Southern & Jewish
Southern & Jewish celebrates the stories, people, and experiences – past and present – of Jewish life in the American South. Hosted by the Goldring/Woldenberg Institute of Southern Jewish Life, posts come from educators, students, rabbis, parents, artists, and many other “visitors-to and daily-livers-of” the Southern Jewish experience. From road trips to recipes to reflections, we’ll explore a little bit of everything – well, at least all things Southern and/or Jewish. Shalom, y’all!
That’s always been a guiding philosophy in my life. Whether it was going to a camp in the Santa Monica city yards where girls were empowered to take on “men’s” jobs and lift each other up, or talking with my parents at a Shabbat meal about our highlights from the week, or in my many school settings, I was always taught to lead with kindness. With each new experience, I learn how and why kindness matters. In the past few months I’ve had the opportunity to study kindness, specifically chesed, through my work at the Goldring/Woldenberg Institute of Southern Jewish Life (ISJL).
In the ISJL’s Community Engagement Department, we bring a variety of Jewish social justice programming to communities across the southern region. When Temple Emanu-El in Birmingham, Alabama, requested the module Chesed Challenge, I came across a quote from my role model, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel. He stated, “When I was young, I admired clever people. Now that I am old, I admire kind people.”
Heschel’s ability to look for the good in every moment and person inspires me each day to connect with those who are different. He looked at the world in ways that were unconventional and controversial, through kindness.
Inspired further by other kindness-a-day journals and with the help of my coworkers, I created a “40 Days of Chesed” gratitude journal. At the end of the program I gave each participant one of these journals with the hope that they would fill them out and adopt a kindness outlook like Heschel.
I also decided to accept the Chesed Challenge myself.
I’ve incorporated “40 Days of Chesed” into my nightly ritual. Each night I follow one of the prompts to reflect on either that day itself or how it fits into my life as a whole. The questions range from how I receive kindness, to if I’ve been acting with kindness, to reflections on the environment and more. Two weeks into the project, I’ve already noticed a shift in two aspects: relating to others and respecting myself.
I am shifting to connecting to others through curiosity, passions, and interests rather than tripping into the pitfalls of sarcasm or gossip. By physically writing down what I appreciate about people, I look for those characteristics first rather than the negative ones.
On a personal level, I have reflected deeper especially as I step into my second year of my ISJL fellowship. I’ve been reflecting on how I’ve changed in this past year, and the idea of self-love and acceptance comes to the forefront. As one of my favorite poets Cleo Wade says, “There is no way to give kindness to another without knowing it in ourselves first.”
A simple concept, yet one I have avoided most of my life. I used to flood my mind with self-deprecating and cruel comments that I would never repeat to others; I was kind… but not to myself. Through gratitude and positive psychology, my perspective has changed. Yes, sometimes I still say unkind words to myself, but when I do, I am aware of it.
Instead of wallowing in the harsh thoughts, I turn to my gratitude mentors Heschel and Wade to welcome and work through those thoughts. One technique I now use is writing a list of action items for when I’m feeling down such as going to yoga, catching up with friends or family, listening to ocean sounds, walking around the neighborhood, or having a cup of coffee. The journal and all my gratitude mentors have taught me that only once you can be kind to yourself can you truly be a kind person to the world, and the only way to know kindness on the outside is to practice it within.
Want to try your own 40 Days of Chesed challenge? Start with this question: What does Chesed mean to you? (And if you’re interested in receiving journal pages, email email@example.com.)