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Nicole Arnold's Adventures

My impressions as I boldly go where I have not gone before.

The Company I Keep

Being an Arnold got me out of the house this week on a very slippery, rainy day.  Listening to Hamilton inspired me to send an email to Brene Brown, explaining a theory I’ve been working on.  Affiliating with Kol Ami, gave me the opportunity to grow as a leader this week.  Connecting with the women from my JWRP trip on a daily basis provided a steady dose of love and support.  Really, the phenomenon that I’m marvelling at this week, is a truth that people have understood since the beginning of time.  That’s why there are family mottos.  And mission statements.  They serve to attract, inspire and define.   I believe all of this is happening whether I’m aware of it or not.  The benefit of awareness is that I can proactively choose the company I keep and focus on being attracted, inspired and defined.

When I think about being an Arnold, I embrace stubbornness, the freedom to walk to a different beat and seeking joy all over the place.

Listening to Hamilton inspires me to write, speak passionately and believe in the power of change.

Affiliating with Kol Ami reinforces the power of community, the goodness of contributing my talents to help us thrive as well as the value of building connections based on shared values.

Connecting with my JWRP “sisters” infuses me with warmth and support.

The company I keep could pull me down or catapult me into the stratosphere.  Feeling so grateful to be keeping company with those who help me to bring out my best.

Slackers Unite!

This could also be titled, “Making the Case for why Slacking is Good”

Disclaimer: I have been a lifelong slacker.

I believe that “slacker” is often associated with lazy.  At least it is in my mind.  Automatically following from lazy is bad, which makes sense, since lazy is a hop, skip and a jump away from sloth and sins are widely acknowledged as bad.  Yet, what is lazy?  Someone who isn’t working.  So, if we aren’t working, we are lazy.  Or slackers.  Proof of this is everywhere.  In crossword puzzles, idle is regularly associated with leisure.  When we take time out of our work day to chat with a colleague, we’re slacking.  Or when we go home sick.  Slacking is so much more widely defined than a weekend Netflix binge.  It’s deciding not to take your work home with you.  Sometimes it’s leaving the office for lunch.  Essentially, we are automatically judging ourselves as lazy if we aren’t working all the time or we’re worried that others are judging our non-working activity as slacking.  Crossfit, distance running training and Tough Mudder preparation are all acknowledged as exceptions to this rule.  Cooking for your family could go either way, depending on whether or not it takes place before 7pm.

It sounds both crazy and painfully familiar, right?  I have found that an acute awareness of it is just the beginning of addressing it, because it is so embedded in us individually and collectively.  I understand some of the reasons why that might be:  the continued effects of Puritan thought; fear of our instincts; the belief that self-criticism is the surest route to self-improvement; and maybe most of all, defining ourselves by our paid work – thus spending any time away from work related-activity is discounted somehow.

I also believe I understand the limits of the belief that slacking is lazy – we are robbing ourselves of feeling good about doing something that is essential for our well-being.  Either way, we still slack.  We take breaks and vacations.  We don’t always take our work home.  Sometimes we leave early.  Or spend an hour in the morning comforting a co-worker who is struggling to find the energy to focus, so tired from taking care of a mother with dementia and a son who is scared to sleep alone.  We do these things because they fill important needs for ourselves and for others.  But we judge ourselves as slackers when we do.  Or we worry that others are judging us.  And sometimes we are.

How is slacker actually defined?  Merriam Webster says, “a person who avoids work or obligation”. However, the same dictionary defines slack as a “cessation in movement…” or “…something that hangs loose without strain”.  Slack sounds like rest to me.  Or letting go.  At the very least, pausing.  It sounds functional and desirable.  It sounds mindful.  Definitely not bad.  Particularly, when practiced in moderation.

So, ready to embrace being a slacker? As a lifelong slacker, let me provide you with three easy slacker guidelines:

  • Make time each day to chat with people. Can be about something.  Can be about nothing.  We need the connection and it’s good to bring others into our slacker world.
  • If you’re moving really quickly, ask yourself why. If the reason isn’t immediate or time-sensitive, slow down just a little (slacken up).
  • Practice doing things that you think of as “indulgences” regularly. You’ll find other treats, I promise.  In the meantime, you’ll bring something that you think of as a treat into your daily life.

Slacking is a goodness in itself and also recharges us so we can bring more to the activities that require holding on tighter.  We all want to be slackers.

 

 

In the Wilderness

I have always loved the wilderness as a metaphor for ‘becoming’ in the Torah – and even more so when it became the focus of Katie’s D’var Torah when she became bat mitzvah.  I have had such a sense of ‘becoming’ all day long – from Masada to the Dead Sea to the Judean Desert.  What is it that I am becoming? I’m not exactly sure – but I know what it feels like.  It feels like comfort and joy.

I stood in an ancient synagogue today on Masada singing Shalom Rav with women I had never met before last Tuesday. They truly felt like sisters. It was so beautiful.

I leaned back into the Dead Sea today and floated with women all around me and felt light and in total awe of nature.

I danced in the desert tonight with a scarf in my hair and the smell of fresh pita in the air, feeling free and absolutely exuberant.

When I looked out over the mountains I thought, “This is my homeland – my people have looked at this sight for thousands of years.” It felt to me like both a new and an ancient truth at the same time.

The combination of beauty, love and learning on this trip is feeding my mind, body and soul.  It is the most nourishing petri dish of ‘becoming’.

The State of Imperfection

I sat today in Indepenence Hall in Tel Aviv, listening to a beautiful Israeli named Michal talk about the birth of the modern state of Israel. I could barely believe I was there, looking up at Theodore Herzl’s photo and listening to Ben Gurion’s recorded voice declaring the creation of the State of Israel. I wiped my tears away as I watched so many women around me also wiping their tears away. I was struck by the courage and the vision that was required to form this State. That was so inspiring. What was also inspiring was the understanding that it wasn’t at all perfect. The Magen-David was rotated by 90 degrees. They barely had the text ready. It wasn’t the secret they had planned. The vote had barely passed. It was like a modern day Chanukah story. Really, the State of Israel IS a modern day Chanukah story. And here I am in Israel to celebrate and appreciate the miracle. It is nothing less than unbelievable – but I do believe and I am so inspired.

I’m including shots of Tel Aviv and Jaffa because the sights are so beautiful.

The World is a Narrow Bridge

Gesher Tzar Me’od

Kol ha-o-lam ku-lo Gesher tear tzar me’od

V’ha-i-kar lo l’fached klal

The whole world is a very narrow bridge;

the important thing is not to be afraid.

–Rabbi Nachman of Braslav

These were the words that I sang last night at the Western Wall in the early hours of Shabbat.  With 400 other Jewish mothers.  With dozens and dozens of female Israeli soldiers.  These women, who look still like girls, sang this song with such passion and enthusiasm.  They put their arms around each other and around all of us and danced and sang that the important thing is not to be afraid.  The next time I am afraid or unsure, I will close my eyes and see the bright faces of these women and their love for each other and for Israel and I am positive that I will feel calm and good.

This day was rich beyond words.  I spent the morning looking at the passage of Breshit (Genesis) that refers to Eve as Adam’s helpmate.   This section always aggravates me.  Our teacher, Nili Couzens, gave me a different perspective.  She talked about what being a helper is.  We turn to experts for help – teachers, doctors, lawyers – someone who has something that we need that we don’t have.  That got my attention.  Then she  talked about how mothers play a special role in their family.  I’m so resistant to this idea.  I don’t know if it’s the burden of thinking that I play a role that no one else can or not wanting to be pigeon holed into a certain role, but I could feel the chip on my shoulder weighing heavily.  Yet, what she said next is true for me.  She talked about how mothers are the battery pack for their families.  That we set the emotional tone.  I don’t know if this is true for all mothers.  I don’t even know if it is true for my family all the time.  But I DO know that I have been aware for almost every day of the 15.5 years that I have been a mother. It is quite a powerful thing.  My mood can lift the kids and Pascal and it can also bring them down quite swiftly.  Sometimes, I feel it as a burden.  Often, I feel it as an opportunity to bring what is bright and sparkly about me to my family. I can’t think of anything I am more than a powerful force for good.  What a privilege that I get to offer the very best of me to my family.   I love that I sat in a room this morning with about 200 other women who seemed to feel the same way about themselves.  I love that we embraced it as our power and also understood the need to take care of ourselves carefully because of that.

There are so many ideas and experiences that I will take home from this trip, but this idea feels like the most exciting and important one of all for me.

Wailing at the Wall

When I put my forehead against the cool stone of the Wall today,  I thought of all the Jewish women who had come before me. Praying for themselves, praying for their children, praying for peace.  I thought of my grandmother and how important it was to her to provide her grandchildren with Jewish literacy and love.  I thanked her for bringing me to that moment.  I really felt her with me.  I thought of my future granddaughters and great granddaughters and prayed that they would find joy in Judaism. I thought of the strength of the Wall.  It is so strong. I tried to put my little pieces of paper in the wall. My prayers and thanks. It wasn’t so easy. There were many other papers there. The cracks were hard to negotiate. I think praying is like that. It isn’t always so easy. Sometimes I need to work hard to get into the right frame of mind. It takes focus, effort and determination. But when I was successful and my little pieces of paper were lodged tightly, I felt satisfaction. And connection. My hopes and dreams and gratitude are part of the Wall now. I am part of the Wall.  It is strong and at the same time full of cracks and flaws and so am I.

I was overcome with emotion. The tears that were running down my face became sobs. I wasn’t alone. I could hear women crying all around me. As I moved back to make space for another woman to experience the powerful, tactile experience of praying at the Wall, with the Wall, one of my new found “sisters” took me in her arms. We hugged for a long time, feeling the power of everything around us. The incredible emotions. The intense joy. This is Israel for me. This is Jerusalem.

Surviving and Thriving

I have joined up with my Jewish Women Renaissance Group Project (JWRP) group.  What an amazing group of women.  We are a group of 12 mothers from Thornhill who are travelling with a larger group of 200 mothers from all over the world – Argentina, South Africa, Canada, the United States and Israel are all represented just on our bus alone!  It is really extraordinary.  It is a comfort to me that whenever I find myself crying that I can look up and see tears run down several other women’s faces as well.  It is like coming home in a whole different way.

This morning, we travelled up to Tsfat from Tiberius.  That’s right, for those keeping count I was in three out of four of the holy cities in 24 hours and I have visited all four in the past week.  This is spiritual elevation and today, literal physical elevation in the highest city in Israel.

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You can’t visit Tsfat without learning about Kabbalah.  Our beautiful guide Ayala, taught us the requirements to study Kabbalah: one must be male, at least 40 and self-supporting.  Sexism and ageism aside – my first thought was:  in order to study Kabbalah, someone must be secure.  I’ve been thinking a lot recently about how in order to thrive we really need to not worry about survival.  But is that true in Israel?  Israel is definitely thriving.  So many of the people I met today in Tsfat are.  We went on a tour of the mikvah and I met women who are clearly thriving.  In fact, they were whatever comes AFTER thriving.  These women were positively luminescent.  The drive down to Jerusalem also reflected a country that is thriving.  New construction all over the place.  Everywhere I have gone, I have met people who are sparkly and engaged.  Yet, at the same time, people here are worried about their survival.  Everywhere.  The shopkeepers heavily encourage our business.  People talk about safety everywhere.  I have never seen so many people with guns.  Israel is so full of contradictions and this might be the greatest one that I have understood so far.  That, for whatever reason, it seems that Israel can be focused on survival and thriving at the same time.  I’m going to spend the next week trying to understand how that can be.

 

Oppression at Jaffa Gate

When I woke up to my first morning in Jerusalem last Friday, the first place I went was Jaffa Gate.  The Sandalman’s free city tour was advertised as meeting there.  Lucky for me, as it was the only gate that I fully remembered how to travel to from the German Colony.  Without getting lost even once (which is truly a miracle), I proudly stepped into the crowd at Jaffa Gate that was queuing up for the tours.  I felt empowered and confident, independent and good.

Enter anonymous yucky man.

A man approached me and asked if he could take a photo of us together.  I’m Canadian.  Polite.  Friendly.  Resistant to conflict (except in intellectual arguments).  Also, I wasn’t thinking.  (Katie & Sophie, if you’re reading this, see this as a cautionary tale!). I deviated from two of my grandmother’s regular instructions: 1) Don’t talk to strangers; 2) Keep your knees together and 3) Keep my shaking finger in front of you.  It is to her and my benefit that she did not live long enough to hear me tell this story, because I responded, “Okay”.  Did I want to take a photo with this man?  I did not.  But, I let my discomfort of offending him override my discomfort with doing it.  So, we took the photo.  For the next 10 minutes (felt like hours…) while I waited for the tour organizers to register everyone, he badgered me with questions.  Could he have my phone number? I said no.  Could he come back to my apartment with me later?  I said no.  Could I look him in the eye?  I did for a moment and then said no.  I walked away.  He followed me.  Thankfully, we were divided into tours and he backed away.  I turned and saw that he was sitting on a bench, staring at me.  I made every effort not to look, but kept feeling compelled to check.  Every time I did, there he was, staring at me.  When we left from Jaffa Gate to start the tour, he joined us.  He walked beside me and told me that he had missed me already.  That I was the most beautiful woman he had ever seen.  I told him that he was causing me a lot of discomfort and that I would like him to leave me alone.  After a few parting words he left.

But, he didn’t really leave me.  I looked over my shoulder all afternoon.  Several hours later, when I was walking back from my apartment, I kept looking for him.  Scared that he was following me.  That night, as I was closing my eyes to go to sleep, I had the paranoid sense that he was outside my window watching me.  That feeling I had enjoyed of liberated independence. Of being a capable, empowered traveller had dissipated.  It didn’t leave me completely, but there was a large wound that I was having trouble healing.  I felt stupid for talking to him.  For being friendly and polite.  I felt angry with him for being so aggressive and invasive.

I didn’t think about him (a lot) for the rest of the weekend.  But today, as I prepared to head to Jaffa Gate for the Holy City tour I worried that I was going to see him.  I didn’t wear the dress I had worn on Friday, so I would look different.  I wore my hair up instead of down (really a good choice, given the heat).  I hoped I wouldn’t see him.  Happily, I didn’t see him all day.  But he has left his impression on me.  I will turn this impression into something strong and wise, because I refuse to let him have any more negative power over me.  I pledge to have this whole experience be something positive and good.  But I am still aware of the oppression.  A woman travelling alone is vulnerable in a way that a man is not.  I think a woman like me who defaults to friendly and open is vulnerable to predators like this.  I don’t want to be anything different than what I am.  But I will be more careful.  I will be wiser.  And I won’t give this man power any more than he already has had.  But I have learned (not for the first time, maybe not for the last time) how easy it is to give our power away.  Thankfully, I have also learned how easy it is to take it back.

 

Conversations

I’m wondering if I should have called my blog Nicole’s Conversations instead of Nicole’s Adventures – since it turns out that’s what I’m interested in the most.  Here are some snapshots of the conversations I’ve had since I left Toronto Wednesday night:

On my flight to Amsterdam, I sat beside a woman and man who are originally from Iran.  They identified as Persian Canadians.  We had a series of conversations about Israel, Iran and living in Toronto.  They both made a point of letting me know that not only do they not seek my destruction (as a Jew), they seek my friendship.  And that they feel Iranian leaders do not represent the majority of Iranians well.  It was such a fascinating way to start my trip.

In Amsterdam, I met a group of guys (probably half my age) visiting from Manchester. (As a side note: If there are unfriendly people from Manchester, I haven’t met them.  I have met people from Manchester in Athens, Toronto and now in Amsterdam and everyone was so friendly.  Katie would remind me this is a small sample size.)  I think we had very little in common except for that we love travelling and love conversation. That was more than enough.  We spent about 15 minutes laughing together about various things we had seen and then happily went our separate ways.  As I made my way to the Rijkmuseum, I reflected how perfect travelling conversations are.  You can learn all sorts of interesting things in a short period of time; connect with people in really meaningful ways and then feel perfectly happy to leave them and never see them again.

I shared a cab from the airport with a man who lives in the neighbourhood that I’m renting an apartment.  He was coming back from Kenya.  We talked about the beauty of Kenya, the draw of Israel and the amazing qualities of our children.

On my tour of the Old City yesterday, I met a girl who is studying here for a semester from the Netherlands.  She was drawn to Israel because she’s an engaged/committed Christian.  We talked about what an emotional experience it is to be in Jerusalem and see things that have lived in a mythological place in our heads until now.

Last night, after attending services at Shira Hadasha, I was hosted for dinner by two lovely women and joined by four members of the Kehilla (community).  We talked about all sorts of different aspects of Judaism, ancient history, psychology, politics, healthcare and possibly other topics that the wine I drank made blurry.  All this with really delicious food.  Needless to say, I was in heaven.

This afternoon, after Shabbat morning services (also at Shira Hadasha), I was again a guest for lunch.  I am getting spoiled every which way.   The six women I lunched with have all made aliyah in the past 10 years or so.  The sole man (husband of the woman who hosted) didn’t seem to be challenged by the distinct gender imbalance.  These conversations today were probably my favourite.  People shared travel stories to India, Jordan and England.  We talked about US politics, fear mongering and the West Wing.  I love that these women are liberal and independent in fundamental ways and are also living observant Jewish lives in fundamental ways.

I am travelling literally and figuratively.  I am literally travelling through a city that feels both familiar and new.  Both foreign and like home.  I am travelling spiritually.  I was lifted last night and this morning by song and a visible and energetic love of Judaism and community.  I am travelling intellectually – I have learned so much since I left Toronto, it is taking me to new kinds of understanding, new highways of thought.

Tomorrow, I travel to Hebron.  I’ll make sure to post a full report : )

 

 

 

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