Trying To Do Nothing At All

Hi everyone!

It’s been a while since I’ve written and it feels good to be back with you in this space. I hope you are all safe and healthy and managing well.

This week was exhausting. Lots of doing with little progress, as if I’d been running in place.

I cooked like a short-order chef, cleaned until the house smelled of Clorox, ran the bajillionth load of laundry since we locked down, and choreographed a series of staggered grocery deliveries to arrive between now and Shavuos. One night, I colored my hair, but missed a splotch of grey. The next morning, I gave myself a mediocre pedicure. I tried to write, but instead spent two days trapping an elusive fly the size of a fighter jet that buzzed non-stop around my office. I told him he could have my chair before I gave up and left the room. I sunk a basil plant into the ground, knowing I haven’t the energy to fight off the bunnies. And after reading too many articles about the pandemic, I resolved never to leave the house again.

But more than anything this week, I was sad. I schlepped that hopeless funk around – daydreaming in mid-vacuum, worrying about the present, worrying about what comes next. I felt conquered. I cried. I wished for certainty, or at least a window of clarity, both of which seem to have slipped through my hands, if they were never mine to hold in the first place. I sat outside in the late afternoons to get some sun, to bring in a bit of light, but it didn’t help as much as I’d have liked. And I prayed, asking G-d for a lot. Maybe even a chutzpadik amount.

As the week draws to an end, I’m starting to think I’ve gotten it all wrong. Maybe sad isn’t the right word for what I’ve been feeling. Perhaps it’s more apt to call it the frustration born of trying to move forward, only to discover that all the roads are being repaved, that the map of the world has been redrawn, that we really know very little for sure. Yet my gut tells me that it’s likely also acceptance of my own very human limitations at the hardest of times.

Thank G-d, thank G-d, Shabbos is here, come to save me from myself. To remind me that I don’t always have to be strong, that I can lean into my faith to keep me standing, that I don’t have to carry the weight on my own. That it’s okay if I can’t always hold the pieces together. That sometimes, doing nothing at all is what gets you where you need to go.

Wishing you all a beautiful Yom Yerushalayim and a restful, peaceful Shabbos.

Love,

Merri

Always Listen To Your Stomach

Back in the early years after the fall of Communism, I lived in Budapest as the Joint Distribution Committee’s Ralph Goldman Fellow. My boss was a man named Moshe Jahoda z”l, then JDC’s country director for Hungary.

Moshe escaped with the Kindertransport from Vienna to Palestine soon after the Anschluss. But his parents and sister stayed behind, and they were later deported and murdered in Auschwitz. He went on to build a life in Israel and a meaningful career, fighting for the needs of aging survivors and devoting himself to the causes of the JDC and the Conference on Jewish Material Claims against Germany. Yet his past – and his losses – informed everything he did. 

He was a hardworking, insightful man who cared deeply for his family. His personal history gave him an aura of gravitas, though he had a wry sense of humor and a boyish twinkle in his eye that did not dim, even as he aged. He still had it the last time I saw him — during a visit to Israel not long before he passed away. 

Moshe, whose yahrzeit was observed last month, was my mentor and moral compass, both during my time in Hungary and for the next 12 years we worked together at JDC. Still, his parting words of advice on the day I left Budapest for New York in 1993 are what have stuck in my heart all this time. 

I was on the cusp of several major life decisions. Moshe knew some of the questions on the table in front of me and intuited the rest. And he understood, with his unique brand of kindness, their weight in the present and what each choice might foretell for the course of my life.

He said, “Merri, listen to your stomach, not your brain. Your intellect will convince you of anything. But your stomach will always tell you the truth.”

Life is a stretch of decision-making, from the fun choices – chocolate or vanilla? – to the more challenging ones that affect our families, health, and future. A lot of water has flown under the Danube since Moshe gave me that advice years ago, and I’ve since had to make many decisions, some that have been out-of-the-box, raising eyebrows instead of allowing me to slip under the radar. But Moshe’s words have not failed me yet. And the older I get, the more grateful I am to have that wisdom in my heart.

He’s on my mind as we head into Shabbos. May his memory be a blessing.

Wishing everyone a beautiful Shabbos. Gut Shabbos!  Shabbat Shalom!