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Food Insecurity?

            I was talking to my nutritionist about how I panic when I do the experiment where I have to stop eating mid-meal to check in on my hunger levels, and she said, you are food insecure.

            Huh?

            I thought food insecurity only referred to people who legitimately don’t have access to enough food, because of poverty, or living in a food desert. It felt melodramatic to think of dieting as a cause of food insecurity on that level – but the more I thought about it the more I realized that the nutritionist was right.

            Being on a diet means imposing food insecurity on someone who should not otherwise lack nutrition; imposing scarcity on someone who lives in a world that is full of good food. Why are we willing to do this? Why are doctors willing to encourage this?

“Why?!”

            There is something unnatural, even cruel, in imposing a diet that doesn’t match the food that is readily available (gluten free food for millions of people who have no actual allergy to gluten, anyone?). It’s like saying to someone who lives on the beach, you should never swim. Or to someone who lives in the Alps, you should never ski; and you are a terrible, ugly, gluttonous person for even wanting to ski. And so many diets are based on passing fads and half-finished research, rather than on any real understanding of the role food plays in our lives, so that the rules we have to follow aren’t just cruel, they are also, often, wrong. The fact is, food has never been simply about nutrition. If we forget that, we forget large parts of who we actually are and where the disorders in our eating habits even come from.

            Each time I have regretted taking on the no-diet rule of Intuitive Eating this year, because I’ve been gaining weight instead of losing it, I’ve checked in with myself and realized that I did not want to return to the constant panic and deprivation that comes with diets – whether they are low calorie, low carb, or low anything else. The severe diet I tried over the summer – to deal with stomach pain symptoms – was all the reminder I needed that dieting is no way to live.

“We agree. No diets for us.”

            But thinking about food insecurity as being caused by something other than actual food scarcity made me think about all of the other artificial scarcity situations we create as human beings. Simple things, like forcing ourselves to work sixty hours a week when we don’t need to, or forcing ourselves not to cry because it looks weak, or forcing ourselves to be fiercely independent instead of relying on the people around us when we need help.

            I grew up in a middle class home. We were never poor, and yet, we frequently couldn’t afford the things we wanted, or needed, because my father withheld the money. He had it, he just chose not to spend it on us when he wasn’t in the mood (other times he would spend money on us, but only on things he wanted for us). We also went to school with a lot of people who were upper middle class, and compared to them we were poor. We got small presents for each night of Hanukah, while some of our classmates got presents worth hundreds of dollars each night. But we were not poor. We were abused and neglected by our father, but we were not poor.

            The fact is that abuse and neglect lead to an experience that is so similar to poverty that it can be hard to tell the difference. If you are food insecure, love insecure, and safety insecure, what good does it do to know that your father could afford to pay the bills if he chose to?

            The work I’ve been doing with Intuitive Eating this year has most often been about teaching myself to understand that food is always available, and never off limits, so that I can learn to decide what and when to eat based on actual hunger, rather than on the fear that the food will disappear if I don’t eat it right away. This work has taken much longer than I’d hoped, and, of course, the food represents so much more than just food. My panic at deprivation is so deep that it feels as if I’m being threatened with death, rather than just momentary hunger, when I choose to stop eating a little bit early.

“Hunger is awful.”

            The work of recovery is ongoing, and seems endless at times, but just when I think I’ll never untie a difficult knot, it loosens, and five other knots loosen with it, like magic. So I will keep working on this, and working on reminding myself that I don’t have to live in scarcity, because the things I want are available now. It’s such a hard lesson to learn, though, and food is just the first step.

“We could eat.”

If you haven’t had a chance yet, please check out my Young Adult novel, Yeshiva Girl, on Amazon. And if you feel called to write a review of the book, on Amazon, or anywhere else, I’d be honored.

            Yeshiva Girl is about a Jewish teenager on Long Island, named Isabel, though her father calls her Jezebel. Her father has been accused of inappropriate sexual behavior with one of his students, which he denies, but Izzy implicitly believes it’s true. As a result of his problems, her father sends her to a co-ed Orthodox yeshiva for tenth grade, out of the blue, and Izzy and her mother can’t figure out how to prevent it. At Yeshiva, though, Izzy finds that religious people are much more complicated than she had expected. Some, like her father, may use religion as a place to hide, but others search for and find comfort, and community, and even enlightenment. The question is, what will Izzy find?

Why I eat in front of the TV

            The one rule that I have never been able to stick to in every diet I’ve ever been on, is don’t eat in front of the TV. The reasoning for the rule is that when you watch TV you go into a dissociative state – you are focusing on the TV characters or the story or the horrible news, or the sound effects, and not on yourself – and therefore you are likely to overeat. But distracting myself from myself is pretty much the point of watching TV. I find my own thoughts overwhelming, especially my own thoughts around food.

            I haven’t had a problem with other aspects of dieting – I can drink enough water, and exercise, and use small plates, and eat-this-but-not-that, and reduce portion sizes – but I can’t turn off the TV. If I were only allowed to eat at the dining room table, with no distractions, I think I might starve to death – because food just isn’t worth that kind of suffering.

“I don’t understand.”

            This sounds crazy, I know. But I think the problem started because nightly family dinners were one of the most consistently awful parts of my childhood. And it was consistent. My parents, who didn’t believe in regular chores or bed times, believed in eating dinner together as a family, every night, no matter what. I couldn’t escape to eat alone in my room, or say I wasn’t hungry, or even leave the table early. Those were just not options in our house. When I found out that other families didn’t always eat dinner together, I was shocked.

“Sometimes I like to eat alone too. So, stop following me.”

            We didn’t eat “kid food.” I heard about families where the kids ate fish sticks, or chicken nuggets, or refused to eat vegetables, or only ate white food, but I thought those were fairy tales. There was only one menu for dinner and it had to fit what my father wanted to eat and that was that. There was a time when my brother tried to be a picky eater, keeping his peas away from his meatloaf on the plate, or refusing to eat cream cheese and jelly sandwiches because they just didn’t go together, but that didn’t last. He trained himself to eat whatever was put in front of him, whether he liked it or not.

            My father also had a habit of throwing dishes (if they had minor chips in them), or yelling about having to eat chicken twice in one week, or just yelling because he was in the mood to yell. Otherwise, dinner conversation was most often focused on my father’s problems at work, or arguments about paying the bills, or other adult problems that needed to be solved. There were so many times when all I wanted to do was to crawl under the table and sit with the dog, whichever dog we had at the time, but I wasn’t allowed to do that either.

            I remember Friday night dinners, the worst of the worst of family dinners each week, when we had to stay at the table for hours, with guests, and discuss the news (Jeffrey Dahmer), and the gossip from our synagogue (ugh, don’t ask), and the latest unfairness my father had experienced at work (where they were all out to get him), and listen to my father’s childhood stories, where the moral of every story seemed to be that he could get away with doing any crazy shit he wanted. Everyone acted like all of this was normal, but I didn’t want to hear about the serial killer who ate his victims, or the rabbi’s affairs, or my father’s paranoia. And when I didn’t join in with the laughter or sympathy the way I was supposed to, I became the problem. That was when I became the target of jokes about my sensitivity, my looks, my eating habits, etc. I was a rich target, they told me, because I always “overreacted.”

            I remember a few times in my teens when I desperately wanted to leave the table, and leave behind yet another endless argument about whether murder is really wrong, or monogamy is necessary, or sexual harassment is actually a thing. I was the only one on my side of every argument (Mom abstained, excusing herself from the table to serve food or fill the dishwasher or do pretty much anything else). As the awfulness continued, I actually fell to the floor hiccupping with high pitched giggles, unable to catch my breath.

            I still wasn’t allowed to leave the table, though Mom came over to rub my back and give me a glass of water (which I promptly snorted through my nose).

            My eating habits were already disturbed by then. I was sneaking food past my mother after school, and alternately starving myself and binging on cookies I didn’t even like (either because my father liked them and if I ate them he couldn’t have them, or because they were the only cookies in the pantry).

            I tried, once, as an adult, to force myself to eat at the kitchen table in the old apartment. I put a notebook next to me so that I could write down whatever came to mind, and I sat solemnly in my seat, alone, staring at my food. But I couldn’t eat, or write, or breathe, really. I persisted, one meal a day for a week. If it had led to pages and pages of writing, and insight, and recognition of the emotions behind it all, I might have continued the experiment, but none of that happened. Everything in me just shut down, and all I could do was force myself to sit there and fork food into my mouth, but I couldn’t taste anything.

            So when the week was over, I let myself eat all of my meals in the living room again, in my comfy chair in front of the TV, and color came back into my life and food tasted good again. I knew I was choosing to dissociate from my body, and most of my mind, as I sat there eating in front of the TV, but I also knew that that was the best I could do at that moment.

“We could use a snack.”

            I still struggle to taste the food when I eat at a table with other people. The anxiety is too big and I just eat mindlessly, unaware of hunger or taste or how much I want to eat.

            With my Intuitive Eating project, I didn’t even bother trying to eat away from the TV, even though it’s high on the list of rules, or suggestions. I told myself, and my nutritionist, that this was one rule I knew I couldn’t follow, and if she insisted on it then I wouldn’t be able to continue. But she accepted it. She said that you should only challenge yourself as much as is helpful, because pushing past your limits is counterproductive.

            So, I eat while I’m watching the news, or Christmas movies, or Law & Order. I eat with a towel on my lap, to protect the couch and my clothes. I eat with my dogs surrounding me, begging for my food with their eyes, and then with their voices. And the food tastes good. Maybe someday I will be able to eat dinner at the dining room table (I’ll have to move the dog treats, box of wee wee pads, and containers of snacks first, though), and maybe not.

“What are you eating now, Mommy?”

            In the meantime, I hope I can come to some kind of peace with food, even if I can’t come to peace with the dining room table.

“Tables are overrated.”

If you haven’t had a chance yet, please check out my Young Adult novel, Yeshiva Girl, on Amazon. And if you feel called to write a review of the book, on Amazon, or anywhere else, I’d be honored.

            Yeshiva Girl is about a Jewish teenager on Long Island, named Isabel, though her father calls her Jezebel. Her father has been accused of inappropriate sexual behavior with one of his students, which he denies, but Izzy implicitly believes it’s true. As a result of his problems, her father sends her to a co-ed Orthodox yeshiva for tenth grade, out of the blue, and Izzy and her mother can’t figure out how to prevent it. At Yeshiva, though, Izzy finds that religious people are much more complicated than she had expected. Some, like her father, may use religion as a place to hide, but others search for and find comfort, and community, and even enlightenment. The question is, what will Izzy find?

My Thankful list for Thanksgiving Weekend

I am thankful for my Mom, who makes everything possible.

I am thankful for my dogs, present and past, who fill my life with joy and laughter.

“What do you mean dogs plural?

I am thankful for my blogging friends and my friends-in-real-life who listen and give so much of themselves.

I am thankful for my students, who challenge me and entertain me and teach me and keep me on my toes.

“Like us!!!!”

I am thankful for my family, near and far, who keep me connected to the past and the future.

I am thankful for my Hebrew teachers and fellow students who keep bringing me closer to the dream of seeing and hearing and feeling Israel for myself.

I am thankful for books and TV shows and movies for keeping me informed and entertained and alternately distracted from and attached to the world around me.

I am thankful for good food, especially yummy food like pizza and sushi and chocolate frosting, for making life so rich.

“Did you say pizza?”

I am thankful for my memories, because they make me who I am.

My Dina

I am thankful for rainy days and talkative birds and flowers and leaves of every color and I am thankful for dreams of snow days yet to come.

My Butterfly

And I am thankful for hope, because it has gotten me through so many rotten days when nothing seemed okay, because it allowed me to always, always, imagine something wonderful up ahead.

“I always have hope, Mommy!”

I hope everyone had a wonderful (entertaining, complicated, meaningful, delicious, and peaceful) Thanksgiving.

And a Happy Chanukah to come for those who celebrate!

“Happy Chanukah!”
“I’ll have to think about it.”

If you haven’t had a chance yet, please check out my Young Adult novel, Yeshiva Girl, on Amazon. And if you feel called to write a review of the book, on Amazon, or anywhere else, I’d be honored.

            Yeshiva Girl is about a Jewish teenager on Long Island, named Isabel, though her father calls her Jezebel. Her father has been accused of inappropriate sexual behavior with one of his students, which he denies, but Izzy implicitly believes it’s true. As a result of his problems, her father sends her to a co-ed Orthodox yeshiva for tenth grade, out of the blue, and Izzy and her mother can’t figure out how to prevent it. At Yeshiva, though, Izzy finds that religious people are much more complicated than she had expected. Some, like her father, may use religion as a place to hide, but others search for and find comfort, and community, and even enlightenment. The question is, what will Izzy find?

Traveling around the world with BeamZ

            I don’t remember when the BeamZ ad first showed up on my Facebook feed. I’d been looking for Hebrew language courses some time before then, so my feed was filling up with Jewish-related ads, and this one advertised a free virtual tour of the Jewish Quarter in Paris. Free? Paris? I looked into it a bit to make sure it wasn’t just a scam to get my email address or something, and it seemed genuine, so I decided to try it out.

            Mom and I dutifully sat in front of the computer to see what would happen, and it was, a bit, underwhelming. It was raining in Paris that day, and the host was sort of hitting the end of his rope, telling us that he wasn’t making enough money to keep working as a tour guide and would need to rethink his line of work. His internet connection was also spotty, but there was something about the whole thing; something charming about being on a real time tour of a foreign city.

            The way the BeamZ platform works is that instead of asking for a flat fee up front, they ask viewers to pay a tip to the host if they like the tour. You can pay from two dollars up to twenty dollars (with five to seven recommended), and if you leave early, or feel like it was a waste of your time, you just don’t pay. The guilt for not paying is relieved by the fact that there are so many viewers of each tour at the same time. That arrangement meant that we could take the risk of signing up for more tours, knowing that if we didn’t like the host, or the connection was bad, we could just leave without owing any money or feeling any (or much) guilt.

            I continued to get e-mails from BeamZ, listing more possible tours, and I realized that this wasn’t only a Jewish-centric enterprise; there were tours from Quebec and Tokyo and Vietnam and Amsterdam and Scotland, too. We decided to sign up for another tour, this time to a Flea Market outside of Paris (because Mom is a big fan of flea markets) and that’s when we discovered Patrick. Patrick was relaxed and friendly and knowledgeable, and even though I’m not a flea market/antiques person, I still had a good time. Watching his tour, I started to understand how the platform could really work for a host who could build a following, because there were viewers on the tour who’d been with him week after week, and he kept adding more tours to his list – like a series on sacred places and another on famous Americans in Paris – and hundreds of people were showing up.

“A market for fleas?!”

            On our next Paris tour, Patrick took us to a popular foodie area and showed us the inside of his raspberry pate au choux and chocolate-covered macaron, and walked us through a kitchen supply store and a chocolatier. The immediacy of watching random Parisians walking down the street, some wearing masks and some not, with no one really aware of being filmed, or caring, made it feel like we were really there in Paris, except that I didn’t have to do the walking. And it only cost a few dollars for each of us, instead of having to pay for airline tickets and hotels and transportation. And each tour was only forty-five minutes long, so I didn’t have time to get (too) bored. It was like a little vacation in the middle of the day, and a chance to visit a place I wouldn’t be able to see otherwise.

“Did you say food?”

            I tried a tour of Jewish Berlin by myself, but it felt too much like a history class, and a painful one, because we visited a Jewish cemetery in East Berlin that had been destroyed by the Nazis and remade as a memorial to Holocaust victims. There was a haunting sculpture depicting the people who’d been brought to the Jewish retirement home, in front of the cemetery, when it was made into a detention center for the Jews on their way to the death camps. I made it through the whole tour, and found it interesting, but I wasn’t up to the next three tours in the series.

            We tried a few other tours, to Venice and Quebec and Edinburgh and Loch Ness and Budapest, with mixed results, and then I signed us up for a Tokyo tour. Usually the television coverage of the Olympics is full of stories from the host country, and how the people live their lives, but because of Covid there were only a few overhead shots of Tokyo’s Olympic village, and I wanted more. Our guide, Eriko, walked us through a lotus filled pond – with a walkway running through it – and the lotus plants were as tall as she was! And then we visited a Shinto shrine, and a Buddhist temple, and then we went to a market under the train tracks where they sold pretty much everything, but especially seafood. And there was a candy stall at the end of the market that sold boxes of candy sushi, where you could put together your own little piece of sushi however you wanted! We even saw a pine tree bent by a bonsai master into the shape of a circle! It was placed in front of a Buddhist temple, so that if you looked through the circle you could see another Buddhist temple across the park. Eriko was lovely and seemed to enjoy the trip as much as we did, and we immediately signed up for another tour with her, this time to an area outside of Tokyo called Kamakura, where we could virtually sample Japanese street food.

“Sushi in a cup!”

            And then we went back to Patrick, for a second attempt at Paris’ Jewish Quarter, Le Marais. He told us from the beginning that this tour would be about the sweet and the sour; the memorials to the Holocaust, yes, but also the life of the Jewish quarter today.

            Le Marais means the swamp, because in the Middle Ages the streets in the area were flooded regularly, which is probably why the Jews were allowed to live there. The streets are still what they were in the middle ages, made of cobblestones with a channel down the middle for water to pass through. And there are plaques everywhere to commemorate the French Jews who were murdered in the Holocaust. An especially painful one commemorates the 11,400 Jewish children collected in the Marais and sent to their deaths; one as young as 27 days old.

            One of the main streets of the Jewish Quarter is Rue Des Rosiers – the street of rosebushes – and it is filled with kosher restaurants and pastry shops and Jewish bookstores. Many Jewish people still live in the Marais today and it’s a lively place. I went to the Rue Des Rosiers as a teenager, but I didn’t really know what to look for back then, and I didn’t even get to try the food because I was struggling with a serious eating disorder at the time, so it was so nice to be back there, with Patrick and my virtual friends, in a very different state of mind.

I almost bought that hat when I was in Paris.
This was the best part of my Paris trip as a teenager. By far!

            Some of the streets in the area are set aside for pedestrians, but others have metal poles at regular intervals to prevent cars from ramming into people. Patrick acknowledged that there is still anti-Semitism in France, but he said that there is much more anti-Moslem sentiment among the French. When one woman asked about the number of Jews of color living in France, Patrick told us that French law forbids the counting of people by color, religion, or ethnicity, because of how the Nazis used those lists in the Holocaust, so any count would have to be approximate.

            The last stop on the tour was the Memorial de la Shoah – the Memorial of the Holocaust – which included a wall of names of the French Jews killed in the Shoah (in France they use the Hebrew word Shoah rather than Holocaust). In this memorial, there was a chimney-like installation, with the names of the death camps inscribed on it, and underneath they mixed together ashes from Auschwitz and earth from Israel, to both mark the horror and to provide some form of good burial for those who were murdered.

            The final moment of the tour was the wall of the righteous among nations, listing 3,800 non-Jewish French people determined by Yad Vashem to have helped save Jewish lives during the Shoah. Somehow the balance of the sour and the sweet on this tour was just right.

            There are more BeamZ tours of Prague, St. Petersburg, Glasgow, Lisbon, Barcelona, India, Vietnam, etc…and they’re adding more tours, and more countries, all the time. Covid be damned. My only real problem is deciding where to go next. I’m trying to remind myself that I don’t have to go everywhere right away, because there’s plenty of time to explore at my own pace, if only because Covid doesn’t seem to be going away.

            Cricket and Ellie tend to sleep through these tours, though every once in a while there’s a dog on the screen, barking in a completely different dialect, and they’ll perk up for a second and then go back to their naps. Maybe, one day, BeamZ will do a canine tour of Paris and the girls will be able to take part.

“We’re ready!”

            Until then, in case you’re interested in going on a virtual tour to visit the humans of the world with BeamZ, here’s the link: https://www.beamz.live/

“We’ll wait here.”

If you haven’t had a chance yet, please check out my Young Adult novel, Yeshiva Girl, on Amazon. And if you feel called to write a review of the book, on Amazon, or anywhere else, I’d be honored.

            Yeshiva Girl is about a Jewish teenager on Long Island, named Isabel, though her father calls her Jezebel. Her father has been accused of inappropriate sexual behavior with one of his students, which he denies, but Izzy implicitly believes it’s true. As a result of his problems, her father sends her to a co-ed Orthodox yeshiva for tenth grade, out of the blue, and Izzy and her mother can’t figure out how to prevent it. At Yeshiva, though, Izzy finds that religious people are much more complicated than she had expected. Some, like her father, may use religion as a place to hide, but others search for and find comfort, and community, and even enlightenment. The question is, what will Izzy find?

Intuitive Eating Hits a Roadblock

            I’m not losing weight from Intuitive Eating. In part, that could be because I’ve been feeling really sick to my stomach lately, which clouds my ability to judge when I’m hungry and when I’m full. And I know that part of my inability to lose weight comes from my health issues, because I don’t have the energy to exercise enough to burn extra calories each day, and because some of the medications I take impact my weight. But, according to the Intuitive Eating workbook, it could also be that my body believes it is at the right size already, and I hate that idea. I’d prefer to believe that I’m unconsciously cheating in some way, allowing myself to eat past fullness and just telling myself that I’m still hungry. That would be a relief, because then I could hold onto the hope that when I do everything right I’ll lose weight.

            I’m still working my way through the Intuitive Eating Workbook (by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch), and one of the biggest blocks I can’t move is that my brain still tells me that in order to be a worthy human being I have to lose weight, and preferably have a smaller frame, including smaller feet. Because I am too BIG.

“Do I have small feet, Mommy?”

            The workbook characterizes thoughts like these as part of the Food Police – a set of destructive voices (picked up from diet culture, societal beliefs, and family rules) that try to keep me dieting and believing that I’m not okay as I am. These are the voices that yell at me for eating a piece of chocolate cake, or for buying 2% milk instead of fat free, or for eating carbs or fat, or for eating anything at all.

“I’m the sheriff!”

            One method the workbook suggests for how to deal with these internal messages is to question whether the beliefs are reasonable, and supported by scientific evidence, or not. For example:

            Distorted thought – I have to be skinny to be loved, to get a job, or to be successful in any other way.

Has this proven to be true? There is some evidence that love and attraction is conditional on body size, but it doesn’t really seem to hold true for work or friendship, so this is at least partially untrue.

That method did not feel especially helpful. Another method they recommend for combatting these negative thoughts is to answer them with a more positive, ally voice, like what you’d say to a good friend:

            A destructive statement – I am a glutton and selfish and eat too much and try to get away with everything and never hold myself responsible.

            Ally response – None of that is accurate. You often think too much about others before thinking of your own needs, and many of your needs have gone unmet because you are afraid of taking up too much space, care, attention or money.

            That seemed a little but more effective, so I kept trying:

            Destructive statement – I’m accomplishing nothing and annoying everyone who believes in my potential. I’m not writing enough or losing weight or getting a real job and they will all give up on me.

            Ally response – It would be impossible for anyone to meet all of those goals at once, and making long to-do lists can overwhelm your ability to get anything done. In reality, you work very hard at everything you do, and you’ve made an enormous amount of progress. You are creating your own path and the people who know you well are proud of you.

“Yeah Mommy!”

All of that sounds good, but the destructive voices keep coming back and telling me that I’m making excuses and lying and being a Pollyanna, and they get more creative and more stubborn with every attempt. This is not what the workbook tells me to expect, and I resent that the authors don’t acknowledge that this is a predictable response for someone whose Food Police voices are so deeply ingrained.

“Grr.”

I’m doing my best to keep doing the work anyway, even if I can’t shut down the Food Police or lose weight, but it’s frustrating that even though I stop eating when I’m full, I still feel empty and wish I could eat to fill the emotional void. I started doing a writing exercise from the workbook in the moments when I know I’m full but I still want to eat: I’m supposed to take five minutes to sit with my feelings first and then write down anything that comes to mind, but I don’t have the patience to sit first, so I just do the writing. Sometimes I list the foods I want to eat: like spaghetti and meatballs, or a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, or chocolate chocolate chip ice cream. Sometimes I just rant about how angry, guilty, frightened, frustrated, sad and hopeless I feel about the state of my body. Sometimes I actually try to figure out where all of the feelings are coming from, and what underlying need they are trying to tell me about, which is the stated purpose of the exercise.

Most of the time, just the act of writing seems to be enough to stop my momentum and prevent me from overeating, in that way, the exercise has been successful. But I’ve never finished the exercise and said to myself, aha, now I know what I really need to do in order to feel calm/comforted/satisfied/relieved/finished. There’s some relief in being able to acknowledge that something is missing, and I’ve learned that I can sit with the feelings of pain or loneliness or confusion or anger or sadness, or even hopelessness, and keep breathing. But not for very long. I still want to feel better and lose weight, and I still want the Food Police to go away, and figure out what it is that makes me want to eat more than my body needs.

            My Nutritionist thinks that the real battle behind all of this is that I struggle to respect my body as it is; that the destructive messages and the feelings of not-enough come from an underlying belief that I don’t deserve to be loved as I am. And she wants me to move my goal from weight loss to body acceptance, but I’m reluctant, because I don’t think that goal is reachable. Weight loss, at least, I’ve been able to achieve before; body acceptance sounds like a fantasy to me.

            But I worry that my Nutritionist is right, and that’s bringing up a lot of hopelessness, and I don’t want to feel hopeless. So I’m going to put the goals themselves out of my mind, or off to the side, and just keep going through the workbook and doing the work I can do; and I’ll see where it takes me.

“On a walk?”

If you haven’t had a chance yet, please check out my Young Adult novel, Yeshiva Girl, on Amazon. And if you feel called to write a review of the book, on Amazon, or anywhere else, I’d be honored.

            Yeshiva Girl is about a Jewish teenager on Long Island, named Isabel, though her father calls her Jezebel. Her father has been accused of inappropriate sexual behavior with one of his students, which he denies, but Izzy implicitly believes it’s true. As a result of his problems, her father sends her to a co-ed Orthodox yeshiva for tenth grade, out of the blue, and Izzy and her mother can’t figure out how to prevent it. At Yeshiva, though, Izzy finds that religious people are much more complicated than she had expected. Some, like her father, may use religion as a place to hide, but others search for and find comfort, and community, and even enlightenment. The question is, what will Izzy find?

The Emptiness

            The more successful I become at Intuitive Eating, the more I have to face the sadness of not being able to use food to fill the emptiness. I don’t know why I describe it as emptiness when it seems so full of pain, but it’s so black in there, and it’s all so un-see-able and un-name-able that it appears empty to me. I think I became a writer in order to try to name the emptiness, but I’m still working at it.

“The word you’re looking for is ‘woof.'”

            Is it really sadness that I feel when I tell myself that it’s time to stop eating, or it is anger, or frustration, or disappointment? The first feeling that comes up is that it reminds me of being on the bumpy train with Mom from Paris to Versailles when I was sixteen years old, with no air-conditioning and a severe case of motion sickness. It feels physical, as if there are gears and strings in my belly and they are being pulled and pushed and making creaking noises, just because I won’t let myself eat another two hundred calories of whatever. And every time I try to define the feeling or suggest an activity to distract myself from it, this voice in my belly screams, NO!

“That’s my favorite word!”

            I keep picturing this space as an emptiness that needs to be filled, but the physical feeling is as if I swallowed a sharps container at the doctor’s office and all of these needles and blades are roiling around in my belly. I felt a lot of this as a teenager, but back then the sharps seemed to be in my veins, traveling through my arms and legs and into my skull, and I couldn’t name those emotions either, I just knew that they were unbearable.

            I know all of the things that I’m supposed to try to do in order to fill the void and soothe the pain, like meditation, or a bath, or exercise, or reading a book, etc. Reading and writing are, of course, my reliable old friends, but I’ve also tried different exercise programs and music and movies and craft projects over the years. Knitting used to help, and then coloring and puzzles. But sometimes the emptiness is so persistent and so prickly that nothing works. All I can feel is the sharp, bristling, feathery pangs of something as it scrapes across my insides and whispers hopelessness to me over and over again.

            In fact, a lot of the activities that are supposed to be soothing – like meditation or yoga or baths or massages – create more panic and agitation for me, and stir up the sharp things that live in the emptiness, instead of calming them down. It seems so unfair to have all of these weapons aimed at me from the inside.

            I think some of what’s in the emptiness is a need to fight or flee, even as my body freezes in place and waits for the danger to pass. It would be like catching a humming bird in a glass ball and feeling the endless beat of her wings while she can’t get out. The endless activity and rapid heartbeat and desperation for escape all lead to utter exhaustion, with no sign of an enemy anywhere nearby to explain the need to fly away.

            I keep hoping that if I can name the sharp things, and bring more light into the void, then I’ll be able to soothe the pain, but that hasn’t worked yet.

            Part of the problem is that the panic – that there will be no way to soothe the whatever-it-is that I can’t even name – is profound. And eating something often does stop the panic. The panic is then replaced with shame at overeating, and hopelessness that I will ever lose weight, but the chaos and the panic do subside with food, and in that moment, that’s the most important thing.

“Food is magical!”

            So here I am, feeling the sharp things in the emptiness, resenting them, and trying not to use food to solve the problem. Now what?

“Have you tried chicken?”

If you haven’t had a chance yet, please check out my Young Adult novel, Yeshiva Girl, on Amazon. And if you feel called to write a review of the book, on Amazon, or anywhere else, I’d be honored.

            Yeshiva Girl is about a Jewish teenager on Long Island, named Isabel, though her father calls her Jezebel. Her father has been accused of inappropriate sexual behavior with one of his students, which he denies, but Izzy implicitly believes it’s true. As a result of his problems, her father sends her to a co-ed Orthodox yeshiva for tenth grade, out of the blue, and Izzy and her mother can’t figure out how to prevent it. At Yeshiva, though, Izzy finds that religious people are much more complicated than she had expected. Some, like her father, may use religion as a place to hide, but others search for and find comfort, and community, and even enlightenment. The question is, what will Izzy find?

Intuitive Eating and Where I’m Struggling

             One of the basic arguments against dieting, in the Intuitive Eating Workbook is: A diet mentality is the false belief that weight loss leads to happiness. But this has always felt true to me. As a kid, I was unhappy, and I wanted to believe that there was something I could do to fix it: if I could blame all of my unhappiness and loneliness on my weight, then I could at least hope that someday I’d feel better. In reality, I have lost weight over and over again, and it has never resolved the depression or self-hatred or loneliness, and yet I’m still afraid that if I let go of the belief that weight loss will make me happy, I’m letting go of the hope that I will ever be happy.

            And it was reassuring to have a diet plan to follow. I’ve stayed on diets for months, or years, despite losing no weight at all, because the sense that I was doing the right thing made me feel better, even if it didn’t help me reach my goals.

“Two chickens a day would reassure me.”

            I crave a diet plan to tell me what to eat, how much to eat, how to prepare it, and even when to eat it. Diets feel like safe containers for someone, like me, who has learned to believe that food is dangerous and unpredictable; for someone who is overwhelmed with too many choices and who believes, fundamentally, that her body is wrong and must be controlled and limited and made smaller.

            The problem is that the diets themselves perpetuate those beliefs about the dangerousness of food and the dangerousness of my body. The diet tells me that I can’t survive without it; that I will crash and burn, and there is no alternative, except maybe for another diet. That’s why this transition to a no-diet life is so damn hard; because there is no plan, no safe container, just impossible lessons to learn, like: trust yourself, honor your feelings, respect your own body and wisdom.

            I’m no longer on a specific diet plan (Like Weight Watchers or Noom) and I’m not counting calories or avoiding carbohydrates or fats, but I still have the endless voices in my head telling me that I shouldn’t eat this and I shouldn’t eat that, and if only I lost weight I’d finally be happy. And the voices aren’t just in my own head, they’re everywhere.

“I hear them too.”

            The frustrating thing is that the research on diets has been clear: the majority of people who go on diets gain the weight back, and often gain even more than they’d lost in the first place. And it’s not just that diets don’t work, they actually create health problems, because the cycle of weight loss and inevitable weight gain is worse for the body than maintaining a weight above what the charts suggest. But no one I know actually believes the research. So, are we all in a collective delusion? And how do I escape from a belief system that is constantly reinforced?

            Doctors have been some of the worst offenders in creating shame around my weight. They have blamed any and every health issue on my weight, even when it was clearly unrelated, and they have had no interest in hearing that my health has never improved as a result of weight loss.

            I recently had to see the gynecologist for my yearly checkup, and she said that my health is good except for one thing and you know what that is. But I didn’t know, because I could think of a number of issues that are currently impacting my health. But before I could even try to answer her non-question, she said, it’s your weight. And, she said, You just need to eat less. Then she proceeded to show me what a small portion of food would look like, with her hands.

“No doctors!!!!!!”

            Aside from the fact that I probably know more about dieting than she does, and that the size of food doesn’t determine its caloric value, what she’s ignoring is that being on a diet and just eating less has taught me to feel like a bad person for eating anything.

            When I read in the Intuitive Eating Workbook that if I am hungrier on a given day then I should eat more, I was sure that that rule shouldn’t apply to me, because, of course, I would lie to myself about my hunger level, and sneak food past myself.

When the Intuitive Eating Workbook told me to respect my cravings and learn how to eat those foods when I crave them, and then to stop when I am full, I didn’t know what to do, because I was always told to do anything and everything to distract myself from cravings, and to never give in to them. I was supposed to drink water, or take a bath, or go for a run, to avoid eating the food I really wanted to eat, even if I had no interest in doing any of those things. I automatically assume that if I crave something, or even want something with any intensity, then I shouldn’t have it. I’ve read so many articles that say craving a food is a sign that it is bad for me, and that I will crave exactly the foods I am allergic to and that’s how I’ll know I’m allergic.

            But is that true? Are the things I feel most strongly about the things I should avoid? Then what am I left with? How do I decide what to do if wanting to do something is a sign not to do it?

            Who came up with this shit in the first place?

“Um, you said a bad word.”

            During this year of social distancing, a lot of people have experienced cravings for human contact, cravings so strong that they broke safety protocols to go out to parties or bars or restaurants, because the need for human contact was so insistent. Is it the craving for human contact that’s bad or the way they chose to satisfy that craving?

            My students at synagogue school often crave movement by the time they arrive after a full day of school. They crave it so much that if I don’t create a safe and productive way for them to move, they will move in whatever way they can. I can choose to create a safe environment for them to move in, or I can choose to ignore their need and leave them to disrupt the class or drive themselves crazy, but either way, the kids are going to move; not because they are bad kids, but because they are human.

“Like me!”

            Can I accept that in myself too? Can I ever find a way to give myself permission to be guided by what I want, without worrying that I’m taking the road to hell?

In a recent visit with the nutritionist she said that I was confusing taste hunger with physical hunger, because as long as the food still tasted good I still wanted to eat. Ideally, she said, the yummy taste of the food would diminish as I became full, but that has never been my experience. So we planned out a very specific sequence of actions for me to check in with my physical fullness, and my taste hunger, separately, with the commitment that I would rely on my physical feeling of fullness to tell me when to stop eating, even if the taste hunger persisted.

I want to believe that I can learn how to do this and find a healthier and happier way to eat and live, but it still feels like a fairytale; like something I want to believe in that can’t possibly be true. I still live in a world where everyone thinks they need to be on a diet, no matter what they weigh. I still live in a world where we have no realistic idea of healthy sizes for different bodies, and we judge each other based on standards that fit almost no one. How am I supposed to ignore all of that noise and suddenly learn to trust myself?

            I don’t know yet, but I will keep working on it.

“We’ll eat the leftovers. To help you.”

If you haven’t had a chance yet, please check out my Young Adult novel, Yeshiva Girl, on Amazon. And if you feel called to write a review of the book, on Amazon, or anywhere else, I’d be honored.

            Yeshiva Girl is about a Jewish teenager on Long Island, named Isabel, though her father calls her Jezebel. Her father has been accused of inappropriate sexual behavior with one of his students, which he denies, but Izzy implicitly believes it’s true. As a result of his problems, her father sends her to a co-ed Orthodox yeshiva for tenth grade, out of the blue, and Izzy and her mother can’t figure out how to prevent it. At Yeshiva, though, Izzy finds that religious people are much more complicated than she had expected. Some, like her father, may use religion as a place to hide, but others search for and find comfort, and community, and even enlightenment. The question is, what will Izzy find?

Intuitive Eating

            For my birthday this year, at my request, Mom got me an appointment with a nutritionist recommended by some of her friends who specializes in Intuitive Eating, rather than in creating meal plans or excluding certain foods. I’d found a book on this subject years ago, called When Food is Love by Geneen Roth. It was an exploration of how to teach yourself to feel your hunger cues, and trust your body to tell you what and when to eat. I could relate to so many of Geneen Roth’s stories about her own childhood eating issues and I was inspired by her journey to making peace with food, but I couldn’t translate her lessons into my own body and my own eating. I ended up going back to calorie counting, and then counting points, and then excluding categories of food altogether, and on and on. But it always stuck with me that, one day, I’d really like to be able to eat when I’m hungry and stop when I’m full.

“I’m never full.”

            My first visit with the nutritionist, on Zoom, was promising. She has experience working with people with trauma backgrounds and autoimmune disorders and a history of eating disorders, so nothing I said was shocking to her. And she was kind. Much kinder than I am to myself.

            I have been dieting since I was a kid, and I’ve had bouts of anorexia and binge eating and over-exercising and excessive dieting since then. My body is not built along the lines of the perfect American woman I see in magazines, or on TV, who is either taller than me with spindly bones or shorter than me with spindly bones. I am big boned. Even when I was anorexic and fainting from lack of nutrition, I could never get thin enough to fit into the skinny-girl clothes at the mall, because my bones stuck out. My mom was scared, because she saw that I was starving myself, but most other people thought I was just barely thin enough. Even my doctors weren’t concerned, though I was thirty pounds underweight for my frame, because they were looking at the wrong charts.

            The assumption behind every diet I’ve ever been on is that my body is wrong and bad and needs to be fixed, and I have believed that my whole life, but Intuitive Eating will require me to learn a new way of talking to myself, and I’m not sure I can do it. One of the first things the nutritionist told me was that I may have to accept my weight as it is; that people can lose weight with Intuitive Eating, but a lot will depend on what’s right for my body, not my expectations for my body. This is a hard thing to hear, because I feel certain that my body isn’t meant to be its current size, and that if I were a good enough person I would reach my ideal weight without effort.

“I’m perfect just the way I am.”

            I’m working on balancing out my meals, adding more protein to breakfast and more vegetables to lunch and more fat here and there, so that I feel full at the end of each meal. The nutritionist suggested that I replace the peanut butter powder in my overnight oats with real peanut butter, and the almond milk with Fairlife milk (high protein and lactose free). And she suggested making snacks ahead of time, like trail mix and bean salad, so that when I’m starving I won’t just reach for cookies.

“Did you say cookies?”

            But that’s the easy part. It’s sitting down and recognizing where I am on the hunger scale, from 0 (starving to death) to 10 (so full it’s unbearable) before and after each meal that’s getting me frustrated. I struggle to tell the difference between the kind of hunger I feel first thing in the morning, when my stomach is truly empty, and the hunger I feel after breakfast when I want to eat more but I don’t know why. I’m trying to honor my hunger, and eat when I think I need to eat, but it’s hard to differentiate between physical hunger and emotional hunger, or even my long-trained instincts to eat certain foods at certain times of the day. Keeping a hunger journal is forcing me to look more closely at why I’m eating, and what I’m feeling and thinking as I eat, and it is uncomfortable every time. I’m also afraid that moving away from the dieting mentality will lead to weight gain, because I believe that there are monsters inside of me and if I don’t set strict eating rules they will take over and make themselves visible to the outside world instead of just to me.

“Monsters?!!!!!!”

            My therapist is excited about this new eating project and has high hopes that the work will help me get in touch with deeper issues that I’ve been avoiding for too long. But I’m scared. What if I’m still not ready to deal with those feelings? What if overeating is the only thing that works to soothe the pain?

            After I cancelled my Weight Watchers membership, they sent me an email survey, asking if I’d be interested in a new plan with them that would involve being connected with doctors who could prescribe diet medications through Zoom, and that idea is sitting in the back of my mind, as a temptation and a get-out-of-jail-free card in case Intuitive Eating is too hard for me. But I hope I don’t fall into that trap again. I want to be at the point where I can accept myself as I am, and sit with my feelings when they are uncomfortable. I just don’t know if that’s possible. Yet.

If you haven’t had a chance yet, please check out my Young Adult novel, Yeshiva Girl, on Amazon. And if you feel called to write a review of the book, on Amazon, or anywhere else, I’d be honored.

            Yeshiva Girl is about a Jewish teenager on Long Island, named Isabel, though her father calls her Jezebel. Her father has been accused of inappropriate sexual behavior with one of his students, which he denies, but Izzy implicitly believes it’s true. As a result of his problems, her father sends her to a co-ed Orthodox yeshiva for tenth grade, out of the blue, and Izzy and her mother can’t figure out how to prevent it. At Yeshiva, though, Izzy finds that religious people are much more complicated than she had expected. Some, like her father, may use religion as a place to hide, but others search for and find comfort, and community, and even enlightenment. The question is, what will Izzy find?

Shabbat Morning

 

Shabbat is the weekly Jewish holiday of rest. It starts at sundown on Friday and ends after sundown on Saturday. The theoretical, biblical, reason for a day of rest is, of course, that God created the world in six days and therefore took a well-earned break on day seven. But really we all need a day of rest each week, even if we didn’t create a whole world by ourselves. (I’m pretty sure I need more than one day of rest in seven, but this isn’t the time to quibble).

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Cricket believes in resting seven days out of seven.

I grew up going to synagogue every Saturday morning, first for junior congregation with the other kids, and later to the adult services, which lasted two and a half hours and ended with Slivovitz (plum brandy) and gefilte fish. But it’s been a long time since I went to synagogue regularly on Saturday mornings. Instead, I go on Friday nights, because my synagogue is more of a Friday night kind of place. We only have Saturday morning services when there’s a Bar or Bat Mitzvah to celebrate, or a holiday that falls on Shabbat. So, for a long time now, I’ve treated Saturday like, well, any other day. A day to do chores, make appointments, get my work done, etc. I took the time out for Friday night services as my weekly celebration of Shabbat and felt like that was enough.

I didn’t realize that I was really missing those Saturday mornings until I started to teach Synagogue school on Saturday mornings at my synagogue and was able to sit in on the children’s service. We all sat together in the first few rows in the sanctuary, with the Rabbi sitting right in front of us and leading us through the short service in a very relaxed, informal sort of way. When we read the morning blessings, the Rabbi asked everyone to share a recent accomplishment, or an exciting event coming up, or a difficult problem we needed support with, and the kids raised their hands. They shared about their new braces, and trips to Disneyworld, or New Jersey, and injured wrists, and newborn siblings. I didn’t have the nerve to speak up, but their openness inspired me. It was prayer as a chance to check in with our community and ourselves, and take a deep breath (or ten) and feel the natural holiness that we bring with us into the room.

And then we drank grape juice and tore through Challahs (really, these kids can do some real damage to a very large loaf of bread), and went to class. The mood of Saturday morning class is so different from the after-school rowdiness of synagogue school earlier in the week. We can meander through a discussion and hear from everyone more fully, and share our outside interests in music and Lego and animals and bring them into the discussion of the Torah lesson for the day, knitting together the ordinary and the holy.

Shabbat was hard for me growing up, because Shabbat was one of the battlegrounds my father chose to fight over. He made us walk six miles to the orthodox synagogue, and he stopped us from watching television or doing homework. The day became a wasteland, with nothing to do and nowhere to go, because we didn’t live in a Jewish community with other people in the same situation. And it wasn’t restful at all. It didn’t feel holy or sacred to replace the toilet paper in the bathroom with tissues, just to avoid ripping paper on Shabbat, or to cover the light switches with plastic to keep from turning the lights on and off; it felt more like prison.

For years now, I’ve had therapy on Saturday mornings – either group or individual – and I accepted that I couldn’t go to Saturday morning services at a synagogue, because I knew that therapy was more important. But I realized that I liked this Shabbat School version of Saturday morning prayers. I liked that it didn’t take hours, and we didn’t have to dress up, and we did get to talk, a lot, about our actual lives. This past week the cantor ran the children’s service, and we all sat in a circle-like clump on the floor to sing along with him and his guitar, and then to breathe together, and then dance together, and I thought, yeah, I could do this every week. If only my dogs could be invited.

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“I wanna go!”

Cricket and Ellie know all about rest and holy time, and they don’t need as many memory aides as humans do to help them get to that peaceful, connected place. They just need the birds singing to them in the morning, and the air filled with smells from near and far, and a few chicken treats and cuddles. Though I really would love to see Ellie dancing along with the kids at Shabbat school, and she would love to share their Challah. Cricket would probably steal the whole challah and hide it under the ark, where only she and the rabbi could find it. But they’d probably enjoy that too, hunkering down in the sanctuary to share bread.

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“Did you say Challah?!”

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“I could eat.”

What’s a community for, really, if not to take time out to share good food, and sing, and maybe even dance?

 

If you haven’t had a chance yet, please check out my Young Adult novel, Yeshiva Girl, on Amazon. And if you feel called to write a review of the book, on Amazon, or anywhere else, I’d be honored.

Yeshiva Girl is about a Jewish teenager on Long Island, named Isabel, though her father calls her Jezebel. Her father has been accused of inappropriate sexual behavior with one of his students, which he denies, but Izzy implicitly believes it’s true. As a result of his problems, her father sends her to a co-ed Orthodox yeshiva for tenth grade, out of the blue, and Izzy and her mother can’t figure out how to prevent it. At Yeshiva, though, Izzy finds that religious people are much more complicated than she had expected. Some, like her father, may use religion as a place to hide, but others search for and find comfort, and community, and even enlightenment. The question is, what will Izzy find?

 

 

The Slow Fast Day

 

The summer when I was ten years old I lived in the bunk behind the bunk, at my sleepaway camp. My bunk was added on behind the popular girls’ bunk for our age group; they had a lot of light and windows and a porch facing the public, and we were hidden in back, invisible. There was a thin wall separating the two bunks, and we had to listen to the soundtrack of Footloose all summer long through that wall.

There was a girl in my bunk who was sort of my friend, but mostly not. She was the one I’d made fun of the summer before, in my aborted attempt to fit in with the popular girls, and our friendship was on a teeter totter. She was pretty, but strange, and from different evidence over the years – promiscuous behavior at a young age, severe memory lapses, a changeable personality – I realized later that she was a sexual abuse victim, like me. That could explain why I was drawn to her, even though she was often mean to me. She could say awful things, or ignore me for large swaths of time, despite the itsy bitsy size of the bunk we lived in together, and I still accepted her friendship when it was offered.

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“I understand.”

And then came Tisha B’Av. The Ninth day of the month of Av, on the Jewish calendar, commemorates the destruction of the first and second temples in Jerusalem, in 586 BCE and 70 CE. Over time the fast day has come to represent a long list of catastrophes in Jewish history, maybe because we need more relatable grief to hold onto, like method actors, in order to effectively mourn the loss of two temples we’d never seen, and a kind of life that none of us had ever experienced, with high priests, and animal sacrifices, and all Jews living in one place.

Tisha B’Av is regarded as the saddest day on the Jewish calendar, but generally goes unnoticed in the liberal Jewish world, except in Jewish summer camps, like the one I went to for five summers as a kid. For one full day, from sunset to sunset, we were prohibited from eating or drinking, washing or bathing (aka, no swimming). Fasting is a tool used by all kinds of religious and spiritual practitioners, because it works; depriving the body of food starves the brain of needed Serotonin, creating a neurochemically induced state of depression. Kids under thirteen are supposed to be excused from fasting, but most of us did it anyway.

The summer when I was ten years old, we trekked to the other side of camp and to sit on the basketball court in the dark when Tisha B’Av began. We sat on the ground, by bunk, with a single candle in the middle of each circle, and we listened to the older kids chanting the book of Aicha (Lamentations) in Hebrew. It was haunting, and sad, even though no translation of the text was offered. The next morning we went to services again, all together as a camp for the only time all summer, but then the rest of the day stretched out before us with no distractions, no food to eat, and no activities to keep us busy. Our counselors were felled by the fasting and most likely by the lack of caffeine, because no food or drink also means no coffee, and they didn’t have the energy to sit with us and talk with us and offer comfort.

That year we were all hanging out in our tiny bunk, to escape the heat, bored to death. All of our negative feelings were let loose in the bunk with no safe place to lock them away, and we just lived in the undifferentiated soup of our emotions for hours. Maybe that darkness, and the desperate desire to do something to disperse it, explains what happened next.

I don’t know where our counselors were, but the girl in my bunk who was sort of my friend and sort of not, decided that I needed a haircut. That was the summer when one of the girls had brought Judy Blume’s Forever to camp, and let everyone borrow it. It was the first book we’d ever read with a sex scene in it, and people were reading it in hushed voices, after dark, with flashlights. The brink-of-puberty thing left me open to a lot of criticism: for my bland clothes, my plain brown hair, my lack of makeup, etc. For some reason, this girl focused all of her frustration on me that afternoon, and offered to cut my hair, to make me look presentable. I don’t know if it was hunger, fatigue, or humiliation, but I agreed to stand over the sink in the bathroom while she parted my hair into bunches and started chopping inches off from the bottom.

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“Eeeek!!!!!!”

Our senior counselor appeared at the entrance to the bathroom when only one bunch was finished. She screamed at both of us, outraged that we would do such a thing on a holy day. Haircut Girl dropped the scissors and walked out of the bunk with a shrug. I stood still, looking in the mirror, feeling guilty for not knowing all of the rules for Tisha B’Av, and guilty for going along with something I didn’t want to do, and guilty for accepting Haircut Girl’s assessment of me as so far below her. Guilty and ashamed and lonely and depressed; it all seemed to resonate with the character of the fast day, and the shame and guilt of the Jewish people for so upsetting God that he would have to destroy our Temple, twice.

My counselor sat me at the picnic table outside of our bunk and put my uneven hair into a French braid to hide the damage, somewhat, until she could finish the haircut herself after sunset. She had to have known that there was an element of bullying in the haircut, but I think she was also confused that I’d gone along with it. She didn’t understand why I’d say yes to such a thing, and I couldn’t explain it without humiliating myself even further. It matters that the girl cutting my hair was the one I’d made fun of the previous summer, mimicking her in front of the popular girls before I realized I never wanted to do that again. Maybe I felt like I owed her the chance to humiliate me in return, except that she didn’t seem to remember any of it. She barely remembered that we’d lived in the same bunk the previous summer. Or at least that’s what she said.

Towards the end of that summer our age group had a talent show, and Haircut Girl asked me to do a dance routine with her. I’m pretty sure I was a last minute replacement when her preferred dance partner dropped out. She would have looked around our tiny bunk and reluctantly accepted that I was the one most likely to agree to do it, because I loved dancing. I would have gone to dance classes every day in camp, if they’d given any dance classes at my camp. I danced unconsciously most of the time, instead of walking, and it’s possible that that played a role in my less-than-cool reputation.

We did our dance routine to “Let’s Hear It for the Boy,” from Footloose, since we’d been listening to the soundtrack all summer. I don’t remember the performance itself, but I do remember the magic of being able to match my steps to her steps as we rehearsed next to our bunk. Did we sing out loud? Or lip sync during the performance? I don’t remember. Were we better friends when it was over? Nope. But for a couple of days we were dancing to the same music, and even smiling at the same time, though probably not at each other.

And yet, I prefer to remember the fast day, despite all of the pain involved. For that one day, each summer, everyone was more real, with all of their light and all of their darkness visible. It wasn’t comfortable, or fun, but it was cathartic. If a fast day hadn’t already existed in the middle of the summer, we’d have had to create something like it ourselves, just to relieve the pressure of keeping up appearances, if only for a moment.

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“Phew.”

If you haven’t had a chance yet, please check out my Amazon page and consider ordering the Kindle or Paperback version (or both!) of Yeshiva Girl. And if you feel called to write a review of the book on Amazon, or anywhere else, I’d be honored.

Yeshiva Girl is about a Jewish girl on Long Island named Izzy. Her father has been accused of inappropriate sexual behavior with one of his students, which he denies, but Izzy implicitly believes is true. Izzy’s father decides to send her to a co-ed Orthodox yeshiva for tenth grade, out of the blue, as if she’s the one who needs to be fixed. Izzy, in pain and looking for people she can trust, finds that religious people are much more complicated than she had expected. Some, like her father, may use religion as a place to hide, but others search for and find comfort, and community, and even enlightenment. The question is, what will Izzy find?