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Mental Health Mondays: Grief

Posted on June 15th, 2020 by

Today we are talking about grief and loss. The content of this post includes mentions and references to death. Please take care of yourself and decide if you are able to read this post right now.

We are not mental health professionals. If you are feeling overwhelmed with emotions like anxiety or depression, or they are impacting your daily life, please reach out to professionals who can help you. If you need immediate help, use the National Suicide Hotline, 1-800-273-8255, which offers online chats as well. Jewish Community Services also offer help to people experiencing emotional crises.

We aim to provide some tips and guides to help those who are self-isolating and to connect with our JMM community. These ideas might not work for everyone, but we hope that by starting the conversation about mental health, we can inspire you to take a moment to breathe and reflect on what you need today to feel good.

Right now, we are experiencing collective grief and loss. Loss of black folks and various protestors killed by police violence. Loss of people, disproportionately black folks, who are dying from COVID-19. Loss of our way of life, of what we considered normal. Loss of income and housing stability. Loss of routine, social connections, of regular life.

In some ways, this loss may lead us to a different future, one where health insurance is not linked to employment, where housing is a guaranteed right, where technology can allow for more accessibility for all. However, to find hope at this moment we must also acknowledge our grief. Grief is commonly associated with the loss of a loved one, and that tearing pain of losing someone cannot be compared, however, people can experience grief over many different types of loss. Today, grief is all too common, even if you may not realize you’re experiencing it. Let’s talk about some ways to identify that you are dealing with grief, and some tips for processing and moving forward.

If your feelings of grief or loss may cause you to hurt yourself or others, please use resources like the Suicide Hotline at 1-800-273-8255, or local in-patient treatment programs.

Logo for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline

Visit the National Suicide Hotline website for links to text and chat options for help.

No matter what the cause of your grief, it is a personal experience and your feelings are valid. If you are feeling grief, you may be feeling shocked and disbelief. It may be hard to understand how your life is different now, whether someone is no longer in your life or if your daily routine is gone. You may be feeling anger, that the situation that brought you loss is unfair. Sadness is the most common and universal experience of grief. The sadness of loss can be so consuming that you may be feeling despair. Please seek immediate help if you are feeling overwhelming sadness to the point that you are unable to function normally. Additionally, you may be feeling guilty about the situation, and you may be thinking about ways that you could have prevented it. There are lots of ways these emotions can grow, change, or combine, as you move on from the loss.

Grief can also cause physical symptoms, such as weight loss or gain, lowered immunity, fatigue, and nausea. People experience grief in many different ways, and so there is no one way that a person may feel.

When dealing with grief, it’s important to acknowledge that processing it can take a long time. There is no set timeline for someone to be able to function normally. And, truly, that grief may never go away, especially if it’s from the loss of a loved one. A helpful tool I’ve found to express this feeling of grief lessening but never going away is the “ball in a box” analogy. To summarize, grief is a ball in a box. On the side of the box is a button that triggers painful feelings. When you first experience loss, the ball is very big, so it hits that pain button a lot. But over time, or as you find ways to cope, that ball gets smaller, so it doesn’t hit the pain button all the time. That ball never really goes away, though, and you may hit that pain button unexpectedly. Those feelings of pain are valid, even if they occur much later after the loss.

This image shows a box. Inside is a large ball floating in the space. There is a "pain button" on the side of the box.

A graphic of the grief ball and the pain button.

However, there are ways to try and deal with the grief that may be helpful and may allow you to make that “grief ball” a little smaller:

>We always recommend looking for professional help. Seeing a therapist or grief counselor can be a huge help with dealing with feelings that come from loss. If you want some tips for finding someone to talk to online, check out our previous blog post about online counseling.

>Connect with friends and family. It can be difficult to reach out to people right now but leaning on others can lift a huge weight from you. Asking for help is not a sign of weakness and can even bring you closer to others. Try to find specific things to have others help you with, whether it’s making food, helping with funeral arrangements, or just have someone to keep you company. If you’re looking for ways to spend time with friends and family during quarantine, check out this post with tips for connecting digitally.

>Find others who may be going through a similar experience. Support groups can be incredibly helpful and provide a new community that can help you through this moment. While groups may not be meeting in person right now, there are still organizations that are providing the space to meet digitally.

>Take care of yourself. Dealing with grief can cause us to lose a sense of self-care, whether that means our hygiene isn’t as great, we eat less or not-as-healthy foods, or we don’t take time to do the things that make us happy and fulfilled. Make sure to check in with your personal needs and figure out ways to ensure that you’re meeting them. Set alarms to remind you to take meds and drink water. Figure out a schedule for meals and for sleeping.

>Grief never goes away entirely. There will be events and situations in the future that might trigger grief, even unexpectedly. For the ones, you can anticipate, try to prepare for them. Whether it may be the anniversary of when you started the job that you lost, the birthday of a loved one who’s passed, or any other reminder, figure out a way to honor the memory and the event. Planning ahead of time can help prevent overwhelming feelings from taking over.

A group of people sitting in a circle. Their faces are cut off in the image but one person is gesturing like they are talking.

Talking to a group can help you find support and community, even if it’s a virtual group!

This is not a comprehensive list of coping techniques, but just a start to deal with those painful feelings that so many of us are experiencing. As always, the best advice we can give is to reach out to a professional and get their help.

If you are watching someone experience grief, remember that the best way to help them is to be there, ready for whatever they need. Never tell someone how to deal with their grief. Just listen to their needs and understand that grieving is a personal, painful process, that they need to work out on their own.

Posted in jewish museum of maryland

Voter Education: Jewish Activism in America

Posted on June 5th, 2020 by

For our regular Voter Education post, I look to Jewish teachings as a framework for how to act in our current times of uprising and injustice. However, more important than my words are how you choose to actually live out these values and to help others. Look at the following resources for educational opportunities, places to donate, and actions you can take today to pursue justice and save lives.

Follow black educators and creators. Seek out literature, learning, and resources about black people. Need a place to start? Read about Black Wall Street and the destruction that occurred on March 31st, 1921. Or read about the Black Panthers and the way that the US used secret police to undermine and ruin the organization.

Join protests. Make sure to verify the origin of the protests you want to attend, as they may not be organized by reliable groups. Also, make sure that you are prepared. Check out the graphic below and do research on local lawyers, bail funds, and other tips to make sure you are armed with the knowledge you need in case you are arrested.

Donate money. If you’re unable to attend protests in person, consider donating to bail funds in your area. If you are in Maryland, you can donate to the Baltimore Action Legal Team (or BALT) fund. If you’re from out of state, check out this simple list to find bail funds in your area. Also, consider donating to other local organizations that are doing important work. Donating locally is often more impactful than donating to national organizations.

Donate supplies. Reach out to the protest organizers and donate supplies, such as face masks, plastic water bottles with squirt tops, snacks, safety equipment, medical supplies, and even signs for protestors to carry. Find out what they need right now.

Pressure your leaders. Even though voting has just happened for Maryland and other areas, local leaders should know that people are listening and watching them all the time. Campaign Zero has lots of resources about legislation and policies that can help you when reaching out to your legislators.

Please share these resources and links and let us know if you take action! Your decision may inspire another person to do the same.

This image shows just some tips for when attending a protest. There are lots of resources out there about how to protest safely, especially during COVID-19

Jewish American history is full of activism. From the labor movement to civil rights, from socialist demonstrations to charity organizations, Jewish Americans have always been a part of political action in the US. These Jewish Americans truly embody the words of the Torah, which state צֶ֥דֶק צֶ֖דֶק תִּרְדֹּ֑ף, or “Justice, justice, you shall pursue” (Deuteronomy 16:2) This statement in the Torah, which begins a portion about the fair judgment of people, Israelite and non-Israelite alike, is a long-held value and the basis for many people’s Jewish identity. For some Jewish people, this value of pursuing justice is the framework of how they think about the world and interact with it, creating these leaders and supporters who have helped to dramatically change the US. And at this moment, as we again face injustice, confusion, and terror, I encourage you to turn back to this statement, and other values in our Jewish teachings.

Every life is precious, as we hold pikuach nefesh, פיקוח נפש as the highest mitzvah in Jewish tradition, that is, the principle that saving a life has more importance over any other mitzvot or action that we could take. Yet, not only should we protect the lives of those around us, but we also need to pursue justice. It’s not enough to perform support when we are in a flashpoint moment like we are right now. We must always be seeking justice, and reform the world around us so that we are not forced to choose between life and our mitzvot. We should not be choosing between a person and rituals or property.

To encourage your own activism, I wanted to share stories of Jewish leaders, some of whom are part of our history of Jewish Baltimore.

Starting around the 1880s, movements calling for fair practices and wages in the garment industry were taking place. These demonstrations, which took place in Chicago, New York, Baltimore, as well as other cities, were in response to the conditions that workers faced in the garment businesses. The garment industry was a huge employer, especially for immigrants who were coming to these cities with little education and English (much like the scrap industry). Baltimore’s businesses specialized in umbrellas, but the industry was so big here, that at one point almost every man in the US could say that they wore a piece of clothing from Baltimore. Despite the accessibility of this work, the conditions were torturous, with workers stuck in sweatshops for 50 to 60 hours a week and paid only minimally. You can read more about the conditions in Baltimore specifically, check out an oral history from Jacob Edelman conducted by Bertha Libauer in 1975.

This black and white photo of Jacob Edelman was taken in the 1940s. JMM 1991.49.1

Speaking of Jacob Edelman, after working and watching the action being led by Sidney Hillman, another prominent Jewish activist, Edelman joined the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America, which worked to unionize and protect garment workers. His skills as a lawyer were essential for the group in Baltimore, and we even feature Edelman in our Voices of Lombard Street exhibit. Because of people like Jacob Edelman and Sidney Hillman, and others in the Labor Movement, rights such as a 40-hour week, weekends, and minimum wage came about. Their legacy should be remembered and celebrated, as we continue to help workers secure their rights.

Another important moment for Jewish activism was in support of the civil rights movement in the 60s. Acting as allies, by following the guidance of black folks like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Jewish communities helped to bring attention to injustice. Famously, Rabbi Joachim Prinz marched with MLK and spoke at the March on Washington. You can hear a recording of his speech or read the transcript here. Rabbi Prinz’s experiences in Berlin as Nazism was on the rise informed his future work and life, and he continued to speak out and work for the rights of all, Jewish and black alike. Other religious leaders also participated in marches, such as Rabbi Abraham Heschel who marched arm-in-arm with MLK in the Selma march.

Pictured here is Rabbi Prinz, speaking at the March on Washington in 1963.

However, Jewish communities must continue to support black folks today, as well as acknowledge the ways that we haven’t stepped up. As we talk about often on this blog, we cannot be bystanders, as the repercussions of income inequality, redlining, and more affect Baltimore and other cities. Especially when some of these systemic problems have come about with help from Jewish people. We must own our complicity and continue to amplify black voices and causes.

Continue learning about Jewish and black activists, as well as dedicating your time, money, and voice to those that need it most. Join us in following our mission and vision, as we inspire everyone to explore history, take action, and imagine a better future.


Posted in jewish museum of maryland

Voter Education: Museum Advocacy

Posted on May 29th, 2020 by

The Jewish holiday of Shavuot is today, and it’s considered the date that the Israelites received the Ten Commandments at Mount Sinai. Traditionally, this holiday is spent eating delicious dairy-based foods, like cheesecakes and blintzes, and studying together as a community. Some people even hold all-night study sessions, as they read medieval poetry and the Book of Ruth.

Here at JMM, we deeply value the power of sharing stories with the community. We want our stories to inspire learning, growth, and inspiration. We’re doing our best to offer these stories virtually, through programs and digital tours for adults and classrooms, but it’s hard to not be able to welcome you all to celebrate these stories and holidays together. As we look towards the future, we want to ensure that we can continue to offer the opportunities to learn from each other and to do so, we need your support.

Many Jewish communities host all-night study sessions on Shavuot. This year, many groups are hosting these sessions online. In this image, three young, Jewish men sit a table, studying together.

Building on your advocacy skills from last week’s blog post, we ask for your help in protecting museums and other similar cultural institutions. This uncertain time has placed a strain on all community services, including museums. As our JMM community knows, museums are an essential place for everyone. They provide the opportunity to learn about people different from our own, inspiring compassion and empathy. Museums collect and preserve history, allowing us to reflect on the past and imagine a better future. Museums are hubs of culture, education, financial growth, and togetherness, and we need you to share the necessity of their existence.

First of all, learn more about the essential nature of museums through these reports on Museum & Public Opinion and Museums as Economic Engines. Let these reports just be the start of your learning into how museums have a huge, positive impact on their community and on the nation.

The American Alliance of Museums, or AAM, has tons of resources on how to support and advocate for museums across the country.

Then, visit the American Alliance of Museums’ website on museum advocacy to find resources like advocacy ideas, videos to share, form letters to send to legislators, and social media packs to help you spread the word that museums need to be protected.

There are lots of ways to help: calling and emailing your representatives, writing op-eds, and sharing the information on your social media to encourage others to participate.

Help us to save American museums so that we can still offer programs, school groups can still visit, and we can continue to preserve and share stories for everyone.


Posted in jewish museum of maryland

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