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A Message from the Education Director, Barbara Joseph

November 2020

In the September bulletin, I mentioned Jewish values that build resiliency and guide personal and communal health and wellness.  In this time of uncertainty, it helps to turn to these values, both for ourselves and for our children.

This month, I’d like to focus on the value of Ometz Lev.

The Hebrew phrase, ometz lev, translates to “strength (ometz) of the heart (lev )” and often is translated as “courage” in colloquial English. It is often used to mean one’s “inner strength.”

This phrase is found in Psalm 27, reminding us to look to God for strength. “Look to God. Be strong and strengthen your heart. Look to God!” There are two action-oriented elements in the phrase, ometz lev:

Y Ometz means strength, so we first have to strengthen ourselves – In order to use the power of ometz lev, we have to realize we have untapped reserves that can help us when our emotions run high – whether of anger, excitement, happiness or fright. Engaging our inner strength allows us to pause and take control of the behavioral choices we make next.

Y Lev means heart, so we then have to reach inward into our heart – We must intentionally choose to use our inner strength. This means facing the things in life that may frighten us and, using appropriate coping mechanisms, to help calm ourselves and others. Genesis Rabbah (an ancient collection of midrash) tells a powerful story of how a person engaged their ometz lev in the face of perceived danger. The text says, “A person walking on the road saw a pack of dogs and felt afraid of them, so he sat down in their midst.” It is that inner strength that is at the heart of ometz lev.

To regulate one’s emotionality, one needs to have inner strength, i.e., strength of the heart, to recognize when big feelings are taking over and to identify the appropriate coping tools to help return to a regulated state. Referencing Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, once a person’s physiological needs (food, water, air, shelter) are met, then safety needs must be taken care of, including one’s personal security, especially the ability to recognize and calm one’s big feelings.

Ometz Lev connects to Rabbi Hillel’s famous quote in clear ways:

Y If I am not for myself, who will be for me? – We want to empower children to recognize when they are experiencing “Big Feelings” and to access tools/techniques that can facilitate a return to a state of calm using their own power of ometz lev. While all feelings are valid, all behaviors are not.

Y If I am only for myself, what am I? – We want to empower children to look beyond themselves, to notice when others are dysregulated and may need support in remembering their own ometz lev. Empathy also plays a role here.

Y If not now, when? – We want to empower children to take action for calming themselves in the moment, for regulating their emotions.

I am grateful to all of you for being part of our wonderful kehillah, community.
Happy Thanksgiving,
Barbara Joseph

Special thanks to Rabbi Jana, Rabbi Sydni, and Rabbi Feivel for their roles in our Simchat Torah Festival last month!


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Sat, November 28 2020 12 Kislev 5781