Tag Archives: Poem

Yom HaShoah

Yom HaShoah is Israel’s commemoration of the Holocaust. Shoah, the Hebrew word to describe the Holocaust, literally means “catastrophe.” Most Jewish communities follow suit and also hold ceremonies of remembrance on the 27th of Nissan. The Jewish calendar (and Muslim calendar!) is a lunar calendar so the Gregorian date changes each year. According to the Gregorian calendar, a new day begins at midnight. On the Jewish calendar, however, a new day begins at sundown. In 2016, Yom HaShoah began at sundown on May 4 and will end at sundown on May 5.

This has always been a day that leads me to think about the state of the present world. Today’s world is violent, full of anger and fear and hate, and in desperate need of peace. There are surely a million and one reasons why we are where we are, but I prefer to think about moving forward. Dwelling on the past has brought us our present. I have bigger dreams for the future.

Whenever I’ve taught about the Holocaust, I’ve focused heavily on the roles of bystanders and upstanders (rescuers). Writer Cynthia Ozick highlights the issue of indifference, which I address with my students.

“Indifference is not so much a gesture of looking away – of choosing to be passive – as it is an active disinclination to feel. Indifference shuts down the humane, and does it deliberately, with all the strength deliberateness demands. Indifference is as determined – and as forcefully muscular – as any blow.”

We need to care. We need to care about everyone in the world simply because they are human. We all are human.

I don’t write poetry anymore, but I wrote a poem last night.

I Remember

Today is Yom HaShoah.
Holocaust Remembrance Day.

We must remember because if we do not
who will?

On this day when we choose to remember
let us not talk
of numbers
but instead commemorate

I remember the people
the dreams
the hope

I remember the people with stories
picture frames.

I remember the people who

I remember

I remember pain
and anguish.
I remember hate
and horror.

I remember the tears.
I remember the countless trails of tears.

I remember the lives
while I mourn the deaths.
I honor the lives
while I lay the victims to rest.

I remember the lives they cherished.
I remember their fight to preserve
those lives.

Let us talk not only of the past
but of the hope for the future.
Let us not talk of wishes
but let us take action.

For on this day
on every day
it is not enough to remember.

We’ve promised never again
and we’ve remembered
and again
and again.

So let us not only talk of the past.
Let us embrace, build, demand
for the future.

There is clearly work to be done.

“Just because you’ve got the emotional range of a teaspoon . .. “

Devoted Harry Potter fans should recognize this quote. Admittedly, I had to look up the book (Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix), probably because it’s so long that I only read it 7 or 8 times. To summarize, Hermione is berating Harry and Ron for not understanding the very complicated feelings of Harry’s current girlfriend, Cho, whose former boyfriend was murdered by Voldemort.

It popped into my head while I was running today, and I actually started laughing, which should tell you how freaking slow this run was. Remembering Hermione’s “emotional range of a teaspoon” rant led me down a rabbit hole of emotion-related thoughts, and not only because theories of emotions was last week’s topic in DP Psych. At the recommendation of a high school English teacher who later became a colleague, I was 18 when I took the Myers-Briggs and found it to be both accurate and revealing. I’m considering taking it again because I recently heard an NPR podcast about how personality changes over time. Have a look or listen here.

All week I’ve been thinking about the theories of emotion that we study in class. We focused on two, the two-factor theory and the cognitive appraisal theory. In the past, I’ve also taught opponent-process, James-Lange, and Cannon-Bard. (I’ll leave the Googling to you for the last three.)

The two-factor theory states that there is a stimulus (thing that happens), which leads to some kind of physiological arousal (e.g. heart beating faster, palms sweating), which leads to a cognitive labeling of the situation (e.g. “This is amazing and making me happy!”), and concludes with the experience of emotion (e.g. joy). The following is a really useful image:

Source: http://classconnection.s3.amazonaws.com/859/flashcards/4458859/png/schachter-singer_two_factor_theory-142F804932851B974AA.png

On the other hand, the cognitive appraisal theory suggests that we experience emotions as a result two types of appraisal, primary and secondary. As you are experiencing an event, you make a judgement about it. Then there is physiological arousal and you experience the emotion, simultaneously. Primary appraisal refers to the significance of the situation, which will impact an individual’s response, and secondary appraisal refers to how an individual feels he or she can cope with consequences, again impacting response.

Hint: ANS = autonomic nervous system. Source: https://classconnection.s3.amazonaws.com/43/flashcards/428043/png/picture_16.png

While all people experience emotions differently, there are common threads to emotions that people identify as either positive or negative. To introduce this topic in class, I had my students choose a particular emotion, either negative or positive, and describe what the brain and body are doing as they experience this emotion. For example, negative emotions (e.g. stress, fear, anger) elicited responses like: sweaty palms, red face, jittery, jumpy, full of energy, argumentative, yelling, dizzy. My students described positive emotions emotions as being: giggly, affectionate, hugging, childlike, optimistic, free, eager, open. Some overlap, we also some common threads in our groups of examples.

On a personal level, I believe that I feel emotions a lot more intensely than most people. My English teacher identified this after my reaction to a reading of Sylvia Plath’s “Daddy” in class and subsequently suggested the Myers-Briggs. My mum tells stories of my temper tantrums as a kid, some of which I remember. She talks about dragging me up the stairs while I screamed and cried about really nothing, throwing me in the bath to calm me down. I bit a lot of pillows, but my parents only taught me that after noticing bruises on my arms. But I have also woken myself from dreams due to literally laughing out loud. I have done cartwheels down schools hallways (both as a student and as a teacher). I feel the need to hug everyone around me and restrain myself only because that’s not socially acceptable. The first time I was in a serious relationship my heart beat faster than normal for days, I lost my appetite, I couldn’t sit still, I couldn’t sleep. Someone once called the range of emotions I feel simultaneously “exhausting.” It can be.

A lot of people feel really intense emotions, and maybe the above is more normal than I think it is. Regardless, I almost always act on my emotions, positive or negative, and that’s been a problem.

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve learned to act and react more quietly, at least to the eyes and ears of others. I keep myself almost constantly busy when I’m upset to avoid ruminating because I know how riled up I will be if I let myself do that. A small change, for example, was journaling only once I’d calmed down rather than while I was upset. That can take hours. Sometimes it takes days. By the same token, emotions that are already strong like excitement and passion leave me full of jittery energy for days at a time. These days are usually very productive, despite loss of sleep that comes from said nervous energy, because if I’m moving I can stop thinking.

I have found myself muting my emotions when interacting with others. I’m probably feeling a lot more than I admit I’m feeling, whether those emotions are positive or negative. Maybe this comes from social cues about how much people are supposed to feel at once. Maybe those social cues are inaccurate and, like much of what we do, simply a social norm. And maybe others do sense that I’m not disclosing everything I could be. A friend and colleague in Malaysia describes me as guarded and he was right. Additionally, I wonder if my feelings last for longer than those of other people do. I have also found, as I mentioned in yesterday’s post (What?! Two posts in two days?!) that holding in all of those emotions has been a problem. And I do feel better when I let them out. This, I know, is normal.

What I don’t know is which theory of emotion sounds the most plausible to me. My students struggled with this, too. All are supported with empirical evidence, and therefore disputed based on other empirical evidence. Under some circumstances, I expect I act first and think later (e.g. the time the transmission blew on our boat full of passengers and we were floating in the middle of a river and needed someone on the only dock in that entire section of the river to help us with a line – definitely acted first and panicked later) Under others, however, I react based on how I think I’m feeling (e.g. being chased by lots of dogs while running in Malaysia – terror like I’ve never felt and then running faster than I’ve ever run).

If I’m totally off the mark on this, please let me know! Few feelings? Many feelings? No feelings? Feelings with no names? Comments always welcome.


Inventory of Being

Today was one of the nicest days that we’ve had in the last many months, so I went for a delightful walk around the neighborhood, both to avoid doing schoolwork and to brainstorm blog posts. I had a few thoughts: take a picture, talk about a really funny article from The Onion that I came across, write a letter to a friend who just moved away.

Somehow, those ideas led me to dig through the files on my computer to find a poem that I wrote for AP Literature and Composition my senior year of high school. The teacher who assigned the poem is now a colleague (she started her career in the school where I currently teach, got a new job at my alma mater, and returned to her first school after “retiring” the year I graduated), and I know that she still gives this assignment to her students. I don’t actually remember sitting down to write it, but I used it as a supplemental writing sample when I applied to college.

What’s this poem, you ask? Good question. An inventory of being is a poem in which one tries to explain oneself through a series of statements and/or using prescribed sentence starters, which is how my teacher assigned it. My inventory of being, written when I was a high school senior, is pasted below (the original formatting looked a little better different but WordPress doesn’t always like Word formatting):

Inventory of Being: Internalizing My Own

My name is Rebecca Michelle Elias Stein. I was named after my father’s grandmother, my mother’s grandfather, and I have my mother’s maiden name as well as my own last name, though I never actually use it. People usually call me Rebecca or Becca, but my dad calls me Bec and a friend calls me Reb. As long as people use my name, it doesn’t matter to me.

The thing I do best is listen when people need to talk.

I especially like people who do not judge others without first getting to know them.

I feel the best about myself when I’m sweating and sore after a dance class. I feel like I’ve accomplished something and that I’m ready for something to happen.

I am happiest when I’m with people who I love and who love me. There’s a certain amount of comfort in knowing that I’m with people who care.

Maybe that’s why my favorite line from a song is, “It’s not always rainbows and butterflies, but compromise that moves us along.” “She Will Be Loved” by Maroon 5 is my guilty pleasure.

I shudder to remember how much I hated my dad when he and my mum separated, and now that they’re back together, I shudder to think about how good that separation period truly was for my family.

My greatest fear is losing my family. They’ve taught me the vast majority of what I know and made me who I am and I don’t know how I’d wake up in the morning without knowing I have their unconditional love. I need to love them and I need to know that I am loved.

If I could wish for anything, I’d wish for world peace. I have wished, actually, but I have yet to see it.

If I could change the world, I’d make it as close to perfect as I could without people taking everything for granted. But I can’t change the world and make it nearly perfect because that would involve changing the minds of all the people in the world, and there will always be those who are immovable and who halt new ideas, ideas that could work. So I suppose I ought to settle for working to protect human rights, but I’ve never been good at settling.

My favorite spot on Earth is a comfy chair with a good book and maybe a cup of tea.

My favorite movie is Titanic. There’s something beautiful about a love story that will never

My favorite memory consists of spending a night with six amazing people I’ve known since I was very young. Those six people and I do not attend the same school, nor do we have the same goals or participate in the same activities. But what we have in common is our fierce, intense, unrestricted, ceaseless love for one another.

The motto my which I live my life is something Sting said: “You have to be yourself. Be very honest about who and what you are. And if people still like you, that’s fine. If they don’t, that’s their problem.”

When people ask for advice, I have an answer. Pirkei Avot (Ethics of the Fathers), chapter 1, verse 14: “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? And if I care only for myself, what am I? And if not now, when?”

I wish I knew why Leonardo da Vinci wanted the Mona Lisa to be enigmatic. I wonder if some people see me as enigmatic? Is it a good or bad thing to be enigmatic? Or is it neither a good nor bad thing, and merely is?

My favorite holiday is Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. I cannot think of a more appropriate way to start off a new year than being in synagogue, surrounded by family, friends, and all the people who I have grown up with and who have watched me grow up, praying for a good year not only for myself, but for everyone, because Jews always pray in the plural. And then there’s a meal, always at my house, with my family and some family friends. I can look around the table and know, without a shard of doubt, that should I ever need it, these are the people who will be there for me, now and always.

The nicest thing that ever happened to me was when a Holocaust survivor came up to me at my Bat Mitzvah, showed me the tattoo on his arm, thanked me for attending Hebrew School, and told me to always believe.

I do.

Rereading this poem makes me smile at my 17-year-old self. There’s a lot she knew, and even more that she didn’t. She was idealistic, happy, excited about being part of the world and ready to change it. She knew where she stood, who she was, and why she mattered. The joy with which that 17-year-old lived is still presently, vibrantly, energetically part of who I am and what I do. If I were to rewrite that poem, there would certainly be some changes, but there are also large parts that would remain the same. I still recognize the girl I was when I wrote that poem; I’m glad for the experiences that I’ve had and have grown from them, but that girl is quintessentially the same.

Maybe a rewritten inventory of being will be the subject of a future post. Weigh in if you have a thought about that!