We gather in a living room, and over tea each participant has a turn to share
How are you? Three simple words used countlessly in our daily conversations. When do we feel comfortable enough, though, to reply, honestly? When do we have the time? And whom do we trust with our answer?
I’ve always been struck by the encounter between MosheThe quintessential Jewish leader who spoke face to face with God, unlike any other prophet, and who freed the people from Egypt, led them through the desert for forty years, and received the Torah on Mt. Sinai. His Hebrew name is Moshe. and his father-in-law, Yitro, in the TorahThe Five Books of Moses, and the foundation of all of Jewish life and lore. The Torah is considered the heart and soul of the Jewish people, and study of the Torah is a high mitzvah. The Torah itself a scroll that is hand lettered on parchment, elaborately dressed and decorated, and stored in a decorative ark. It is chanted aloud on Mondays, Thursdays, and Shabbat, according to a yearly cycle. Sometimes "Torah" is used as a colloquial term for Jewish learning and narrative in general.. Upon meeting, the Torah says, “And they asked after each other’s well being.” Basically, a biblical version of “how are you.” The Hebrew is more precise and poetic: va’yish’alu – and they asked, l’re’eyhu – to their neighbor, l’shalom – to peace. These three words resonate deeply when I think about what it means to be in relationship with people: a notion of inquiry, being deeply curious, friendship or shared experience, a belief in the commonality of all parties, and wholeness, seeking peace and comfort in each other’s well being.
Recently at my place of work, Base Hillel, we’ve tried answering this question of “how are you” with a bit more intentionality. “How You Feeling” is a support space for people in their 20s and 30s living with depression and anxiety to gather monthly and share emotional updates with one another. Some of us knew each other from before this gathering, some came as strangers, but over the months a community has formed.
We gather in a living room, and over tea each participant has a turn to share an article, a poem, or a piece of Torah to spark conversation or reflection. The latter half of our time is devoted to each person having the opportunity to share a personal update. Once the participant is done sharing, she says, “I have spoken” or “dibarti” (in Hebrew), to which the group replies, “Thank you for sharing.”
To some, this might feel too ritualized. Do we need a support space just to have a check in? Isn’t that what friends are for? Undoubtedly. And in Manhattan, when one in five New Yorkers struggles with depression or mental health, when just recently the New York Times reported that the suicide rate in our country is at a 30-year high, we need more intentional spaces to gather and express our humanity and vulnerability. For those of us who attend and participate, it provides a framework for which every participant can come and bring their full self, without judgment or fear.
As a rabbi, I feel it is important to break the barrier between the pulpit and the pews, to emphasize the collective wisdom in a room. Stigmas suffocate, too. I facilitate our support space but I also participate as someone who has had a history of depression. It has taken me time to come to a space of releasing my shame regarding this but I believe it is a necessary part of growth. As our daily liturgy reads, “And we will feel no shame for we trust in You.”
The TalmudThe rabbinic compendium of lore and legend composed between 200 and 500 CE. Study of the Talmud is the focus of rabbinic scholarship. The Talmud has two versions, the main Babylonian version (Bavli) and the smaller Jerusalem version (Yerushalmi). It is written in Rabbinic Hebrew and Aramaic. teaches that thousands of Rabbi Akiva’s students died in a plague between PassoverPassover is a major Jewish holiday that commemorates the Jewish people's liberation from slavery and Exodus from Egypt. Its Hebrew name is Pesakh. Its name derives from the tenth plague, in which God "passed over" the homes of the Jewish firstborn, slaying only the Egyptian firstborn. Passover is celebrated for a week, and many diaspora Jews celebrate for eight days. The holiday begins at home at a seder meal and ritual the first (and sometimes second) night. Jews tell the story of the Exodus using a text called the haggadah, and eat specific food (matzah, maror, haroset, etc). and ShavuotShavuot is the holiday fifty days after Passover and commemorates when the Israelite liberation from Egypt culminates with the giving of the Torah. Traditionally, Jews study in an all-night study session, eat dairy products (one interpretation is that the Torah is like milk to us), and read both the Ten Commandments and the Book of Ruth.. That’s the period of time we find ourselves in now. The reason for the plague was attributed to the simple fact that Rabbi Akiba’s students did not treat each other with loving respect. This was the same Rabbi Akiva who taught that a great Torah principle was to love one’s neighbor as oneself. All of us – our communities, our leaders, ourselves – can remedy this oversight, be truer students of Rabbi Akiva, and ask with lovingkindness after each other’s mental wellness.
Rabbi AvramAbraham is the first patriarch and the father of the Jewish people. He is the husband of Sarah and the father of Isaac and Ishmael. God's covenant - that we will be a great people and inherit the land of Israel - begins with Abraham and is marked by his circumcision, the first in Jewish history. His Hebrew name is Avraham. Mlotek is co-founder of Base Hillel, an organization that empowers pluralistic rabbis to turn their homes into meeting points for Jewish engagement. He is married to YaelA female character in the Book of Judges who is instrumental in the Israelites' obtaining the victory that Deborah had prophesied. When she encountered the enemy king Sisera, Yael invites him into her tent. She feeds him milk to make him drowsy and, when he fell asleep, she murders him by driving a tent peg through his temple. Kornfeld, a geriatric social worker, and proud father to Ravi and Hillel.