How My Jewish Upbringing Helped Me Deliver A TEDx Talk

Insights come in some of the most unexpected ways and unusual places. This one happened on a recent road trip. I was experiencing a bucket list item; offering a TEDx talk on October 1st, 2022. I had been fascinated with the concept since I saw Elizabeth Gilbert offer her presentation from the TED stage in 2009. It was called  Your Elusive Creative Genius. The best-selling author who penned Eat, Pray, Love, was waxing philosophical about the dynamics of creativity and the ways in which ideas come to us from a multitude of sources. I knew I wanted to share a message of some kind from ‘the big stage’ too. At that point, I had no clue how to make that happen, but as is so with any accomplishment, it starts with a seed.

The letters are an acronym for Technology, Entertainment, and Design, and according to their website, “TED is a nonpartisan, nonprofit, devoted to spreading ideas, usually in the form of short, powerful talks. TED began in 1984 as a conference where Technology, Entertainment and Design converged, and today covers almost all topics–from science to business to global issues–in more than 110 languages. Meanwhile, independently run TEDx events help share ideas in communities around the world.”

In October of 2021, I began applying to several stages with the topic “Overcoming the Taboo of Touch.” Having grown up in a nurturing home in which love and affectionate touch were abundant, I was inspired to incorporate platonic touch, by consent into my work in the world. I offered Free Hugs Events and facilitated a workshop called Cuddle Party for many years. I am also a social worker and psychotherapist and one of the core teachings when I was earning my degrees was that it isn’t acceptable to touch clients, other than, perhaps a handshake.

The evolving talk touched (no pun intended) on the interweaving of those concepts and activities. My agreement with myself was that I would only apply to stages within driving distance since I didn’t want to fly during the pandemic. In April of 2022, I received a life-changing email, telling me that I was going to be interviewed by the coaching team of TEDx Faurot Park in Lima, Ohio. Think of it as an audition/job interview, conducted over Zoom. Shortly after that, I got the thumbs up, and the clock started ticking since I had less than six months to prepare for this bucket list item. It meant one on one and group coaching meetings, polishing the script, running it through aloud and in my head several times a day; even in my sleep. Supportive family and friends offered to listen while I honed it. Anxiety peaked and Imposter Syndrome kicked in. I wondered if I was going to remember all of the words…so many words, which constituted a 17-minute monologue. The trick was to commit it to memory without making it seem like I was delivering a speech.

My best friend, Barbara Cohen had told me that she was coming with me, as we planned the nine-hour drive. My thoughts were those of both appreciation and reluctance to have her accompany me, since some of the trip, once we arrived would be a lot of sitting and waiting while the group rehearsed. She assured me that she would enjoy it and would bring her needlepoint with her to work on while she was waiting.

Some history here: Barb and I met when we were 14 years old on the bench at a swim meet, as we swam on different teams. I don’t recall how the conversation got started, but within a short period of time, this person, whose family background was so different from mine, became a sister. She grew up in a Polish Catholic family and went to Catholic school from 1st grade through college (graduating from LaSalle in Philadelphia). I grew up in a Russian-Jewish family and went to public school and Hebrew School. I spent Christmas and Easter with her family, and she came to my house for Chanukkah and Passover. She became an accountant, and I became a social worker. More left brain, linear and logical than I am, she still comes up with insights that have me shaking my head in awe and wonder.

One left me thunderstruck as I was telling her how hard it was for me to slow down enough to enjoy the experience in full measure and how challenging it was to accept the support of my family and friends before, during, and after the TEDx talk. 

She looked me square in the eye and said, “Don’t be a bad Jew.” I asked what she meant by that. My sister-friend, who had converted to Judaism at least a decade ago, after marrying her husband Glenn and raising their four children Jewish, including seeing them through B’nai Mitzvot and being active in their synagogue, explained. She reminded me that because one of the core principles of Judaism is doing Mitzvot, which I had modeled for me by my parents, I was good at the giving part, but not so great at the receiving part. In her mind, being a good Jew meant allowing other people to do acts of kindness for me as well. 

Nearly every aspect of my personal and professional relationships has to do with being of service and giving of myself. We are taught that it is better to give than to receive. How can there be a giver if there is no receiver? Just as it is with the way the heart works, there needs to be both an inflow and outflow of blood. I am willing to receive the inflow of love as well.

One of my favorite writings on this paradigm comes from my friend Rabbi Rami Shapiro.

 Unending Love 

We are loved by unending love.

We are embraced by arms that find us 
even when we are hidden from ourselves. 
We are touched by fingers that soothe us 
even when we are too proud for soothing. 
We are counseled by voices that guide us 
even when we are too embittered to hear.

We are loved by unending love.

We are supported by hands that uplift us 
even in the midst of a fall. 
We are urged on by eyes that meet us 
even when we are too weak for meeting.

We are loved by unending love.

Embraced, touched, soothed, and counseled,
ours are the arms, the fingers, the voices; 
ours are the hands, the eyes, the smiles.

We are loved by unending love.

I am willing to be a good Jew in all of its forms and embrace that Divine love.

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