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Issue 4

Selfishly Selfless

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When asked to write this article, I asked The Skribe whether they wanted my perspective as a young Jewish professional, community member, or as the head of a non-profit? After some thought, I realized that the drive required to be successful in any of these roles is based fundamentally on the same principle: the ability to provide selflessly without expectation. As such, I wanted to highlight and hopefully inspire you on how the act of giving has changed my life both from a professional and personal point of view.

The benefits of giving have profound biochemical effects on the body. In a recent survey of over 30,000 Americans it was determined that people who give to charity were 43% more likely than those who did not give to be “very happy” about their lives. This phenomenon of the “helper’s high” is associated with a change in brain chemistry by release of endorphins which relate feelings of euphoria. These chemicals are identical to those that result in “high” associated with use of painkillers and many street drugs!  

Performing acts of loving-kindness has benefits that date back thousands of years.  In fact, the importance of providing for others is deeply rooted in our core Jewish values. The word tzedaka is commonly misinterpreted to mean charity-the voluntary giving of help. Actually, tzedaka literally translates to justice or righteousness. Why the misconception? It is described that by fulfilling not the option but rather the obligation of providing for those in need, we achieve a spiritual high of righteousness and justice.

Once I became aware of the gratitude that comes with giving, I adopted the value of selfishly being selfless. In other words, I came to realize that what makes me the happiest is doing for others. This was the spark that helped establish Kol Ahava and eventually develop it into being among the leading philanthropic organizations over the last three years. As a whole, we have together helped inspire our community to believe that there are few more wholesome feelings than providing for those in need. Through our efforts we have provided life-saving interventions, and dedicated over $250,000 to the Glycogen Storage Disease Foundation, Save A Child’s Heart, the Bnai Zion Foundation, and to Ariel Kasheri (a local teenager who suffered traumatic brain injury in a motor vehicle accident).

Ever wonder why your mom or grandma draw so much happiness from stuffing you with food? In essence, it’s the identical principle as above! Feeding, another form of giving, fosters deep rooted happiness. Through these reflections and experiences I’ve learned that there is nothing more viscerally pleasurable or meaningful in any business or personal relationship. One who volunteers his or her time up readily is labeled a great friend. A successful physician is one who continues to contribute to life. A great business provides the most desirable product at the most competitive price. These examples highlight the importance of giving and the sense of satisfaction that comes as a result.

This brings me to the ultimate giving forum, which is in the context of meaningful relationships. I once remember hearing something in a lecture by the great dating guru, Rabbi David Toledano that changed my perspective on dating forever.  He said that a relationship is healthy, secure, and “guaranteed” when either party involved are content on solely providing unconditionally for his or her partner without any self-interest. More simply, my happiness isn’t really dependent on what’s done for me but rather what and how much I can do for you. I saw this as in ingenious method authored by Rabbi Toledano that effectively challenges one to limit personal expectations and let-downs. Therefore, in any relationship, when the “me” is taken out of the equation in the hope of sustaining happiness, vibrant, sustainable, and pleasurable happiness is destined.

Interestingly, the highest form of all giving is inarguably in the form of marriage where “love” dictates all. What is love?  In my opinion it’s all about the ability to give. Best described by Gary Chapman in “The 5 Love Languages,” giving in the form of words, time, happiness, material objects, and touch are the markers for true love as defined in a healthy relationship. Did you know the Hebrew word for love, ahava, stems from the root word lahav which translates to “to give”?  As such, we don’t have to look too far to know how intertwined love and giving are…
In summary, I am no love guru nor am I a world’s authority on relationships. However through many professional and personal experiences as a young physician, philanthropist, and unmarried Jewish community member, I have experienced the deep joy that comes with giving, and the disappointment that comes with expecting. I challenge us all to become selfishly selfless and put an extra emphasis on giving because when and if we all do, happiness is imminent.

 

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Naveed Mayer Natanzi was born and raised in Los Angeles. He received his BA in Biological Sciences at the University of California, Santa Barbara in 2007. In the ensuing year, Dr. Natanzi pursued another passion, teaching. He served as a teaching assistant at UCSB and served as a private tutor for Kaplan Test Prep. In 2012, he obtained his medical degree from Western University-College of Osteopathic Medicine of the Pacific. He now is a resident at the University of California, Irvine in the Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation department, Dr. Natanzi’s Jewish upbringing and education have instilled in him the importance of providing selflessly without expectation especially to those more needy. He passionately believes and is driven by the concept of tikun olam (making this world a better place) and believes social action and philanthropy are the perfect complement to being a physician and healer.

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Culture

Colors of Morocco

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Morocco, a country of distinct culture and boundless color, a place where customs of East and West converge, has been a land of ageless history, architecture, and intrigue. Named Travel & Leisure’s 2015 “Travel Destination of the Year”, Morocco holds more than meets the eye as each city is personified by a distinct color and character.  While Morocco in its entirety is fascinating, the story of Jewish lineage is particularly so. Having had the exceptional opportunity to travel within Morocco this past year, I delved into the three-thousand-year-old history and traditions of ancient Moroccan Jewry.

The country that holds prolific inspiration for writers, artisans, and philosophers has been called home by generations of a tight-knit Jewish community. Until the past half century, a once bustling population of more than 300,000 Jews now remains a scattered 3,000. Although small, the Jewish community continues to be strong and vibrant. Dating back roughly 2,500 years ago, the Jewish population in Morocco was the largest in the Arab world. Under the reign of King Mohammed V (1927-1961) and subsequently his son, King Hassan II (1961–1999), Jews enjoyed living freely alongside their Muslim counterparts. As King Mohammed II was once famously quoted, “I do not have Muslim citizens, nor do I have Jewish citizens. I have Moroccan citizens”. A solid sense of patriotism is held within the gates of Morocco for Jews and Muslims alike. It became evident as I inquired with locals about living under their current and past monarchs – they are confident and proud. Despite being a minute community, many Jews compare their relationships to their Muslim neighbors as “brothers” and “close friends.” They show an equal sense of pride for both their Jewish and Moroccan roots. Paradoxically, a country nestled in between the most intolerable of regions shows a strong sense of camaraderie and acceptance.

moroccoAs a Sephardic Jew born and raised in Los Angeles, my childhood was constantly showered with stories of my parents’ upbringing in the Middle East. I learned of their homes near the most ornate age-old mosques and their relationships with the neighboring Muslim communities, but it was only until I entered Morocco that these stories finally came to life.

Upon arriving into Fès, the blue imperial city, the essence of the old Jewish community is near palpable as you are greeted by the grandeur of the Bab Boujloud gates, guarding what used to be the walls of the mellah, or Jewish quarter. Walking through the centuries-old mellah, which once held the largest of Jewish populations, it was as if the stories of my father’s adolescence had been painted before my eyes. The narrow cobblestoned paths were scattered with donkeys carrying freshly dyed leathers from nearby tanneries and local Moroccans sporting the traditional djellaba robe. It was evident that not only the architecture, but the day-to-day way of life remained unchanged throughout the decades. Still, the only traces of Jewish life remain within the stories of the city’s cobalt blue walls.

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    Ibn Danan Synagogue

The 17th century Ibn Danan Synagogue is adorned by a wealth of traditional Moroccan mosaic tile work, or zellij in Arabic. The striking patterns of the traditional Moroccan starburst motif, testir, in an array of forms makes evident how Arabesque architecture and culture have beautifully permeated the Jewish sphere. Within its rich turquoise walls, the strength the Jewish community once held was undeniable, as both Torah scrolls were seemingly untouched. As beautiful as this sight was, the real treasure lay hidden. As I followed a short dark corridor down three stone stairs, a dim light reflected a small pool of water in front of me—I soon realized it was the original mikveh of the synagogue, laying tranquil, unscathed. Still filled with water, it reminded me of what I once heard, “where there is water, there is life”, and this centuries-old mikveh had once been a witness to prayer and miracles—the beating heart of Jewish life.

March 2000 Meknes, Morocco

 

Driving through the lush pastures of Meknès, the city of green, into the capital, Rahbat, we were greeted warmly by natives of the Jewish community with two kisses on the cheek and offered aromatic mint tea. Over a beautiful dinner table adorned with traditional dishes of tajine, pastilla, couscous, and an array of spicy harissa, the locals were charming and warm as they conversed in a mélange of Arabic, French, and English. They were quick to express their delight in meeting fresh, young Jewish faces—something that has become a scarcity as most families have made aliyah since the formation of Israel. Nonetheless, they expressed the love and pride they hold for their native hometown, Morocco.

spice-market-marrakechAs I reach the rose-colored walls of Marrakech, the city of red, I am immediately drawn in by the warm sandstone glow the city emanates. Passing through the medina into the souk, or Arab baazar, my senses are heightened by the endless sparks of color; uninterrupted arrays of turmeric yellow, jade green, paprika red, and cobalt blue. The scents of spices seem all too familiar—coriander, saffron, cumin, and turmeric. An odd sense of familiarly and sentiments of home are felt as it seemed that my heart had a yearning to connect to my deeply embedded Sephardic roots.

My exploration of the Jewish community of Morocco proved to be an experience of intrigue and connection. I felt fulfilled as I was finally able to perceive first hand, the history, the struggle, and the ultimate resilience of my Sephardic roots. It taught me lessons of diversity, acceptance, and the promise to pass onto future generations what makes us who we are and has kept us resilient amongst our adversities–our Jewish legacy.

Similar to the interwoven patterns of the zellij, Jews each with a unique story require both an individuality and interconnectedness in order to create an intricate pattern—one cannot discover where one lineage ends and the other begins.

morocco-pottery-20110200

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Dating & Relationships

SCARED SINGLE – PART ONE ‘Love’ on Demand: Keeping Your Options Open

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The Scared Single series is a glimpse into modern dating and the hurdles millennials face on their road to the chuppah.  

Marriage continues to be a milestone most people aim for.  Ask the previous generation about its take on our generation’s dating and you’ll be greeted with gasps, prayers, and an overarching sense of flabbergast.  

“Why are you so picky?”  

Events such as fundraisers and charity events are teeming with eligible singles, ironically complaining at the event that there’s no one to date in this community.  They seem to be waiting around for something better – someone new – at the next event, perhaps?  And if you’ve outgrown the “low-tech” approach to finding someone, a plethora of “high-tech” mobile dating apps gives you a flood of new faces, along with the freedom of indicating interest without the fear of rejection.  

In an age of instant gratification centered on customization of just about everything material, that mentality starts to impact our mindset in our pursuit of a successful, meaningful relationship.  Though our generation’s experience with customizability has been pretty pleasant – we get everything we want, and nothing we don’t – we inherently know that our human experiences (personal and professional) should be fluid constructs centered around qualities that need to persist beyond the here and now.  

Timeless adages passed on to us such as “no one is perfect” and “marriage is full of compromises” may sound like deeply wise and grounded hindsight, but access to love on demand puts us in the driver’s seat, swipe-chasing that perfect, uncompromising fantasy person.  And that chase can quickly turn into an aimless, seemingly endless pursuit – it leads us to objectify, and ultimately talk our way out of, the prospects that are the basis of our motivation for attending that event or downloading that app in the first place.   

Think about your relationship role model.  The cornerstones of that relationship likely were traits of longevity: commitment, loyalty, devotion, mutual respect, partnership, etc.  The struggle in our generation lies in whether we have the ability to determine who is the best life partner for us.  And even if we clear that hurdle, the next hurdle is whether we have the fortitude to commit, since there’s the everflowing temptation to look behind door number 2, and to customize just a little bit more.  

The never-before-seen wave of the cropped social media image gives the average single person access to thousands of highlights of other people’s relationships, which begin to flood our own relationship psyche, setting and resetting standards for what we desire.  We know those images aren’t exactly real – the heartwarming anniversary tweets, the perfect proposals, the emotional thank you videos – largely taken out of the greater context of that poster’s life – but we consciously and subconsciously internalize them anyway.  

Dating against the backdrop, and dare I say threat, of cropped imagery and instant gratification seems to run counter to the development of an authentic relationship – and the need to account for the now and later. There’s this intense pressure to continue cropping that JSwipe profile, be a little flashier at the event, in the hopes of grabbing attention of prospects in that split second swiping window, in that surveying of the ballroom.

How can you attract a partner and develop a relationship which evolves in line with the greatest relationships you have witnessed when you know the person on the other side may still itch to access love on demand?  How can you act naturally, be yourself safely, showing real and raw dimensions the other person may not really want to see but are part and parcel to who you are, in a culture of cropping?  

Along with the freedoms not afforded to previous generations, our generation has the freedom of self-discovery, which theoretically gives us a shot at ultimate choice and happiness.  Instead, in a culture of cropping and comparing, I think we’ve swapped the freedom to know and be ourselves with the freedom to swipe.  There’s no doubt that losing that freedom generates fear.  

That fear stems from what we can’t seem to understand, get a hold of, and quite frankly communicate to our elders – we can’t gain the confidence to make choices to start that journey towards our very own elusive model relationship.

Maybe our answer to those prodding and indicting pickiness questions should reflect the new era of instant gratification we choose to live in: “Honestly, I really enjoy the thrill of keeping my options open.”  

Imagining giving that shame-laced answer, we may invariably stumble across the naked truth…that we may not be more free, that we may not be better off and that we are ultimately scared single because we live in the age of love on demand.

 

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Community

Overcoming Addiction: My Personal Success Story

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I am an example of a success story. But this is only the first chapter.

I grew up with everything a girl could ask for. But there was always this emptiness—a longing for something, anything, to lead me out of the darkness by which I was encumbered. I felt alone in my world. When I was eleven, I found out I was adopted and that my brother was not my twin. My already unbalanced world was flipped upside down, and everything looked like a lie. That was the beginning of what became my twenty-one year long battle with addiction. My addictive behavior would end up bleeding into every area of my life, taking with it every meaningful relationship, any semblance of self-respect I once had, all my money, and my sanity. I would end up in the hospital at thirty-two with a failing liver and eight days of detox—and who knows what else—to look forward to. I never would have thought Judaism would play a role in saving me. I never thought it would change me.

I was raised half Jewish and half Christian, and not a fraction of it made any sense to me. Neither of my parents were religious, and the exposure my brother and I had to either faith was in little sprinkles here and there during the “important” holidays. At fourteen, my religious practices changed almost immediately once my father hooked up with my soon-to-be, Jewish stepmother. As much as I welcomed the change, and as hard as I tried to embrace the Judaism surrounding me—I saw myself as an imposter who didn’t fit in. Where on earth did I come from? Where did I fit?

As the years went on, my addiction grew worse, and the further I drifted from any kind of faith in anything. The more lost I became, the more alone I felt. Alcohol was both my G-d, and my only friend, and drinking was my light through the dark. When my father died when I was twenty-seven, I turned to my reliable, toxic friend to take away my pain. But I wore the mask of someone who was just fine, and moved on with my life. All I was actually doing was slowly fading away.

I would stay up every night in a cold sweat, trembling and panicking and incapable of sleep. I was just waiting to die—believing I had no chance of overcoming my addiction. And even if I could muster up enough courage to ask for help, I would forever be labeled, “an addict,” and live the rest of my life with that stigma. What would my family think? Will I ever be hireable? What man would ever want to marry me? There was too much shame in admitting my problem, I thought. But the pain I felt… the all-consuming mental and physical pain was too much to bear. I knew things couldn’t possibly get worse as long as I was still alive, so when my brother asked me if I was willing to get treatment, I told him, “I have the will if you have a way to get me there.” The next day, he took me to the hospital to detox, and a week later, to rehab—a Jewish rehab called Beit T’Shuvah, which translates to: The House of Return. Needless to say, I was apprehensive. I didn’t have a G-d. I didn’t have any faith. Surely they would find out and send me home. I couldn’t have been more wrong.

When I came to Beit T’Shuvah, I had no idea how to tackle my social anxiety or make friends. My shyness was crippling, and my only solution to that in the past was a round of drinks (each one for me). After some time going to meetings and process groups with the other residents, and attending services in our sanctuary, things started to get easier. I, someone who never considered herself to be spiritual, found myself looking at spirituality through a different lens. What I learned at Beit T’Shuvah is that spirituality has a different meaning to everyone. To me, it’s human connection. It’s spending time with my father in my dreams. It’s writing poetry, and listening to the music that moves my heart and gives me chills. I discovered those things in sobriety.

I had heard horror stories about other rehabs—how some of them were cold and sterile, and military like. I realized how lucky I was to be where I was. I kept hearing, “Beit T’Shuvah is a community,” but I didn’t get it at first. But it is just that. It’s a microcosm of the world, with all the same moving parts, unique personalities, suffering, and hard work. You have neighbors and responsibilities, friends, foes, and teachers. There it was—the thing I wanted most but was always hiding from. Connection. And it came in the form of a community that accepted me for me, and told me that I matter. I wouldn’t have survived without that.

BeitTShuvah“Hold on” and “you matter” are two of the many sayings at Beit T’Shuvah. As simple as each is, the mere utterance of those four words can be more powerful than any meeting, or any book. I learned the meaning of T’Shuvah in the house that bares the same name—return. I could see the importance of taking responsibility for my life, and arriving at a place of acceptance of my past. I look at my life now, and I feel grateful. I have a job I love, doing something I love, and I am free in every sense of the word. In looking ahead to the New Year, I look back at my life. I ask for forgiveness. I forgive myself. I enter the New Year as if it were my first.

 

 

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december, 2019

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