Healing my back, healing our democracy

This blog post was written by Sophia Nachmanoff, a T7 Tivnoodle from Davis, California. She loves to read, listen to and play music, and embarrass herself through her general theatre kid-ness. As everyone in the cohort knows, she has a deep passion for lentils, baking challah, and cleaning the kitchens of the two batiim while dancing to 80s music. She interns at Rose Haven, a day center for women and children, and at Tivnu construction.

Last week, I fell down the stairs. Do I have any clue how it happened? Nope. One second I was at the top of the stairs, and the next second I was lying at the bottom,  the wind knocked out of me, unable to speak, surrounded by my concerned friends. Once I got my breath back, I immediately tried to get up and walk, but I was instead ushered onto the couch, and asked question after question. All I wanted to do was just pretend like it never happened. But eventually I was convinced to go to the emergency room, where I learned that I had a cervical sprain, which is a fancy way of saying that I messed up my back, and the only way I could make it better was time and rest.

And I’m terrible at that. I have the uncontrollable urge to help everyone, all the time. I fall into a pattern of starting to feel better, overworking myself, and then feeling torn between self-care and perseverance. Ironically, that happened to also be the theme of our reflection that week. We contemplated the line between Netzach (endurance) and Chesed (self-compassion), and how that translates to our activism.

This felt very relevant, because recently, I’ve been struggling with yet another metaphorical fall down the stairs- the impending election. As a group of socially engaged young people, it’s on the forefront of everyone’s mind in Tivnu. And to be completely honest, I’m absolutely terrified right now. Watching me and my friends’ rights be debated in the hearing for a potential lifelong Supreme Court appointee, seeing my country slide further and further into fascism, wondering if we’re going to make it out alive… of course it’s stressful. And even more stressful is trying to figure out what to do about it.

On one hand, I want to stay as engaged as possible. No matter what I do, it might never be enough, but I should do my best. I want to watch all the debates, read the news every day, phone bank, write letters, and campaign. On the other, my mental state declines with every minute I spend thinking about the impending election. Part of me desperately wants to hide from the world in a safe bubble. Do the menial, behind-the-scenes work, where I don’t have to directly look at the realities of what’s at stake. But then I know I am not performing my civic responsibility.

I’m learning to find a balance. I worked on the 500 letters that Tivnu wrote for Vote Forward, encouraging members of underrepresented groups to vote, and it felt like I was taking a tiny step towards saving democracy. However, I have to turn off notifications on news sites so that I’m not passively carrying that stress. I can’t phone bank, but I can research campaigns and educate those close to me.

I don’t think I have anywhere near an answer on how to balance self-compassion and endurance, but I think a lot is explained by the advice of my doctor (that everyone in Tivnu makes constant fun of): motion is lotion. Even though I’m more comfortable if I never use my back right now, that would mean it would never heal. But if something causes me intense pain, I shouldn’t do it, because then I can’t do the small amount I still can. The same principle applies to healing our democracy. I’m learning to practice activism in ways that I’m able to without causing long term damage to myself, so that both my personal back and the backbone of our nation can hopefully someday come back even stronger than before.  



Tivnu in the NY Times

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