to love my own rescued puppies, one who is 8 months and needs some serious training. I wasn’t looking for this puppy that desperately needed a home; this spring was not the best time to adopt a puppy. And yet, how could I do anything differently than I did.

Creating these Activist Cards is inviting me to look inside myself and ask, “Am I doing enough? Am I showing up and making the world a better place?” While in some ways, I think what I am doing is AWESOME, I also feel insignificant sometimes and wish I could do more, give more, and be more. But here is the deal, I am showing up with a full heart and a willingness to give it my all.

My passion for life runs deep – always. And I haven’t even mentioned my writing and  nurturing my own family and friends. Life is full, but sometimes there is no tomorrows, so today I am showing up and trying to be the best person that I can be.

I’d love to know what your doing?

Onward with love, light, & creativity,
Chava

PS – I’d love your feedback on my blog, my writing, my thinking, and/or my Activist Cards!!! Feel free to like or comment. I will try to respond to all comments to this blog. Input is always welcome.

 

 

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House of Prayer

Prayer grounds me
Prayer gives me hope
Prayer silences my fears
Prayer reminds me
to dwell in community.

When I walk into MY house of prayer,
I feel safe and supported.
My heart beats and I feel inner peace.
With each breath, my being is made more whole.
Chanting and song lift my spirits, always lift my spirit.
And the spiritual teachings give me a foundation to live or space for deep reflection.

I have always loved my House of Prayer, all Houses of Prayer. And yet tonight, I am losing ground. Nine people were murdered in their church in Charleston, SC. They went to their own House of Prayer perhaps for prayer, a special service, a teaching, or a Bible study. Last fall, four men were killed in their synagogue in Jerusalem.

What can I do about hate? Mental illness? What can we do? What is being done?

gun and bulletsWhat can we do about guns? There is too much power behind those that believe that people have the right to protect themselves. Sure they do, but the cost is high so change MUST happen.

Too many people are dying due to the rampage of those that are capable of such atrocities.  Too many have been killed in school, in churches, at work, in a movie theater, on the streets, and at home. Too many people have been murdered. Seriously, it is time for the gun laws to change. Dammit, it has been time.

I try to bring love, light, and blessings into the world. My entire essence is filled with warmth and goodness. I don’t understand hate or mental illness for that matter. What makes people kill someone’s child, parent, friend, or lover? What makes someone destroy another’s heart and soul? In the aftermath of murder, how do survivors find the strength to move forward and strive for tomorrow?

Most people will find a way to gain their footing again, but those that were forced to face the horrific screams, the pain, and the loss will forever be scarred. And the beautiful souls that reach out as first responders, loved ones , neighbors, and strangers. . . .they will also feel the unimaginable darkness.

May our voices come together and our spirits continue to heal the world. May our actions ultimately make a difference for good.

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Don’t be afraid to tread when you can’t really swim
Dance in the rain and find the rainbows when darkness prevails
Find the good in every challenge that crosses your path
And always soar and reach for your best.
(Excerpt: Sometimes Life Gives Us No Tomorrows
written by Chava Gal-Or)

Have you ever had those moments when your were furious about something only to find that you may be looking at the whatever is happening the wrong way?

One of the most significant practices of my life is to try to find light in the midst of life’s challenges.  I even changed my last name to honor the way I hope to walk in the world.  My last name Gal-Or means wave a light. Years ago I decided to acknowledge that I have mostly been able to find light in darkness or within troubling moments AND I wanted to remind myself to continue to walk the world in this way.  Having said that, I also realize that I am human, there are times when I have to take a moment and reflect.

Over the last few days I found myself reflecting that I really do need to pay attention and to take a deep breathe before allowing frustration to penetrate my heart and mind. As conscious as I am, I am taking a few minutes to openly share exactly how I find the good in the following scenarios.

  1. Accidents happen.  Often times I count my blessings when I am stuck in traffic; I find myself feeling relieved that somehow I was blessed to be running late and missing my potential role in the traffic accident which is just ahead of where I am.  At the same time, I pray for all that are involved in the accident; I never take spiritual or physical health for granted.
  2. Recently, I lost my position at Temple Emanu-El, a local congregation, because of their financial challenges.  For the most part I have chosen not to share the impact of that loss too fully; it wouldn’t serve me well. What I will say is that it hurt my spirit very deeply.  And yet out of the pain, I have come to grips with some spiritual and emotional needs  that I may not have faced so directly if I had not received my walking papers. Living consciously is a powerful gift that I am giving myself.
  3. A few nights ago, my son left all the lights on in the house.  Sigh.  I am so sensitive to light and it ultimately woke me up; I needed to wake up fully so I could turn off all the lights. 😦  To say that I was thoroughly annoyed is an understatement.  So, in order to distract myself and manage some of my agitation I went on Facebook to check out was going on in the world.  And what I found was a friend that was in serious crisis and needed me.  Two hours later, I was profoundly grateful that I could be there for my friend and to help her manage some intense darkness.  If it weren’t for my son’s mistake of leaving the light on, I wouldn’t have been there to listen and to offer some potential ways to navigate all that she needed to cope with.
  4. How many times have you been at a doctor’s office only to be stuck waiting an extra 30 minutes or maybe even an hour?  Well for nearly five years, we were blessed with doctors that didn’t rush my then teenage son through their office visit because they had other patients.  We also had doctors that created a slot for our son because he was too sick to wait.  After such a positive experience with so many medical practitioners, no longer do I get agitated when I have to wait.  Having a doctor that is compassionate and present when we most need him/her makes a world of difference to me.  Ultimately my son emerged healthy and vibrant, but the journey to get there was full of loving souls that really took the time needed to care of my son when he needed it most.
  5. While initially, I may feel frustrated when I get stuck in the Car Repair place or anywhere, but over the years I have come to appreciate the ‘accidental’ gift of time which allows me time to walk over to the coffee shop and take some time to write and people watch.  To me there is nothing better than having time to sit quietly and write and/or people watch.

We never do know what is on our horizons; life happens and so does death.  My job is to try to make the best of every moment.  Sometime the moment is all we have. . . .

Oct 20 - sunrise Pantano WashMay we all be blessed to find the light shining in the horizons.

With love, light, & blessings,
Chava

 

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Living life actively is what I do, but at the same time I have always tended to play it safe within certain parameters.  At least I did until my job situation changed and I had no choice; I had to face my deepest fears.

Expose yourself to your deepest fear; after that fear has no power, and the fear of freedom shrinks and vanishes. You are free.  ~Jim Morrison

On December 16 of this past year, I was called into my executive director’s office at work.  My job had been cut to half-time. The congregation I was working with lost members and our school lost students.  Initially, I was stunned, never had I heard of a Jewish Educator going to half-time mid-year.

Instead of licking my wounds, I started really thinking about what I wanted with my life. Did I want to remain in Jewish Education? Did I want to stay in Tucson or move closer to the water? Could I find a way to focus on ways to grow while also sustaining myself financially.  There was and still is so much to consider.  The questions I was asking myself were endless.

What I had initially decided is that I wasn’t ready to push myself hard to find the ‘right’ position, I needed some time to breathe deeply and consider what I really wanted to do.  And the good news is that while I now had no health insurance, I did have a half-time salary.  Even with everything being strained financially, I was willing to take the time to seek the best working environment for me by deciding what I needed to best thrive in a new work environment.

As the days of my new work situation turned into weeks, and then months, I have been allowing myself the quiet time to figure out what would be next.  I interviewed for new positions and learned how to live with less; I grew angry for what I was enduring and I let the anger go.  I allowed myself to take this journey with few preconceived notions.  I wasn’t sure how I would emerge from where I was; I am still not sure how I will emerge, but I will.

There was and still is a thrill in learning how to live with less and accepting help.  From the beginning, I thought about my needs and wants, my space and how I craved simplicity.  And then my son Aryeh found a job and helped financially.  And then a friend gave me a job as a care-giver for the agency she worked; this allowed me to supplement my income.  When my car broke down, a friend lend me part of the money to fix it and when I was short the rent money one month, it showed up as a gift.  I am still reflecting and learning how to deal with where I am today.

Torrey Pines State Reserve Photo courtesy of David Davidson

Photo courtesy of David Davidson: Torrey Pines State Reserve

The Journey continues. . . .

And then in April or May I learned that the congregation that moved me from Washington, DC to Tucson two years ago could no longer afford me.  Effective June 1st, I was no longer employed as a Jewish Educator.  I had no guaranteed income and I had lost my community.

While I was aware that I could lose my position, I was also hopeful that I could continue working part time as the Youth Education Director.  Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case, the congregation said that they couldn’t afford my salary.  The new reality made it time to figure out the next chapter and quick (or maybe not so quick).

Moving forward is not optional.  Choosing to find light in the dark moments propels me to soar.  Allowing myself time to ask some important questions as I make this new reality work is scary, but feels wise too. With each day, I choose to celebrate the blessings that always surround me. My friends, far and near, have never wavered in their support; the desert mountains and the magnificent skies nurture my spirit even though I miss the ocean.

And in this moment, I am blessed to be working as a care-giver with some amazing people and earlier this week a friend gave me a short-term  freelance job within Jewish education. I seem to be staying afloat for the most part.

Reality 

From the moment I was given my walking papers from the temple, I was forced to look at my deepest fears directly.  As a result, I have always been terrified of not having the money I need to sustain my family with even their most basic needs.  Growing up without healthy food or the clothing appropriate for a girl in the suburbs was hard.   And for the first time in my adult life, I know that I there are times when I may not afford  rent, utilities, or basic necessities.  If something goes wrong, I will not have what I need to make things work.  And yet, I am blessed with friends and a belief that all will ultimately be good.

As a young teenager, my family  didn’t have enough food and the fear of foreclosure was constantly looming. Potential homelessness was a possibility then and now it is again.  And while it would be easier if I lived on the east coast because we do have friends there that would shelter us, my guess is that I have friends in Tucson too.  The beauty of where I am today is that I am beginning to heal from the experiences of my youth; I also realize that I have more tools now.  I understand what it means to thrift shop, borrow, and cook from scratch.  As a child, I really didn’t have the tools to help myself.  And today, I have something I never had before, I have friends and loved ones that are there for me and I am able to find the gifts within the challenges.

I am no stranger to financial struggles, as a Jewish professional (not clergy), I have always just made it financially. And when my children suffered health crises, we sometimes didn’t know how we would afford even their most basic needs. Yet, in the end, all of our needs and many of our wants have always been met often with the help of friends.  For me, darkness always turns into light.

What’s next?

I want to live consciously in all areas of my life.  Being authentic matters whether it is with people, my environment, or the larger world.  My words and my actions should support my beliefs and my spirit.

My foundation is what it is because of the role Judaism has had in my life.  The teachings have given me the wisdom to grow and the room to wrestle. Doors have opened to me because of my many interactions with the social actions of my previous communities.  When one door opens, I often find many other doors ajar.  Some I will go through; some I will not. I am who I am because I listened to the values of my faith and used it as a springboard to move me through life and learning from others.

So now, I have to figure out how to have a career that either nurtures who I am and/or allows me the time to make a positive impact within the world I live.  My hope is that I can do both. I love people and working with people; I also love the idea of working behind the scenes to get things done.  Even though, I have only really worked within the Jewish community, it doesn’t mean that I have to stay there. I have learned so many skills that can take me wherever I go.  I really am looking forward to the next chapter and hoping that it allows me the room to be creative either on or off the job.

My purchases should be mindful of the people and the physical planet I live; my interactions with family, friends, and others should always be sweet and caring.  Living in the world means I have a responsibility for walking gently and lovingly with each step and with each word.  Everything I do matters.

Today, I am considering ways to ignite my non-profit organization, find or create a meaningful work environment, taking time to write, and living into the answers of my many questions.  Today I am fully embracing life.

Each step in this 8 month journey has been scary. Yet it is also exciting to explore what is now meaningful to me and how I will afford my needs for now and into the future.  I don’t have all the answers, but I know that I am trusting the universe and doing what I need to do to move forward.

May today and every day lead us beyond our fears and towards freedom.

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Three Deaths in Two Weeks

The gift is often the challenge.

Professionally, I have always worked within community.  For the most part, I have been blessed to work in the synagogue world.  Within that role, I have had the opportunity to connect deeply with many people from staff to congregants and their families too.  My students, their parents, my teachers, and their families have always become a part of my life.  And now is no different; I work the aged, most if not all are in the last years of their life.  My guess is that regardless of where I work or where I choose to be, I will always build relationships with those that surround me.

People are born; people die.  And in the middle of it all, people live.   They have experiences that fill their lives – including gifts and challenges.

Life is full of cycles

Life is full of cycles.

Over the last two weeks, I have been touched by the strength and integrity of the living and the pain and/or resolve of death.  And in the middle of it all, I have been touched by those that have lived and those that have died.

Three Deaths in Two Weeks

Loving people is what I do; no one is a stranger for long.  All are welcomed into my life including my home.  And within each connection, I try to give fully and be as present as I can be.  Sometimes people are part of my life for moments, sometimes for hours, sometimes for days, and sometimes much longer.  And for that moment that I am blessed to be in a relationship, whether a close friend or for a momentary exchange of words, I treasure the moments however large or small.

Within my work, I build relationships.  And within each relationship, I care deeply.  Whether I connect with people daily, once a week, or only on the holidays, they impact my life and I pray that I impact their lives for good.  Often I do, sometimes I don’t.    The bottom-line is that I hope and pray that most of my connections are full of light and positive energy.  When people go through hard times, I struggle with them – it is simply what I do.  And when they live fully, I celebrate with them – that is also what I do.

Three Deaths in Two Weeks

So far in two weeks, I have gone to one funeral, one shiva minyan (memorial service), and another funeral on Sunday.  I also needed to help transition a client, who is now a friend, to a 24-hour care facility.  She is having a rough transition; her husband is profoundly sad too.  Life keeps moving forward.

Today, I saw a baby in a sling and a toddler eating dinner with his parents and puppy.  I also had a few hours talking and hanging out with my 17 year old son.  Life keeps moving forward.

Life-cycles happen.  I am learning to say good-bye with more regularity than I wish, I am also learning to take note of the life that surrounds me.  The baby, the toddler, the aging, and everyone in between.  I am also noticing the birds and the saguaro cacti; I am watching pomegranates thrive on a tree and flowers open and close on the cacti.  And each evening I look up at the sky and I take note of the moon and her cycle.  I am also waiting and hoping the sky opens up and the rain comes storming into my beautiful desert.

Life. Death. Everything in between.

May I treasure what is and continue to build relationships with the living.  And when people die, may I remember them and honor them by continuing to build connections with the living.

Three Deaths in Two Weeks

People matter and each of these three souls impacted my life for good.

l’Shalom – May their souls go towards peace.

 

 

 

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