Facing the Mirror

Facing the Mirror
Photo Credit: Yocheved Pianko Feinerman
Facing the Mirror. (courtesy)

Harav Benny Lau, Shlita – A Humble Request for Guidance

My name may be unfamiliar, but Harav Benny Lau, you are a significant figure in my life: my Rav, my mentor. My teacher. My guide. A lifeline. 

Thank you. For inspiration. Motivation. Direction.  

Your Yirat Shamayim. Commitment to your family, our tradition, our past. Your love of Klal Yisrael. Your ever-present smile focused on our collective future, on Tikkun Olam, infuses me with energy. With dreams. With hope. The belief in a better tomorrow. For my self. For my family. For my children. For my sister. For her wife. For their children. For our family. For our community. For our world.

Permit me to share with you my story. 

Stasis

The Protagonist

A daughter, sister, educator, wife, mother, community leader, and member. 

Conflict

Years spent on the sidelines and actively engaged in battle. 

The focus: my sister. 

The battle: Her identity. Her soul. Her choices. Her freedom. 

Her journey frightened me. I was not an ally, far from it. Our relationship marred by years and years of harassment, threats, and fears. Smachot, destroyed by arguments. Broadway shows we missed due to the boot – ultimatums, threats, projections, prophecies. 

Character’s Want

Over and over again, I begged her to return. To choose the “good path.” To Be. 

Like me.  

A soldier. 

For the greater good. 

For what was right. For what should be. 

The ideal. 

Perfection.

Inciting Incident 

One year ago… I found myself face down in the arena. 

Head buried in the sand. 

No armor. No cement. 

Only ground.  

Trigger(s)

Looking back, there wasn’t one inciting incident. One specific trigger. An isolated event. Instead, the process was slow. Almost imperceptible. Invisible. 

That did not mean nothing was happening. 

As Dr. Brene Brown coined it – things were unraveling

One by one, the armor, the defense mechanisms so carefully arranged, began to decay.

The cement removed. 

With force. 

One by one. 

Until there was none. 

Only me.

Only ground.

When your head is down in the sand – there is only one way out. 

Teshuva, Tefillah U’Tzeddakah. 

What we call today – self-awareness, meditation, mindfulness, and psychotherapy.

The Mentor 

You, too, are a brother. 

Amidst a plethora of healers, educators, researchers, therapists, you, Harav Benny Lau, you became my Rav. 

I read your articles. Watched your videos. 

Subscribed to your channels. 

Joined your programs— Sang Hallel with you. 

Cried with you. Laughed with you. 

Learned from you. 

Respected you. 

Admired you. 

I knew in my heart that you, Harav, you understood. You alone grapple. You alone know the content of my tefillot. You alone hear the beating of my heart—you alone witness my mistakes. 

My anger. My rage. 

My wishes. My desires. 

My conflict. My frustration. My Confusion.

My desire for perfection. My desire for a happy ending. 

You alone empathize with my battles.

You understand – my humanity. Our humanity. The choice. The lack of will. The dance. Our ancestral patterns. 

The roads taken. 

The roads less traveled. 

The roads forced to travel. 

Destination unknown. Frightening. 

The journey thrust upon us. 

The journey we will do anything to avoid. 

Break Into Two

My transition began. The choreographer: Harriet Lerner. Change the dance step- Yocheved. She gently nudged. Circumvent the familiar. The habitual.The ancestral. The ancient.

Abuser to ally. Repulsion to pity. Tolerance to acceptance. Supportive to admiration. The journey continues as I struggle with the stages of appreciation and nurturance. The transition incomplete – the process – ongoing.

The compass pointed left – the unconscious. The destination – home.

Act Two: Fun and Games

Character Want

Write A Screenplay in Twenty One Days – sounds like a good idea. And due to the forced removal of one of the layers – I was free for the next twenty-one days! Perhaps Viki King should change the title from “How to Write A Screenplay in Twenty One Days: The Inner Movie Method” to How to Discover Where You Are Currently Stuck in Twenty-One Days. Seeing that most of the first twenty-one days were spent in discovery. Searching for the theme – my theme – our theme. I soon learned from Viki King; themes are universal. “Coming True” is the theme for those turning forty (me!). 

In a dreamlike state, the first draft wrote itself (more accurately- a nightmare state). The story is a coming-out narrative, but not of an LGBTQ individual; instead, it is the point of view of society. The perspective, the POV, a Modern Orthodox Jewish woman, her reconciliation with her role in the communal abuse and exploitation of her sibling, in this fictional world, in draft 2, a brother. Forcing her brother to remain in the closet: emotionally, physically, mentally, and spiritually, for over thirty years. The screenplay chronicles a journey—a story—a process.

Struggle. 

Acceptance. 

Determination. 

Sacrifice. 

Redemption.

Freedom.

My goal clear. To share. My story, my humanity, my unconscious. Our story. Our humanity. Our unconscious. Our collective unconscious. Trigger conversations within our community. Our world. Bring the covered up, closeted subjects to the surface. Introduce the world to complicated characters, demanding situations, and the need for unconditional love. 

Sister to sister. 

Parent to child. 

Rebbe to Student. 

Friend to friend. 

Neighbor to neighbor. 

Word after word. Scene after scene. Sequence after sequence. Act after Act. Beat after beat. Draft after draft. 

Characters changed. Evolved. Grew. Through relentless and all-consuming research. My comfort zone extending from the written word to the spoken word to real people on social media to requesting interviews. Actively listening and dialoguing with those outside of my echo chamber, neshamos harmed by society – by me. 

Layer by layer, the narrative unfolded. 

Truth released. 

The shadow heard. 

Ways of painful awareness – no armor to shield. The need to confess.

To beg forgiveness. 

To listen to her truth. 

Her story.

To hear without defending. Blaming. Condemning. Spinning. Wishing.

Checking ego. 

Hours and hours, hiking. The morning Sundance Festival.  Scribbles in my journal. Strokes on the keyboard. Begging forgiveness from my sister. From her wife. From my niece. From my nephew. From my self. From Hakadosh Baruch Hu.

Hours turned into days. Days turned into weeks. Weeks turned into months. The desktop now crowded with multiple drafts. Different characters. Changing arcs. Less and less militant. More and more human. One thing clear, this screenplay – was not going to be completed in thirty days. The time came when my script was pried from my hands, emailed to professionals. Meetings arranged. More layers exposed. More dragons to slay. More pain to experience. More sunrises to greet. More songs to sing. More mountains to climb. More stories to hear. More tools to learn. More skills to acquire. 

Viki King, an expert on the art of awakening active imagination, was wrong about twenty-one days. Of resolution. 

A change in seasons, a new therapist forced me to accept that the way forward was abandoning the idea of fruition—an embrace of humanity – my humanity – our humanity. 

The way ahead was to leave the goal and accept the process. Choices. Values. Mistakes. Empathy. Awkwardness. Courage. Fear. Strength. Love. Out of the comfort zone. Away from feeling safe and in control. Full of fear. Lacking self-confidence. Finding excuses. Affected by opinions. Blaming. Condemning. Pleasing. 

The one undeniable truth was my passion for the story. The more I learned. The more I wrote, the more I needed more. The less I knew. 

Midpoint 

Character’s Need

Film school at 39. Why not? 

With new armor – a new mindset – Carol Dweck‘s growth mindset, this 39-year-old high energy wife, mother, sister, friend, educator, creator, the dreamer is finding her purpose as a Shana Aleph student at the Ma’aleh School of Film and Television. 

Learning – Experimenting – Listening – Failing – Succeeding – Believing – Living – Conquering.

The fictional screenplay put in the drawer. Left in the wings. Given room to breathe. 

Or so I thought.

The theme refuses to be abandoned.

The voice continues to call. 

Demanding. Insisting.

The courage to explore. 

Come true. 

Come out. 

Who

Who do you want to interview? Who inspires you? Whose journey do you most admire, respect? Who do you track? Who touches your heart. Who evokes emotion? Who touches your humanity? An assignment for Moshe Alafi’s Tachkir, documentary research class. 

The shadow, never one to wait in the wings, was summoned. 

Announcing himself (aren’t all shadows male?). Filling in the assignment. 

Uploading the document: a brief requesting an interview with you, HaRav Benny Lau. The shadow still restrained, listed pareve questions prompting talking points. An interview you have been subjected to multiple times. 

Upon the review, my professor commented, Where is the heart? 

Before the shadow had a chance, I closed the document. Put his comments and the assignment on the side. 

Until Thursday, when a friend sent me a link to an article. Your latest Times of Israel article. Thumbs up, I responded to my friend. But I was too busy. Too much on my plate. No time for your article. No time to engage with your blueprint for a better today. 

The link returned, flashed in front of me again and again. It was time. There was nowhere to escape. It was time to click the link. Open my heart. Face my future.

Point of No Return – The Scene

FADE IN

INT. MA’ALE SCHOOL OF FILM AND TELEVISION. JERUSALEM, ISRAEL. DAY.

Students fill the seats in a theater. Yocheved (39.12, (brown highlighted wig, black dress, black rain boots) sits in the front row – alone. The other (much younger) students sit together, filling the upper rows. Professor Moshe Alafi (winter hat, smile evoking his sense of humor, good-natured approach to life) enters the room.

MOSHE ALAFI: Geveret. Pitch.

The woman points to herself. Confused look on face.

MOSHE ALAFI: Any other Geverets?

Yocheved nods. Rises. Removes coat, scarf. The mask. Faces the room.

MOSHE ALAFI: 60 seconds.

Woman stands. Faces the room. Her peers. Her classmates. Your children. Shaking hands betraying vulnerability. Anxiety. Summoning courage, Yocheved channels Amy Cuddy. Assumes the Wonder Woman pose.

Yocheved begins the pitch. A simulation. A request from the audience. Permission. Funding. Time. Interest. Care. Connection. Empathy. Love. Growth.

The space for a potential documentary about Harav Benny Lau. A project beginning with an interview. A face to face meeting with my Rav, my mentor, my teacher. 

Authorization for her to come out. 

To face the mirror.

YOCHEVED: How?

I want to ask Harav Benny Lau – How. How did you navigate events that were so treacherous? Personal struggles that refused to go away. That continues to challenge. How do you navigate your mother’s feelings? Your fathers? Your other siblings? Your community? Your own. How do you go to sleep at night? How do you wake up the next day? What errors did you commit that haunt your nights?

How?

How did you tackle your fear? Your anger? The denial? Frustration? Confusion?

How?

How did you find love? How can I find love? How can we find love? How can we accept? How did you, HaRav Lau, own your humility – your humanity? How can our society accept our limitations? Our lack of understanding. Our lack of control? How can we sit back and watch the falling tower of cards? The house we built. We slaved over. We loved. How can one sit back and watch it fall? How stopping the cards – extends the suffering. Extends our pain. Harms self. Harms others. Harms the world.

How?

How can we help others, our brothers, sisters, daughters, sons, neighbors, friends, colleagues, acquaintances? How can we help them? How can we enlighten them – our world – before more armor is removed – with force. How can we bring about Tikkun Olam- A world of love. Of kindness. Of compassion. Of empathy. Of courage. Of awkward.

How?

How can we build a new world – a world in which we humans accept our limitations – our humanity. That our thoughts – are just weather. Those are beliefs – are only beliefs. That what we think is. What we believe should be. Our view obstructed. Our hearing limited. Our perceptions cloudy.

How?

How can we invite the presence of HakAdosh Baruch Hu? Into our hearts. Our minds. Our relationships. Our homes. Our schools. Our shuls. Our community. Our world.

How?

How many people will we harm before accepting our humanity? Before we coronate Hakadosh Baruch Hu – as Ultimate.

ORI: Time

Applause. Yocheved sits. Puts on the mask.

FADE TO BLACK

Facing the Mirror

The audience. The students. My peers. The youth.  Those that understood me and those that lost at How. They voted. They were interested. Eager to continue the discussion.

Looking up, I noticed the professor writing on the board my name. My topic: Love and Homosexuality. Next to your name, Harav Benny Lau, the potential interview. Followed by your brother’s name, HaRav Amichai Lau.

Looking down, I noticed a tremor in my hands. A physical reaction to the enormity of the situation. What I unleashed. 

The secrets I shared. 

The space I created. 

The people hurt. 

The expectations I would crush. 

The nest I left. 

The adult I embraced. 

The mirror I face.

ACT 2b and ACT 3 TBD

Bad Guys Close In, All is Lost, Dark Night of the Soul, Break Into Three, Climax, High Tower Surprise, Dig Deep, Resolution, and Final Image.

HaRav Benny Lau – When?

When can we meet? I am aware of your incredibly packed and intense schedule. Do you have a small window to meet face to face? When can I experience first hand your wisdom? Your compassion. Your vision. Your truth. Your leadership. Your courage. When can I embrace your story? Your truth?

The next act requires support – your support.

Thank you in advance, your humble, awkward, afraid, brave, vulnerable Talmida

Yocheved 

P.S. Within the next week, if possible.

About the Author
High Energy Mom, Wife, Daughter, Granddaughter, Sister, Friend, Neighbor, Warrior, Writer, Educator, Digital Marketer, Thespian, SunDancer, Dog Walker, Creator, Explorer, and now a Shana Aleph Film Student at Ma'ale School of Television and Film, in Jerusalem, Israel.. Somedays Wonder Women. Most days, an ordinary human being, whose intelligence is developing. Embracing challenges. Facing obstacles with fortitude. Putting in maximum effort. Learning to accept feedback. Celebrating the success of others. VERBING. ADULTING. GOING. GROWING.
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