My Most Personal Review: Einstein and the Rabbi by Naomi Levy

My interest was piqued regarding Einstein and the Rabbi simply with this featured post:

And the book recommendation did not disappoint one bit, upon starting.

“A human being is part of the whole, called by us ‘Universe, ‘ a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts, and feelings as something separate from the rest–a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness…” –Albert Einstein

When Rabbi Naomi Levy came across this poignant letter by Einstein it shook her to her core. His words perfectly captured what she has come to believe about the human condition: That we are intimately connected, and that we are blind to this truth. Levy wondered what had elicited such spiritual wisdom from a man of science? Thus began a three-year search into the mystery of Einstein’s letter, and into the mystery of the human soul.

Back in late 2016, looking desperately for a way to reinvent myself or, at the very least, like when I heard myself talk, I overheard a lesson by Rabbi Reuven Fierman on TV that would come to change the course of my life over the next two years.

Sometimes something breaks through to you. It may be an unexpected feeling of ease or even holiness while you are simply enjoying a moment with a loved one. Or it may be the power of the words you read or a melody you hear, the power of being at one with nature, the power of praying in community, the power of a teaching, the advice someone gave you long ago. Suddenly the lesson you need to hear isn’t just washing over you—it hits you deeply.

At the time, influenced by every culture but my own, I was startled to hear a Rabbi state: “Not all that is written in the Torah is the real physical truth as it is,” which was eerily similar to what I’d told my mother before, who was by then already deep into returning to our roots. “The Torah writes what we can understand, not what specifically happened.” And that’s all it took to hook me in.

I started listening and delving deeper into the Jewish philosophies the Rabbi shared, which include lessons on parenting with joy, the truth of love, exposing classic writers and artists for the antisemitism in their works, positive psychology, the different levels of the soul, wartime, Holocaust culture, and so much more that came to shape all that I am today.

It’s become this phenomenon in every book I read or any lecture I listen to, where it all circles back to, “Oh, that’s like Reuven Fierman said in that one lesson.” Or, if I disagree, “Oh, that’s like Reuven Fierman said in that one lesson on how not to act.”

The past year I’ve delved deeper and deeper into the roots of Judaism, and I never thought it would come to save me as much as it did.

Have you ever wondered: Why do I say stuff I don’t agree with? Why am I so quick to turn to anger? How do I establish more meaningful relationships? How do I turn the world around me into a better place?

The other day, my mom viewed this powerful scene from the film The Edge of Seventeen that clicks everything together about sensitive souls stuck in a place that doesn’t accommodate them.

“And I don’t know how to change it” captures best the feeling of isolation I experienced throughout my growing up, like there was this invisible bubble serving as a buffer between me and the outside world with no handy tools to pop it; I could poke and move the bubble around but it was still very much there.

And I need to remember my contemplative thoughts about how I got through that stage, in case the memory slips away with time, so I’m writing this personal post. In a way I owe it all to my mother; it always comes back to my roots. My mom was the one listening to that fateful lesson by Rabbi Reuven Fierman on TV that I managed to walk right by as he said the puncturing sentence that stopped me in my tracks.

I’ve grown and learned so much about the power behind choosing to be who you want to be, thanks to these valuable and encompassing life lessons. AND IT’S AVAILABLE AT THE CLICK OF A BUTTON… FOR FREE.

My personal favorite lessons in Hebrew (Available for English listeners here and Russian listeners here):

You’re not unnecessary. It’s not all or nothing.

  • Being grateful and voicing it so the other side can feel it too. Saying ‘thank you’ because it is a recognition of the light of Hashem that appeared between you. Also: How do you appreciate what happens to you, not what actually happens to you? It’s not the reality that determines, it’s your absorption: http://www.meirtv.co.il/site/content_idx.asp?idx=22657&cat_id=3702.
  • The biological origins behind anger, the rush of adrenaline it provides, and identifying tiny triggers that sets your body on alarm, all of this revolutionized my perception regarding my anxious thoughts. You’re mind is essentially going through all these loops when little things happen that can spiral down to receiving the rush of adrenaline and anger of “I’m in danger.” So it’s up to you to research yourself in modes of anger: what triggers it (heat, crowds, etc.), what’s the root, how do you react… http://www.meirtv.co.il/site/content_idx.asp?idx=22668&cat_id=3702

And with all that off my chest, this is where Einstein and the Rabbi by Naomi Levy steps in. It took me quite some time to fully complete this reading journey, only upon reaching the chapter Knowing You Are the Right Man for the Job did I realize what kept me from reaching for this book throughout the month: the author spent half of Einstein and the Rabbi, talking about neither Einstein nor the Rabbi, but rather focuses on themes and ideas they represent.

I came to cherish this book for the vulnerable tales from the author’s personal life or from the people she encountered, so it took me quite some time to push through those chapters that are just full of advice. I do have to say, the author knows how to tell a story expertly and make us live through it, instead of revealing all the details ahead of time.

Key moments from the book that stayed with me:

  • Judith and her Buchenwald boys. This chapter made me blink back one too many tears, starting with this passage:

“The adults were expecting to receive pitiful, well-mannered children grateful for any drop of kindness. That’s not at all what they got. The boys were exploding with rage. They were suspicious of everyone. They were petrified of doctors, who reminded them of Dr. Josef Mengele, the infamous sadist of Auschwitz. The boys hardly spoke at all. They were violent, and they obsessively stole and hoarded food.
Many of the boys couldn’t even remember their names. Whenever an adult asked a child, “What’s your name?” he’d answer by calling out his concentration camp number. The boys all looked alike, with their shaved heads, emaciated faces, and the black circles around their cold, apathetic eyes. They didn’t know how to laugh or smile or play.”

There’s rarely any talk of the survivors right after escaping hell on earth, and this was a gripping account.

  • The author, Naomi Levy, coping with the grief for her beloved father.

“We went to visit the Kotel, the Western Wall in Jerusalem. I walked up to the wall and at first I just touched the ancient stones. Then I got closer and closer and I smelled it.
I smelled the Kotel. And the Kotel smelled like my father. It didn’t smell just a little like my dad, it smelled like my father’s armpit!
There I stood, eyes closed, with both of my arms outstretched, leaning against the wall so hard that I couldn’t tell anymore if I was standing up or lying down. Just lying there with my nose in my father’s armpit. And I began sobbing. The wall melted.”

  • The story shared of her friend Rachel that puts explicitly on the page how one moment can change your life, for better and for worse. From being the one judging people to suddenly “She said to me, “I was hated. I was the evil person. I couldn’t show my face to Jack’s family.” It’s frightening to what extent your actions can lead to accepting a pivotal turning point that’ll finally open up your eyes.

“She began praying the morning and night prayers. She told me, “I love that there are words I can say to guide me into the dream state—night is a scary time. And I love that there are words for waking when that harsh pain of returning to reality washes over you.”

This says so much.

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Review: How to Talk So Teens Will Listen & Listen So Teens Will Talk

I wholeheartedly stand behind the belief that through our interactions with children we can learn how to behave respectfully to our surroundings; patience, kindness, and acceptance should be shown to all.

So, picking up this book at the library (where I coincidentally discovered the shelf full of psychology reads I’m about to devour!!) felt like the natural next step in learning more about our methods of communication. Also, I have a nine-year-old sister at home who I want to feel like she’s being listened to as an equal, which is where this book came in handy.

How can I express my honest feelings in a way that will make it possible for the other person to hear me and even consider what I have to say?

I was beyond keen on making sure I’d implement the many useful pieces of advice offered in this quick read: The emphasis put on simply listening and making sure they know you’re on their side, the importance of acknowledging the kid’s emotions and not brushing them off, accusing vs. describing feelings, giving tips on problem-solving, being conscious in your word choice because truth without morality is not truth. Like this brilliant quote I read from Haim Ginott:

“Truth for its own sake can be a deadly weapon in family relations. Truth without compassion can destroy love. Some parents try too hard to prove exactly how, where and why they have been right. This approach will bring bitterness and disappointment. When attitudes are hostile, facts are unconvincing.”

These instances helped me understand the best:

  • Why our “natural” response tends to minimize their emotions:

“I also think it’s natural,” I said, “for parents to push away painful or upsetting feelings. It’s hard for us to listen to our teenagers express their confusion or resentment or disappointment or discouragement. We can’t bear to see them unhappy. So it’s with the best of intentions that we dismiss their feelings and impose our adult logic. We want to show them the ‘right’ way to feel.”

The ultimate goal of a parent is to reach the stage where their kid will have the confidence to listen to themselves and make responsible choices on their own.

“That’s the big challenge,” I said. “To shift our thinking from ‘how do I fix things?’ to ‘how do I enable my kids to fix things for themselves?’ ”

  • On the negative connotations of punishment; opting to use alternatives such as #1 State your feelings. #2 State your expectations. #3 Show how to make amends. #4 Offer a choice. #5 Take action.”

“When you punish a kid, you close the door on him. He’s got no place to go. It’s a done deal. But when you take action, the kid might not like the action, but the door is still open. He still has a chance. He can face up to what he did and try to fix it. He can turn a ‘wrong’ into a ‘right.’ ”

Also: the four-panel comics really brought the ideas to life:How to Talk So Teens Will Listen & Listen So Teens Will Talk 1-- bookspoils

Instead of Angry Reprimands

How to Talk So Teens Will Listen & Listen So Teens Will Talk 2-- bookspoils

When Praising Kids

Instead of Evaluating …How to Talk So Teens Will Listen & Listen So Teens Will Talk 3-- bookspoils

How to Talk So Teens Will Listen & Listen So Teens Will Talk 4-- bookspoils

In short:

  • Feelings matter. Not just your own, but those of people with whom you disagree.
  • Civility matters. Anger can be expressed without insult.
  • Words matter. What you choose to say can cause resentment or generate goodwill.
  • Punishment has no place in a caring relationship. We’re all people in process—capable of making mistakes and capable of facing our mistakes and making amends.
  • Our differences needn’t defeat us. Problems that seem insoluble can yield to respectful listening, creativity, and persistence.
  • We all need to feel valued. Not only for who we are now, but for who we can become.”

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Review: Creatures of a Day: And Other Tales of Psychotherapy by Irvin D. Yalom

I started this collection with the intent of re-familiarizing myself with Yalom’s unique wisdom and forthright regard with his patients. And thankfully it started off promising enough by including some much-needed humor to lighten the air between doctor-patient:

Almost able to hear his joints creaking, I took his heavy battered briefcase, held his arm, and guided him to his chair.
“Thankee, thankee, young man. And how old are you?”
“Eighty years old,” I answered.
“Ahhh, to be eighty again.”

This exchange pretty much summarizes the approach of this collection, being that the main theme surrounding each story circles itself on coming face to face with mortality and death anxiety. Plus, a major part is dedicated to dissecting dreams, which I never grow tired of reading through Yalom’s empathic and insightful observations.

“We all face aging in our own manner. I know I’m very old. There is no denying that eighty is old. I’m working less—I see far fewer patients now, only about three a day, but I’m still writing much of the rest of the day. I’ll tell you the truth: I love what I’m doing. I feel blessed to be of help to others, especially others who are facing the issues I’m dealing with—aging, retirement, dealing with the death of a spouse or friends, contemplating my own death.”

Honestly, the constant discussions surrounding death didn’t bother me, until a couple of stories into the book when it suddenly dawned on me that Yalom’s passing would mean no more new therapeutic content… His books read like free therapy consultations that are factually effective for me, so I was glad to have this reassuring read on hand when the thought passed my mind.

“Yes, I know my existence is drawing to a close, but the end has been there since the beginning. ”

The thing that came to bother me then about Creatures of a Day was the rushed nature of the shared exchanges. I realized about halfway through that my issue stemmed from the fact that the cases described were usually short-term sessions, so we don’t see a complete arc of the person’s life, like what I so cherished in Momma and the Meaning of Life & Love’s Executioner, where the stories span multiple weeks, months, etc… So with these ten stories, I was always left hanging midway, feeling like we were about to make progress in the patient’s life, but then being put to a halt because we’d reached the inevitable end. And that feeling of abruptness, with no real sense of closure, came to repeat itself nearly with every following story in this collection.

Knowing what the author is capable of by having read his previous short story collections – which all completely rocked my world – I felt like this wasn’t what I was seeking. Don’t get me wrong, Creatures of a Day still featured the familiar therapy sessions that I’ve come to seek solace in,  but I can’t deny that there just weren’t any major breakthroughs being uncovered for me, like what I’d gotten used to finding in the aforementioned books. I was in need of “a deep and true session” that “enlivens me.”

So then the seventh story, hoping for a tale full of closure and growth, turned my frown upside down with Sally and her sealed away box of writing.

“There are a lot of dark chapters in my life, darker episodes than I’ve conveyed to you, and there are a lot of dark stories in that box, stories that I may have mentioned, but only obliquely, in our therapy. I’m afraid of their power, and I don’t want to get sucked back into those days. I’m very frightened of that. Oh yes, as you know, my family looked good from the outside, but inside . . . inside there was so much pain.”

I felt the utmost empathy at that. And I like how this thought was shared by a previous patient as well. It’s as if a train of thought starts in a preceding story only to be completed by the following patient.

Perhaps, if I had known going into this that the book follows only short-term sessions, I would’ve felt more prepared and welcoming. But I do have to give credit to Dr. Yalom for always being able to “offer something of value even in a brief consultation.” It’s no easy feat when you consider the circumstances.

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Note: I’m an Amazon Affiliate. If you’re interested in buying Creatures of a Dayjust click on the image below to go through my link. I’ll make a small commission!