Every day I get a message from my phone when the battery hits 20 percent. Time to recharge. I keep charging cords at home, in my briefcase and in my car to make sure my phone never is out of charge. But while phones are easy to plug in, how do we recharge? How do we make sure that we are not running out of steam? In a world where we are always connected, always tethered to work by technology, how do we provide for our own personal sense of renewal?
In order to recharge, we often first need to unplug! With technology in beaming from our living rooms, beckoning at our desks, and buzzing in our pockets, unplugging today is a conscious decision.
“Every now and then go away, have a little relaxation, for when you come back to your work your judgment will be surer.” – Leonardo DaVinci
Growing up with cousins who were really Jewish – they dressed like extras on Yentl, lived in the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn in the days before a single hipster had set foot in the neighborhood, spent every weekday in Yeshiva and pre-ripped their toilet paper in preparation for the sabbath– I was always a bit hesitant to go any deeper into Jewish ritual life.
There are lots of things that people can win: prizes, competitions, awards, honors, battles for a righteous cause. These are all wonderful, but to me, no accomplishment can be fully enjoyed while we still live in a society with such severe gender inequality. And yes, I think it’s severe.
We are thrilled to welcome Anna Langer to the Ask Big Questions team as our Assistant DIrector! I sat down to interview her with the top Qs emailed in to us. Here is what we learned:
Sheila Katz (SK): So Anna, tell us a little bit about yourself.
Hanging on my father’s studio wall is a newspaper clipping, ripped from the 1973 Richmond News Leader. The headline reads: Freaks vs. Pigs. In one of my earliest sports memories, the sculpture department where my father attended college - a.k.a. The Freaks - beat the City of Richmond Police Department - a.k.a. the Pigs - in a fund-raising softball game.
My father scored the winning run, his plumber’s butt became famous, and a celebration ensued that lasted months.
My son and I are playing a basketball game in our driveway, the classic “Horse”—which, because of the cold weather and the impending sunset, I’ve shortened to “Pig.” Both of us are one shot away from losing, each with a P and an I. I sink my shot into the wobbly plastic hoop. He barely, barely misses. “Oh well!” I say brightly. “That was fun!”
But oh, no, that’s not going to cut it, and even as I say it my heart dips low. His eyes are already brimming, and his mouth twists downward in that Emmett Kelly frown that always makes me want to laugh because it looks so fake. He didn’t win the game, and it’s crying time. It happens with basketball, but also with Chutes and Ladders, Candyland, and Operation. No matter how many times his father and I say that winning isn’t the point—that it’s the playing part that’s fun—once he’s realized he’s not going to win, the whining and the wails begin.
Every kid who once played Little League Baseball or AYSO soccer has a cadre of ersatz gold figurines perched on a bookshelf or stowed away in the attic. My tee-ball leagues witnessed the miraculous—and mathematically impossible—scenario of every team finishing tied for first place. Once my peers and I reached an age where simple counting was well within our reach, we could no longer be told an outright lie that all the teams had the most wins. Every kid still received trophies, but now the lie they told us was subtler: that everyone’s participation was in itself commendable.
I’m more startled by meanness than by kindness. I expect that others are good and strive to be kind.
How does the Jewish tradition approach the question of people’s innate disposition? On the one hand, we know that we are commanded to be “dan l’chaf zechut,” or give the benefit of the doubt and assume others are good/innocent. However, on the other hand, we learn in the beginning of the Torah: “The impulse of man’s heart is evil from his youth” (Genesis 8:21).