For Ellul: How Ein Kerem taught me to change myself – and the world

People often ask me how I advise clients in 22 countries on topics like luxury real estate, remittance, and cryptocurrency, growing up as I did in a chassidic background with little English, less math and no university background in economics, to boot.

I think of the trees in the Ein Kerem forest.

I had been in Hadassah Ein Kerem hospital two weeks straight for some sort of treatment. I well remember the grayness, the driving rain and a madness that, sometimes, comes over me when I’m bounced to the ground, then rip through the ceiling, hell-bent that nothing will destroy me.

The madness in question was the unremitting gnawing of feeling like an animal that stuffs her belly with food and air and sleeps and washes the dishes and sponjas the floors and chitter-chatters about the weather and soon enough her varicose veins. And dies. At 27, I was uneducated – no chemistry, physics, economics, English grammar, and so forth. Hampered – didn’t  know how to read a map, track a book in the library, sign a check. Frustrated – couldn’t go to college because I had no high school education and was told, the one time I inquired, that I couldn’t write for the Hamodia because I wasn’t a male.

So, on that day I trudged through the woods after two weeks inside. It was muddy, it was pouring. I climbed. Then sat down and wept.

What happened next was nothing unusual. It changed my life.

There were the pine trees, winding down the hills gripping the soil. The rain had abated, the ground was sopping. The lordly mass of trees blocked the sky. Maybe it was because, one minute, the trees were flailing, mushy tangles and the next, shaking off their drops. Or, maybe it was just this sort of enigmatic inspiration that hits you, but I remember opening my eyes and feeling so wonderfully warm and safe inside me. Like a pastel blue care bear with pink smile swung on stomach.

Circumstance change. My brain’s a toolbox!

God had thrown me into a world, or culture, without consulting me. I happened to be a chassidic girl. It happened to be an arranged marriage. I was pushed by parent, culture, and lack of qualifications into unskilled jobs. But, hey, these things happened. They were the trees outside me. Inside, God had given me the tools to design the wood to suit me. Some trees I could whittle. Others I could chop. Heck, I could kneel down, scratch a path through the mud and seed roots to make my ideal forest. I could do it because God gave me the different tools.  Tucked in each flap of my brain was another instrument.  I imagined them. There was the “hammer” for persuading others to help me, the “spanner” for writing best sellers, the “wrench” for selling my ideas.  And so forth. I didn’t know these particular tools existed. I just knew I could develop them because they were necessary for creating my forest. All I had to do was imitate experts.

So I find a salesman who knocks people flat with his tricks and analyze how he does it. I choose authors, say H.L. Mencken, and dissect how they persuade. I take orators like George Clooney and listen to how and why they magnetize an audience. I’ve charted what I want to do in my life, decided which talents I need to achieve those tasks, chosen and copied professionals to get there.

Unstated years later, I reflect that none of that has been easy. All has taken years groveling to find a trek, falling, clawing to pick myself up, hacking through brambles to reach my goals.

I’m not the only one’s who’s come from such a constraining past. Statistics show that more than 10,000,000 children are born into environments similar to mine. People who come from certain Christian, Muslim, Jewish, and other pockets of culture. They are not given an education, fed a toxic misinterpretation of their religion, demeaned, denigrated for being a female, taught to hate others. And on and on.

Here’s my thought for our imminent New Year: Maybe if we separate the things that happen to us, that are passive, from the God-given powers in our brain – perhaps we could tweeze word of God from word of Man, choose truth from falsehood, separate “healthy teachings” from “harmful teachings”, and make something meaningful of our one and only lives.

How about it?

 

About the Author
Lea Zitter belongs to two International Psychology Honor Societies, worked as investigative journalist for the Israel Resource News Agency, was a member of the American Psychological Association (APA)'s first Division on Peace Psychology. She writes on identity economics, how your identity or culture makes your health, wealth, and success.
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