reflections on forgiveness during the Days of Repentance
Editor’s note: We chose to run this piece anonymously out of
respect for the author’s privacy as they continue to go through the process of self-repair
and the rebuilding of relationships. If you think that you or someone you care
about has a problem with alcohol, visit www.chicagoaa.org or call312-346-1475.
A sober alcoholic is on the other end of the line 24 hours a day. The Jewish Center for
Addiction also has
resources to help and can connect you with the Chicago Jewish Recovery
Three memories stand out when I think
about High Holiday services at my childhood synagogue:
1. Mrs. B’s mesmerizing South African
accent during responsive English reading
2. The final shofar blast on Yom
Kippur, captivating and heart-stopping as everyone waited to see which
congregant could hold the longest tekiah gedolah
3. The choir director’s booming bass as
he sang, U’teshuvah, u’tefilah, u’tzedakah ma’avirin et ra ha’gezirah
during Unetaneh Tokef
Little did I know that my subconscious
was indelibly imprinting those moments into my soul, and the words of UnetanehTokef would decades later become a daily meditation for me as a
recovering alcoholic working the 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous.
In the days leading up to Rosh Hashanah
this year, I had the great fortune to mark 33 months of continuous sobriety. My
drinking days were riddled with thoughts and actions that caused physical,
financial, emotional, and otherwise tangible and intangible harms to my family,
friends, colleagues and myself. Some of these actions and their consequences
were evident to anyone within a mile radius of me. Like the Big
Book of Alcoholics Anonymous says, I was a tornado roaring through
town. Other actions and harms were more insidious – a carbon monoxide leak that
no one detects until damage has already been done.
Unetaneh Tokef is a Jewish
liturgical poem sung during the High Holidays, and the booming words etched
into my mind as a child translate to, “But repentance, prayer, and
righteousness/charity avert the severe decree.”
For me, this “severe decree” refers not
to being sealed in the Book of Life on Yom Kippur; it may as well be active
alcoholism, for when I’m drinking, I have no life. In order for me to stay sober
and live a happy and meaningful life, I need to pray, act righteously in
service to others, and make amends for my behavior.
Making amends is the Ninth Step in AA.
It is a process I have undertaken in the past two months (they suggested, of
course, that I complete the first eight steps first). As I spend more time at
work than anywhere else, the most egregious of my harms were in the workplace.
And therefore, the first amends I made were to colleagues and supervisors, past
But how do you approach a woman toward
whom you acted with such hostility, including occasional bouts of profane
ranting, that you were required to have mediation?
How do you look your former boss in the
eye, the one who once asked you point blank whether you had a drinking problem,
and to whom you replied with an adamant "no" only to repeatedly text
them during 3 a.m. blackouts in the final months of your drinking?
How do you work up the courage to
mention once again the unmentionable in your past? How do you quiet the
squirrels in your brain that busily attempt to convince you that you had a
right, a reason, a justification to act the way you did? How do you swallow
your pride, your fear, and everything in between?
Fortunately, there is a somewhat
standard script for making amends:
1. Tell the person you’re aware that
you caused them harm and outline what the harms were
2. Express regret that you acted in
these ways and that they were hurt
3. Tell them how you’re planning to
make things right
4. Give them a chance to tell you about
any harms you omitted or other ways you can atone for your behavior
5. Follow through on what you said,
showing them through your deeds and not just your words that you mean business
The Big Book tells me that if I am
painstaking about making these amends, I will not regret the past nor wish to
shut the door on it. I will comprehend the word serenity and I will know peace.
All sorts of fears will leave me. I didn’t at first have complete faith that
the promises would come true, but I did know that anything would be better than
the hopelessness, shame, loneliness and despair of my final drinking days. So I
shut my eyes and leapt in, embracing the idea that my past was my greatest
And fortunately, everyone I have
approached so far has graciously accepted my apologies. All have expressed that
the past is water under the bridge, that I am forgiven, and that they are
simply thankful that I took the time to talk with them. I hoped for, but
certainly did not expect, such compassion and immediate forgiveness. I am truly
grateful for this.
Even more powerful and unexpected than
the forgiveness from my colleagues has been the forgiveness I have experienced
for myself. I’ve learned that telling the truth and admitting when I am wrong,
no matter how painful and scary, and no matter the potential consequences, is a
freeing experience. And it was, in fact, my past—both the internal mantra UnetannehTokef and all that I had to atone for—that turned out to be an
unexpectedly valuable asset. My past is what has brought about this new wealth
To read more posts in the “Oy! Forgive Me!” blog series, click here.
Between the High Holidays, many
of us are reminded to apologize to our loved ones for our wrong-doings. This
fall, I also find myself ruminating over whether we, women, should apologize
less in our everyday lives.
After Joan Rivers passed away, I
began pondering how a woman so outspoken—and oftentimes offensive—was loved and
respected by so many. Rivers’ persistent, unapologetic and humorous approach
transcended generations. In the end, we all respected Rivers, no apologies
While Rivers began her career by
paving the way for female late-night talk show hosts during the 1960s, many
young people today will remember her as a sassy old Jewish lady with enough shtick to say
whatever was on her mind. Rivers was like an amplified and funnier version of
the Jewish relatives we know and love. She made us laugh, but more importantly,
she also taught women everywhere that it’s OK to speak their minds.
“Sometimes apologies come too
easily and too frequently,” said Juliana Breines, a UC-Berkley psychology Ph.D.
and author of the PsychologyToday.com article “In Love and War.”
“We apologize for things that are
clearly not our fault, not in our control, or otherwise unworthy of an
apology,” Breines said. “Examples include apologizing for being hurt by someone
else’s offense, apologizing for being over-sensitive, apologizing when someone
else bumps into you, and apologizing for apologizing.”
I often find myself guilty of
these “unworthy” apologies and witness many other women behave similarly in
acts of over-politeness.
Breines went on to cite a study
in her article, which found that women may be more prone to over-apologize than
men. Similarly, the study found women reported committing more offenses than
men. In her research, she also found that men might have a lower offense
threshold than women do.
“Women may sometimes be
over-attuned, apologizing for perceived offenses that other people do not find
offensive or even notice,” Breines said.
I could write a novel about how
women are socialized to cooperate and men are socialized to compete—and many
books have already been written on the matter. Evidence of these gendered
socializations can be found in the minutia of our everyday lives.
A couple of weeks ago at work, I
was standing and talking with my coworker and she suddenly sidestepped and
apologized as another coworker crossed into her path. She then shook her head
disappointedly and explained to me that she had resolved to stop apologizing
for the space she’s occupying.
This moment was so simple, but it
gave me reason for pause. I apologize constantly: I move aside when I’m already
occupying a space someone is entering; I rush to apologize when I nearly bump
into someone as we cross paths; I apologize during meetings; I apologize during
large-group discussions when I have a point; I apologize when someone stubs
their own toe, isn’t feeling well, having a bad day, or even when someone else
has treated them badly; and sadly, sometimes I apologize even when the other
person has treated me badly. Generally, I apologize too much for everything,
and when examined more closely, the word, “sorry,” has lost much of its
In a June 2014 Forbes.com article
titled “Why Are Always Apologizing?” contributor Ruchika Tulshyan examined
Pantene’s “Not Sorry” commercial ,
which plays on the stereotype that women over-apologize and should go forth
proudly. Of course, the commercial is about hair, but it’s also a commentary on
how women behave.
The commercial opens with various
scenarios, in which women apologize for asking questions at meetings, for
asking the time, for bumping into someone, etc. The commercial replays itself
without apologies to send the message that women should stop apologizing.
“Saying sorry doesn’t necessary
equate to showing weakness,” Tulshyan said. “But, the commercial makes social
commentary on how women, more than men, feel apologetic about sharing their
ideas, or their space, or … everything, actually.
“This commercial specifically
highlights moments where women apologize when they’re not in the wrong,” Tulshayn
added. “Handing over your child to your partner because you have other things
in your hand? Asking a question in a meeting? An apology doesn't seem to fit.
And yet, I’ve lost count on how many times I’ve heard a ‘sorry’ in precisely
I’m starting to think “I’m sorry”
should not be a catch-all for expressing regret, empathy, sympathy, remorse,
and so on. While women don’t intend for it to be a “tell” of weakness, it
certainly isn’t making us stronger in its overuse.
Breines offers alternatives and
solutions to blurting out “I’m sorry,” which I found useful. She suggests
thanking another person, rather than apologizing for receiving a favor; she
advises to save the “I’m sorry’s” for when they count; avoid repetitive bad
habits when possible; apologize for your share of the conflict and no more;
embrace your own imperfections and don’t apologize for them; and seek support
With the Jewish New Year upon us,
I challenge myself and women everywhere to strive to own the space we occupy,
stand behind our opinions and offer them freely, take ownership over our faults
and our strengths equally, and apologize in a manner that is proportionate to
the problem at hand without compromising our self-worth.
May this New Year give us
strength to trust ourselves more and truly make our “sorries” count.
Just remind yourself: WWJD—What
would Joan do?
To read more posts in the “Oy! Forgive Me!” blog series, click here.
speak, Jewish housewives all over the globe are getting out their finest china,
their crispest tablecloths and their oldest recipes, all in preparation for the
Jewish High Holidays.
these holidays that bring some of my fondest memories with my family. Golden chicken soup with fluffy matzo balls, tart apples with sweet honey and the star of the dinner: the oh-so magical,
dreamy, melt-in-your-mouth brisket. Like many Jewish recipes, brisket gets its
roots from the need to use up some of the least expensive pieces of meat and
transform them into tender deliciousness. As the brisket cooks low and slow,
connective tissue breaks down, leaving a tender piece of smothered meat.
up, my aunt always made the brisket in our family. Every year she tried a
different recipe and every year her malnourished-looking niece (me) licked her
plate clean. Much to everyone’s surprise, brisket was this picky eater’s
become a ritual, I always came into the kitchen and tore off a piece of the
sacred meat and my aunt always asked me, “So, Mila, is it good?” And every year
I nodded in agreement as I sloppily licked the remains of the sauce off my
lips. My aunt’s brisket may not have been perfect, but it was hers and it
was always good.
adult and a graduate of culinary school, my love for brisket has remained the
same. I made hundreds of briskets throughout my career and I was constantly
searching for my recipe. I wanted a recipe of my very own, and I tried hard to
find it. I made smoked briskets, crock pot briskets, French-style briskets and
the very worst – dry briskets. I took an idea or two from each recipe and
moved on to create my brisket.
become my no-fuss, no-muss brisket recipe that I go to year after year.
is anything I have learned from the hundreds of briskets I have made over the
years, the technique is one of the most important aspects. Go low and slow: low
temperature, slow cooking. This will allow the connective tissue to break down
and the fat to melt slowly, leaving you with that ultimate melt-in-your-mouth brisket.
must also always be an acidic component. I use both tomato acid (ketchup)
and wine to allow for a deeper and richer flavor in the meat and the sauce.
thing about this brisket is that it is one pan and FREEZER ENCOURAGED. Make it
ahead of time, freeze it, and let it warm up in a 350-degree oven the day of
service. It will be perfection. Something magical happens when you freeze
foods like brisket, or my amazeballs. It just works! And it could not be easier!
also do it in the crockpot, but my brisket never fits in there when I cook for
the holidays. I have 16 people coming over – lots hungry Russians to feed. I
like to use foil pans for this because I hate cleaning roasting pans … as do
you I am sure. Plus, because I end up freezing it anyhow, it makes more sense
to just do it in one pan.
purchase your brisket, do not purchase it cleaned. Purchase it whole with the
fat still on it. And place the fat side UP when roasting. NOT DOWN.
I made it two weeks in advance. Again, 16 hungry Russians and a Russian-style
dinner is not an easy task. I take all the precooking help I can get.
people will rave, plates will be licked clean and eager fingers will try and
get a slice in before you do. And you will be the ultimate host, with a few
less dishes to clean. Perhaps this time, I will even get a chance to sit down
and have a slice.
pounds of brisket
cups of dry red wine
chicken base (I find it milder than beef base)
dehydrated onion flakes
of garlic, roughly chopped
carrots, cut into large chunks
pepper to taste
ketchup, water, dehydrated onion, garlic and chicken base and mix to
this beautiful mixture onto the brisket sneaking it into each nook and
stand in refrigerator for 24 hours.
oven to 275-degrees. Place brisket in the roasting pan FAT SIDE UP. Place remaining
ingredients over brisket and tightly seal pan before putting in the oven.
for 6-8 hours. Typically, the rule of thumb is an hour a pound. But the
true test is when it pulls apart with two forks.
in refrigerator overnight to cool.
fat with a spoon. Slice the meat. Cut against
the grain NOT with the grain using the length of the knife.
in pan FAT SIDE DOWN and pour sauce over sliced meat. Put into 350-degree
oven, covered, to warm the meat and sauce. About 45 minutes.
I was already sweating when we walked into
the yoga studio. We had been running late, as usual, and I had double-timed it
from the car to the building. Just before walking in, I remember hesitating.
Did I really want to go to Mommy and Me Yoga?
The truth is that I did want to take him
there. He had been going with his mom during the last couple weeks of her
maternity leave. She had been raving about how much fun he had in the classes.
I also knew this firsthand because she had talked me into going with her to one
a week earlier. Now, Mom was back to work and I was staying home part-time to
take care of the little guy. There was still a week left of yoga classes on the
package and I wanted to make the most of the investment. More than anything, I
wanted to make the most of my time spent at home with him.
As I walked into the room, staring back at me
were eight new moms and their little babies. I was the only dad in the class
and was having trouble making eye contact with anyone. I shuffled to an open
corner and laid out the mat, the baby and the blanket as quickly as possible.
Everyone was sharing their name, their baby’s name and age. I can’t remember
any of the other names because until it was my turn, I spent the whole time
rehearsing what I was going to say in my head.
It was my first time attending a “baby and
me” event all by myself. I was feeling so vulnerable and judged. Did these
women think I was creepy? Had they ever seen a dad at one of these classes?
What about the other babies, how were they stacking up to mine? That other boy
looks about the same age as mine, why is he moving more? Those women are breast
feeding, should I signal to them somehow that my bottle has breast milk too?
It’s not my milk, of course … I just know that some people can get judgmental
of others who use formula.
Then the music started and the teacher calmly
directed us into all our poses. My baby laughed when I did a cat-cow and
released a huge breath right into his hair. His giggles and smiles melted my
anxiety away; we spent the next 45 minutes breathing and stretching together.
At the end of the class, the teacher said that she hoped that I would come
back. I hope that I will too.
I’ve always been a bit of a
Right now, when asked where
I go to synagogue, I say, “I go to five.” I work at Temple Jeremiah, and I love
my community there – meeting all of the congregants has been one of the best
parts of my job. I enjoy attending synagogue with my family where I grew up, at
Beth Hillel Congregation Bnai Emunah in Wilmette. I attend two synagogues in
Lakeview, the neighborhood where I live – Anshe Emet Synagogue and Anshe Sholom
B'nai Israel Congregation. And I co-lead Windy City Minyan, a monthly Friday
night minyan in the city.
I love Jewish communities. I
love the diversity of customs, melodies, faces, teachings, architecture and
So it’s no surprise that on
Yom Kippur last year, I found myself in three different synagogues in one day.
I spent the morning humming the melodies of the High Holy Days while greeting
congregants and meeting new faces at Temple Jeremiah; in the afternoon I sat with
my mom, listening to my dad, brother, and sister-in-law sing in the choir at
BHCBE; and I spent the evening Neilah service with my friends at Anshe Sholom.
That day, I experienced a
cross-section of our larger Jewish community, splitting my time between the
Reform, Conservative, and Orthodox synagogues. During Neilah at Anshe Sholom, I
found myself not paying so much attention to the words on the page, but
reflecting on Jewish peoplehood. The Jewish community – our kehillah – is made up of so many different
kinds of wonderful, dedicated, intelligent, interesting, and friendly people.
Our beauty is in our
We Jews are a tiny
percentage of the world’s population. I pray that we can come together as a
larger Jewish community to be enriched by the uniqueness of our brothers and
On that Saturday afternoon
in September 2013, driving back and forth between Northfield, Wilmette and
Lakeview, I had the chance to truly feel the richness of our people; to me, it
was like seeing the face of God.
“So he has dyslexia.”
This is what I had
surmised after an hour-long staffing of a bunch of big words and adjectives
being thrown around in an effort to explain why our bright child was struggling
so much with reading in school.
“Well, yes. But we
don’t call it that anymore,” they said.
“OK. But that’s what
it is, right?”
Phew! I felt an
enormous sense of relief and gratitude. Relief that his struggles had been
noticed and pinpointed with a workable diagnosis and gratitude that qualified
help was on the way. What I didn’t factor in was the ripple effect for me.
I’ve written before
that I struggled in school, without any explanation as to why,
until 7th grade when a math teacher told my parents I was stupid and lazy. (I
guess you could do that back then without losing your job.) To be honest, the
wicked lady was half right. I had
become lazy – as a smokescreen. If I didn’t try, mediocrity and failure didn’t
feel so humiliating and it explained quite simply why I had done poorly.
So when my own
diagnosis of learning disabilities revealed itself, (outdated term again
apparently, but I earned it so I’m keeping it), I felt that same sense of
relief I felt for my child. I knew something was funky – for me, for him – and
when I was right, I felt vindicated.
Although I could
always see that my child was bright
and struggling, as a learning-disabled kid myself, I felt differently about my
own struggles. I believed when my parents told me I was bright, creative and
intelligent, that they were blinded by their love for me. (Translation: “My
parents don’t want to admit they have a dumb-ass for a kid.”) But when
objective, outside forces and people (with Rorschach pictures, stats and
everything!) revealed I was in fact a highly intelligent and capable child, my
world changed. I could suddenly hear that. My diagnosis was truly that
significant and I began to believe the good stuff.
I am hoping my child
feels this way. I’m hoping that the early diagnosis for him may have been so
primary, that all the self-doubt, shame and fear around school learning that I
felt, didn’t have a chance to nick him.
This whole process
reopened a tremendous amount of reflection for me. And like I said earlier,
relief and gratitude were the emotions at the top of my list. Also, somewhere
in there, I have experienced a tremendous amount of compassion for the young
girl I used to be, who spent so much time feeling inadequate and incapable,
trying so desperately to cover up my imperfect tracks in hopes of just getting
I read this post to my
son in hopes he would be okay with publishing my thoughts on his journey. His
“I really liked it. I
thought it was really good.”
And this girl is left
feeling like she’s on the honor roll.
hungry is a funny thing. By funny, of course, I mean crazy. Is there a more apt
way to describe the raging forest fire that controls your every move? There
really is no better way to qualify it. Hunger is funny. Your last-minute decision
to have Arby’s for lunch, the attitude you gave your mother this morning, those
salads you’re force-feeding yourself – hunger did all of that. I don’t know
about you, but food can make me bark like a dog and cluck like a chicken any
old time she wants.
every day, hunger reminds me that I am not yet a grown up. I regularly have to
talk myself out of walking down the candy aisle at the grocery store. Those
negotiations sometimes fail and when they do I can be found looking like a
third grader who has just returned home from trick-or-treating. The evil 8-year-old
in control of my brain often has other plans.
most recent run-in with my inner child involved an incident with Girl Scout
Cookies. In addition to having little self-control, I’m a bleeding heart. I
want everyone to win, so when a friend called to tell me her daughter was
selling Girl Scout Cookies … I bought a whole case.
case, like I’m Oprah. As if the way to save the world is by purchasing 24 boxes
of Samoas. I am a 38-year-old, grown-ass man. Why do I need 24 boxes of
cookies? Why couldn’t I just be a normal person and offer to buy three boxes? Three
is a nice sane number. No, I couldn’t do that. I needed 24 boxes. That’s 360
cookies, in case you’re wondering. I bought 360 cookies at one time with no
intention of sharing with anyone.
you’re one of those positive people, and you’re picturing me carefully packing
away my loot in a freezer. Twenty-four boxes, that’s a lot – surely he has a
plan to ration those cookies for a whole year. Well, thank you for believing in
me, but you’d be incorrect. What? I’m supposed to eat a cookie a day for a year
except on Yom Kippur? That’s ridiculous. Who has that kind of willpower? Not to
mention: cookies can’t go in a freezer; they don’t wear coats. That’s cruel and
first I was mostly responsible. I had a cookie or two after dinner. I’d have a
cookie as a random snack. Then my crazy inner 8-year-old lost his tiny little
mind and declared war on that case of cookies. I couldn’t control myself. Here
a box, there a box, everywhere a box. I had a box for breakfast. I ate a couple
boxes of Samoas while watching TV. Three boxes for dinner. I was off the rails.
I had cookies as a midmorning snack, cookies in the car, cookies in the
bathtub. I was a hot cookie-addicted mess.
not sure how hunger works for most people, but mine definitely has a split
personality. The 8-year-old is absolutely in control more often than he should
be. When he isn’t sitting in the driver’s seat ordering fried chicken and
eating bags of Smarties, it’s the princess of kale, Gwyneth Paltrow, who’s in
charge. The two sides duke it out on a regular basis, which I think means I
have a bi-polar eating disorder.
had been sitting quietly in a corner waiting for the Cookie Monster to do some
serious damage. It wasn’t until she noticed that my pants were fitting a little
tighter that she sounded the alarm. Gwynnie went into full-blown “captain of
the Titanic mode.” She was raising her eyebrow and wagging the stinky finger of
judgment in the face of all of my cookie-filled thoughts. Once I finished the
case of cookies, and yes, I ate an entire case of Samoas without any help thank
you very much, Gwyneth began enforcing very strict rules. She apparently has no
respect for goal-oriented eating.
course, agreeing to cut back on cookies wasn’t enough. I had to go completely
wackadoodle. Our first order of business was to completely rid my life of
sugar. The princess of kale is evil. I’m not sure if you’re aware, but they don’t
make cookies without sugar. At least not any cookies that you would actually
want to eat. This was going to be very hard. I had been subsisting almost
exclusively on Samoas and Diet Coke and now I was in Girl Scout Cookie rehab.
dragged me kicking and screaming to Whole Foods and forced me to stare at their
lush produce. After gawking at piles of dead plants for what felt like an
eternity, GP challenged me to prepare a vegetable that I had never cooked
before as a way to get my health back on track. I reviewed the options and decided
to give beets a try. I choose them because they seemed harmless and when you’ve
been deprived of sugar they look like giant balls of chocolate. Challenge
whipped out my phone and turned to the queen of the kitchen, Ina Garten. Ina taught me how to roast a Thanksgiving turkey;
beets would be a piece of cake, or cookie, depending on where your politics
lie. I gathered the beets, fresh thyme, raspberry vinegar and a large orange
per the recipe’s instructions and rushed home.
got right down to work the moment I walked in the door. I peeled and sliced the
beets and cut them into quarters. Those little suckers should have come with a
trigger warning; they bled all over my kitchen. Beet juice was everywhere. My
house looked like the set of slasher film. I tossed the horror scene onto a
baking sheet and into the oven for 40 minutes. I spent most of that time
scrubbing my hands like a surgeon and performing Lady MacBeth’s sleepwalking
scene. “Out, damned spot! Out I say!”
beets were delicious! I felt like a magician turning those purple mud balls
into something worthy of eating. I had eaten beets several times before and
loved them but this was different. I guess food that doesn’t come from a can
really does taste better. I missed my cookie diet, but I was proud of myself
for expanding my menu.
morning after roasting the beets I got up to go to the bathroom as usual. Apparently
taste isn’t the only difference between canned and fresh produce. I had the
most gorgeous fuchsia urine the world has ever seen. At first, I was
certain that I was on death’s door and immediately blamed the Girl Scouts and
their disgusting Samoas. It took me a few minutes to calm my panic attack and realize
that the beets had given me this little present. Then later, on my way to work, I get this
text message from my husband: “I have purple pee and poop, disturbing yet
consider yourself warned: Beets, much like hunger, are a funny and sometimes
unpredictable thing. The real lesson here is moderation. Life should be 40
percent cookie and 60 percent beets, or is it the other way around? I never can
3 tablespoons good olive oil
1 1/2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves, minced
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons raspberry vinegar
Juice of 1 large orange
the oven to 400 degrees.
the tops and the roots of the beets and peel each one with a vegetable peeler.
Cut the beets in 1 1/2-inch chunks. (Small beets can be halved, medium ones cut
in quarters, and large beets cut in eighths.)
the cut beets on a baking sheet and toss with the olive oil, thyme leaves,
salt, and pepper. Roast for 35 to 40 minutes, turning once or twice with a
spatula, until the beets are tender. Remove from the oven and immediately toss
with the vinegar and orange juice. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and serve
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