It’s Israeli Independence Day – and I am sitting here in the wildly leaping heart of Jerusalem. The fireworks are expressing themselves something beautiful. The streets are exploding with foamy spray & sticky with Gold Star. But I am at home. My kids are sleeping and all known babysitters in existence are out “getting their drunk on”. Plus I work at night. And apparently not everyone celebrates Yom Ha’atzmaut in this country.
Which is how it came to be that I spent my Yom Ha’atzmaut evening doing therapy with Mona, a lovely woman from Bethlehem. Every week she braves the border between our two estranged towns to come here for our “sacred talk sessions”.
I will admit, as we sat down to our work there was a small and lamentable voice in me that wondered, “Why in G!d’s name am I here doing therapy with a woman from Bethlehem – tonight of all nights?! Shouldn’t I be out there teeming with the masses? And more than that, shouldn’t I be out there teaming up with MY team? You know, the Israel team. Not the Bethlehem team. Not the Universal Team. But My Team. On this of all nights!?”
I quickly put that nontherapeutic voice away. After all, I know and trust that everything happens for a reason. So I turned the dial to ‘Curiosity’ rather than ‘Regret’ and opened my heart to listen – to this woman – to the moment – to the way that G!d articulates Light in the most unexpected ways. I trusted that this was my Yom Ha’atzmaut for a reason.
And so Mona spoke, as clients are wont to do, about her week, her feelings, her pains. We zoned in on her squeakiest wheel. Her self-doubt. At work. In the face of criticism. Especially undeserved criticism.
She called the place where she worked a “big fat dysfunctional system”. The therapist in me knew to poke around for a link back to her family of origin. And, yes, there it was, blatant and begging for attention. That ancient pattern etched deep inside of her. A critical mother. A Loveless father. And her, the little girl, hurt, scared, unseen. Mona’s work space was the perfect storm, the precise replica, of all her deepest childhood pains.
Thankfully, there is often that point in a good session when THE SHIFT HITS THE FAN. When a shift happens and the healing rushes in. And this was a good session. Mona had entered her childhood pain — thoroughly and fearlessly. And felt it. Remarkably, through that feeling the shift slipped in and a reframe came shimmering through.
Suddenly, instead of experiencing her reality as that helpless chastised little girl, Mona started to see things through her adult eyes, through healed eyes. And with that shift she realized so magnificently, “Wait, I don’t have to be the victim here. I am a nurturer. I want to nurture the space where I work. I can create the functional system I am most yearning for. If I want a work environment full of positive feedback and praise, then I must be the one to offer that positivity & praise. It’s that easy.”
Suddenly Mona was envisioning herself as the mother of this poor dysfunctional family of endearing characters at her work. As a mother, she sincerely wanted to see this family flourish and succeed. As a mother, instead of fearing their looming critiques she felt concern for them, not for herself. As a mother she was an active giver to the system, not just an unfortunate recipient of its ‘crazy’. She realized she didn’t just have a job, she had a vocation. And a vocation worth nurturing.
Yes, perhaps she had been unjustly criticized. But that wasn’t her focus now. Her focus was, “How can this family best flourish? And how can I be the one to make it happen?” – Mona left the session beaming and eager to greet the next day, no matter the critiques that might come her way.
As she left, back to her side of the tracks, my thoughts gently fell upon Israel, my Israel. This big fat dysfunctional system where we work & play. This place that is the perfect storm trigger of all of our childhood pains and national traumas.
How often I feel like the victim here. Daily even. I feel like the victim of Anti-Semitism, of terror, of wildly undeserved criticism. Daily I am exasperated and steeped in resentment.
And, admittedly, it is not without reason. Yes, it is true that Israel is being attacked relentlessly, unduly blamed. I have no doubt of that truth. But the real question for me – tonight at least – is not, “Is it true”….but rather, “Is it helpful?”
Is it helpful – for me – for you – for anyone – to steep in resentment-enriched victimized pain? Will that really help this country thrive? Or is there a better way to nurture our undeniably shared reality in this region?
After all, in Israel we are inextricably interwoven with our Arab neighbors. G!d made it this way for a reason. And I must trust that it is a good reason. We are not just independent, we are interdependent…whether we like it or not. Might as well find what there is to like about it. Might as well create something more likable.
So tonight I chose to love this big fat dysfunctional system for all its wonders, its quirks, its ills.
Tonight I chose to mother this estranged family of brothers, sisters and cousins that is the Middle East.
Tonight I will feed this patchwork mishpacha with praise and positivity.
Thank you, Mona from Bethlehem, for making my Yom Ha’atzmaut.
Thank you for your Interdependence.
I look forward to the day when Jews and Muslims will have cause to celebrate – together – beneath peaceful fireworks, on Israel’s sticky interweaving streets.