Nature versus Nurture (The corrected version)

Googling ‘Therapy Nature Nurture”, one gets about 7,150,000(!) results in one-fifth of a second!  This would suggest there’s a lot to say on this.

English: Depiction of heredity.

In this debate I am biased toward Nature, and tend to minimize Nurture, thus creating the most significant struggle in my work.  After all, a therapist must believe change is possible despite one’s innate nature.

In my youth I held a firm belief that – with awareness, effort and perseverance we could change our nature/character.  Later, being a mother and surrounded by children and parents, I slowly and firmly changed, and my belief in the power of nature intensified.

My vision of my work had to change, and thus my expectations.

How can I believe in change if I adhere to the belief that nature is more powerful?

Fortunately, I had many an occasion that proved me wrong.

Nowadays, I train future therapists.  Their most repeated question is, “How many sessions should I wait before I tell this patient what he needs to do?”

No patience.

Well, being an impatient person myself, I can definitely identify with the “quick fix” desire. After all, wouldn’t this be great:  “Yes, take two aspirins and you’ll be guilt-free in the morning.”?

But my profession is the one that taught me more about patience than anything else in the world. It also taught me that there is almost always a possibility for change.

The novice therapist isn’t aware of the fact that their lack of patience is transmittable energetically, despite their attempts to mask it. In their rush to fix, they are creating incongruity in the session, all the while believing they are good enough actors to hide it.

Therapists can be good or bad, but they are definitely second-rate actors!

For the Nurture component to work effectively the therapist must be devout – devout to the belief that change will come with enough acceptance of ‘what is’, and a loving, holding environment.

And yet change can be small, but, sometimes small change can impact one’s life remarkably – quite similar to transferring a struggling plant to a sunny location … it’s about paying attention to the missing ingredient and being committed to supplying it without a timetable.

Some may say that therapy takes too long and it’s too expensive – and some may be right. I say that I believe in the healing process of believing that change is possible.

I’d like to end this very early morning reflection by retelling a story about a famous Rabbi, who knew about man’s internal conflicts before Freud:

Rabbi Israel Salanter

One night, as he walked past the home of
a shoemaker, Rabbi Salanter noticed that despite the late hour, the man was
still working by the light of a dying candle. “Why are you still working,” he
asked. “It is very late and soon that candle will go out.” The shoemaker
replied, “As long as the candle is still burning, it is still possible to
accomplish and to mend.” Salanter spent that entire night excitedly pacing his
room and repeating to himself: “As long as the candle is still burning, it is
still possible to accomplish and to mend.”


Posted in Nature vs. Nurture, Therapy, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 27 Comments

An Immigrant’s Perspective # 4 – Foreign Films, Subtitles and Iraq

“Where did you meet them?”, I asked my mother after her new friends left our house. “At the club,” she responded, “and do you know that he speaks six languages fluently?”

Being multilingual was always a reason for admiration and a sign of higher education in my home – and especially for my mother who had limited education. But that held true not only for her, but for all of us. Young and old alike shared in respecting the skill and talent of people who could speak more than three languages.

In school we had to study at least two foreign languages. And, being a country of immigrants, we were used to hearing the “older generation” speak many languages: Hebrew of course, Yiddish, Russian, Polish, Arabic, Rumanian, Hungarian, German and Portuguese, to name just a few.

Another exposure to foreign languages came from songs on the radio and mostly from watching foreign films. The production of Israeli movies was almost nonexistent back then, so the only movies we saw were foreign. And of course with foreign films came subtitles. In fact, growing up reading subtitles was a normal part of watching a film.

Brigitte Bardot à un cocktail en 1968

My childhood and adolescence were sprinkled heavily with American films where I was introduced to Gary Cooper and Elizabeth Taylor, cowboys and indians and the expanse of the west; British films where I was introduced to Lawrence Olivier and Peter O’Toole and the wry humor of the Brits; Italian films with Sophia Lauren and Marcello Mastroianni … and who can forget Alain Delon and Brigitte Bardot who were France’s sexy export? And before Bollywood I remember the movies from India, where all of them had a theme of intense suffering followed by redemption, as well as the Spanish films sharing the same theme but in a much more melodramatic fashion. And all of those films stood in sharp contrast to the brooding, introspective and symbolic art of Ingmar Bergman.

All with subtitles, of course.

Image from the film "Matrimonio all'Itali...

Image from the film “Matrimonio all’Italiana” (1964). Sophia Loren and Marcello Mastroianni. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

You can imagine my surprise coming to the States and realizing that no one was in awe by multilingual proficiency! Nor was it an aspiration and a goal. Moreover, Spanish which is the most common language spoken in California, was taught in school in a rudimentary fashion and most students had no desire to be fluent or proficient.

As to foreign films? They were few and far between, and only in major cities. So I guess the prevailing concept was that those who live in smaller cities are less sophisticated, or more isolated from other countries(?) Or is it that the ear of Middle America has some foreign language deficiency?

But truth be told, even in LA, most of my friends would say: “Subtitles? They give me a headache.” I guess there’s something different in the ventilation system installed in movie theatres here, because I can’t recall anyone getting a headache in Israel.

And let me take it a step further.

Without getting into politics, I was keenly aware of  how the invasion of Iraq was going to fail shortly after it started, partially because there were so many assumptions about foreign countries based on ignorance. Ignorance stemming from a belief that everyone wants to be like us, and that we have the market cornered on what’s best in life.

And even though I realize that recommending foreign films with subtitles to the State Department, our generals and President Bush would have probably not change the course of history, I cannot but speculate that something could have been improved there, had they expanded their knowledge and familiarity with other countries, their culture and customs.

If any of them had any exposure to Al-Qadisiya, the epic recounting the triumph of the Arabs over the Persians in 636 AD, they would have appreciated the extent to which pride versus humiliation were intense and organic themes in Iraq and the Arab culture.

So subtitles taught me a lot about other people and their countries, they also made me more cosmopolitan, and they definitely introduced me to the cinema of the world with its intricate visuals, their unique artistic vision and especially to unique cultural themes that were so different than mine.

Thank you foreign films! You brought so much richness into my life, subtitles and all.

Seventh Seal - Ingmar Bergman

Seventh Seal – Ingmar Bergman (Photo credit: zsoolt)

Jules, Jim & Catherine

Jules, Jim & Catherine (Photo credit: Indiewench)

Posted in Foreign Language, movies, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 17 Comments

Lessons from Cinderella

The story of Cinderella popularized by the Brothers Grimm (but have originated by Charles Perrault) is traditionally a part of most girls’ childhood tales in most countries and languages.

Not having daughters, I have never had the occasion of analyzing  the lessons of the story. Now that I have a granddaughter, I shudder at what she would learn.

Illustration in The fairy tales of Charles Per...

Illustration in The fairy tales of Charles Perrault Perrault, Charles, 1628-1703; Clarke, Harry, 1889-1931, illustrator. London: Harrap (1922) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


Here’s a list of the lessons a young girl with a young mind learns from the story:

1 All stepmothers are evil.

2 Your father is a wimp and will not protect you.

3 Your step sisters will never have your best interest/ Beware of other women.

4 You can be forced to do what other people want because you’re a weak girl.

5 The greatest goal in life is marrying Prince Charming, but it’s not really important to know him.

6 The only asset a girl has is her looks.

7 When you’re not invited to a ball, you cry in despair.

8 Pumpkins can be transformed to carriages.

9 Glass slippers are comfortable shoes, even for dancing.

10 We should wait for miracles and magic to transform our lives, but otherwise be obedient.

11 When a man is infatuated with us, or to be more precise, with our looks, rest assured he will always find you.

12 All the traits you are blessed with are worthless, unless someone rescues you.

Hmmm, I think I’ll skip this one!

Illustration in The fairy tales of Charles Per...

Illustration in The fairy tales of Charles Perrault Perrault, Charles, 1628-1703; Clarke, Harry, 1889-1931, illustrator. London: Harrap (1922) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Posted in Cinderella, Fairy Tales, Feminism, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 20 Comments

Lake Balboa: People or Nature

The sky was mostly blue

The sky was mostly blue

Sky turning gray

Sky turning gray

Not being able to walk these days, I miss Lake Balboa. It so happens that I have a proprietary pride in it. IMHO Los Angeles is not truly a city, but there are some wonderful pockets, neighborhoods and parks that can make up for it. Lake Balboa, with its manmade lake is one of them. It never fails to elevate my mood or change it. It also makes me think.

The place is beautiful, but for me it’s about the convergence of nature and people. I don’t have pictures of the cherry blossoms which adorn the park this season, but it so happened that I was looking for a picture of my granddaughter on my iPhone and I came across some pictures of Lake Balboa that were taken a while back. Being impatient with immobility, I looked longingly at the pictures and realized that I took a greater number of pictures of people than nature.

Almost rain

Almost rain

Being who I am it makes sense. The story is always about people. It’s either about the people in the picture, or about the ones taking the picture. There’s one blogger whose photos I love, but I enjoy his descriptions of how he took the pictures even more:

When I took my pictures, and please don’t get excited, photographer I’m not (thank you iPhone), it was as much about the plethora of people walking in the park, as it was about the beautiful cloudy skies and birds.

A bird of a different feather

A bird of a different feather

The fisherman

The fisherman

Any time I take a picture of any person I create a story. Obviously I have no idea what that person’s story is, but for me it’s like writing chapters in a book. This fisherman must be a single guy who has fears of intimacy, even though I know nothing about him!

"Can you believe that?"

“Can you believe that?”

The lovers bridge

The lovers bridge

In between the hikers, walkers, runners and families, I was struck by the calmness on the face of the bird man. His shopping cart next to him with all his earthly possessions, he seemed to derive  immense joy from feeding the birds.

You can't see the birdman sitting until you get closer

You can’t see the birdman sitting until you get closer

A homeless birdman

A homeless birdman

I don’t want to sound like an advertisement, but this park has something for everybody. The lake, the playground for the children, the birds, the walks, the cherry trees, the men who play with their remote toys, the couples and the single runners and the occasional homeless man who knows that when sitting there, he’s as rich as the richest man in the world.

Posted in LOS ANGELES, Photography, Recreation, Travel, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 19 Comments

Visiting the Sick

Visiting the Sick (Visiter les malades)


I’m not a religious person and I dont follow the commandments, but  from time to time I marvel at the wisdom and simplicity inherent in them.

Having gone through feet surgery five days ago, I received a number of lovely wishes for speedy recovery; a number of visitors;  and a number of offers to come and visit and help.

Fortunately for me, my husband is very adept at taking care of me and he’s very resourceful. At the same time, some unexpected offers for help touched me because they came from people who I’m not so close to. All that’s to say that like I always do I started thinking of how other people react to a friend’s illness, and how I react.

I remember a friend telling me that I did not show enough compassion when I called her after she went through some unpleasant test.  Then there was another friend who had the flu who told me that she expected to hear more caring in my voice.

So in thinking about not being able to walk nor drive, and trying to put other people in my shoes (I swear I didn’t intend this as a pun), I figured that quite often we behave in the way we want someone to treat us when we are sick. But as I thought about it I remembered many exceptions to the rule and I decided I didn’t know what other people truly want.

The reality is Sometimes I rush to visit someone; and other times I think that they really want to be left alone. But these are all assumptions. I don’t know what’s in their heart.

That’s when I remembered the commandment of Visiting the Sick – Bikur Cholim (ביקור חולים) and marveled at how regulating human behavior has its merits. Yup, kind of hard to believe that these words actually came out of my mouth but they did and I stand firmly behind them.

We humans are so prone to errors, miscalculations and assumptions that we waste precious time and energy trying to figure out what the right thing to do is. However, the religious Jew or the religious Moslem, for instance, does not. It’s spelled out for him/her. There’s a code of behavior towards God and our fellow-man. Case closed.

Yes, the sick may not be in the mood for a visit, they may already have too much food from friends and family, but visiting for even a short time is fulfilling the commandment; and you don’t need to wonder whether you’ve done the right thing or not. And in this day of FaceBook, texting, emails and the archaic instrument we call telephone, it’s so easy to lose the human touch  the physical touch.  And, I’m as guilty of that as anyone.

There’s no doubt that regardless of whether you believe the code of behavior was given by God, was Godinspired or simply written by sages who gathered generations of wisdom wisdom it is! I, the heathen that I am, believe in the sages, but that’s neither here nor there.  The commandments and the code of ethics contain timeless instructions on how to be, thus resolving any doubts as to what’s appropriate behavior.

So next time when in doubt, I’ll simply follow the commandment. As we say here quite often:  If it won’t help, it won’t hurt.


From Wikipedia:

Bikur cholim (Hebrew: ביקור חולים; “visiting the sick”; also transliterated Bikur holim) refers to the mitzvah (Jewish religious commandment) to visit and extend aid to the sick.[1] It is considered an aspect of gemilut chasadim (benevolence, selflessness, loving-kindness).[2] It is traditional to recite prayers for healing, such as the Mi Shebeirach prayer in the synagogue, and Psalms (especially Psalm 119) on behalf of the sick.[3] Bikur cholim societies exist in Jewish communities around the world. The earliest Bikur cholim society on record dates back to the Middle Ages.[4]


Visiting the sick is from the clearest signs of such mutual love, mercy and empathy.  More than that, visiting the sick is a major responsibility that every single Muslim is duty-bound to fulfill.  The Prophet Muhammad said:

“The rights of one Muslim over another Muslim are six… When you meet him, you greet him with the salaam (i.e. to say: “As-Salamu alaykum”), when he invites you, you accept his invitation, when he consults you in a matter, you give him sincere advice, when he sneezes and praises God, you ask God to have mercy on him, when he is sick, you visit him, and when he passes away you accompany him (through his funeral).”[2]

Posted in Illness, Uncategorized, Visiting the Sick | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 13 Comments

Fine Dining and Falafel

After an enjoyable visit to NYC, I made some mental notes about my dining experience … so, here goes:

Let’s start with the supporting actors: First and foremost my husband, who’s a Foodie. Not only does he like to try new restaurants and cuisines, he cooks as well! Yes, I know, all of you female readers are envious, and you should be.

Then there’s my first born. How I ended up with a son who is so passionate about food, who knows so much about chefs, cuisines, restaurants etc. is beyond me. Maybe it has to do with his years in Italy, but I’m still amazed at his zeal and devotion to the science of food and its consumption…

And then there’s me, the main actor in this NYC trip – who was told by the supporting actors that we MUST visit certain restaurants, or otherwise this would end in tragedy and bloodshed.

Let me first share with you some of the early gastronomical background of the main character – i.e. me, where I was introduced to simple delicacies from the streets of Netanya, my home town in Israel.

Hot corn on the cob sold by street vendors, pulled right out of their boiling cauldrons. No butter – just some salt. And, cold prickly pear (aka sabres) sold by the brave souls who manage to get them off their cacti without being stung, so that we weaker mortals could eat the juicy delicacy, bending forward to prevent the juice from dripping on our clothes. Then there’s the cold watermelons sold by the slice in hot summer days when the red meat of the fruit tastes heavenly.

But then there’s the pièce de résistance , the quintessential street food … the one and only … The Falafel. And, even in those days when the term Foodie didn’t exist, there were heated discussions (even when I was a teenager), as to the best falafel in town. Unquestionably, and ultimately – perfection depended on the quality of the falafel balls, and [drum roll….] the salads and condiments accompanying this king of street foods.

So knowing all of that, let’s go back to NYC a week ago where there was a frenzy about finding the perfect dining place…

Both my husband and my son corresponded about where to eat, and why – and some friends kindly added their two-cents. However, it took a lot of effort and diligence to find the restaurant where we might actually get a reservation for a Sunday night since – as some of you may not be aware, there are restaurants that do not only excel at being very expensive, but are so popular that one has to make a reservation at least 10 days in advance!

10 days? If I didn’t find it so absurd, I’d equate it to getting an audience with the Pope (oh, sorry, I have to wait for the next one). In spite of this, my dedicated and persistent son scored, and we got a reservation to ABC Kitchen, one of the most popular and highly rated restaurants in NYC.

Now, I don’t know if this has happened to you before, but I swear to you I was already anticipating the ensuing scene:

You go to a place like ABC Kitchen and inevitably you get some food that is mediocre. But, because you’ve paid a lot of money and the restaurant is highly rated – you feel compelled to find some amazing qualities in food that’s really just OK.

But knowing me as I suspect some of you do by now, I refuse to buy into some sort of Foodie mystique despite my star-struck dinner companions’ insistence on the unique characteristics of a piece of fried chicken breast, which in my house we called schnitzel, and believe you me, it tasted better. So after all the efforts to eat at ABC Kitchen, my review is three stars out of five, nice ambience and interesting decor. Save your money!

Then there’s Momofuko.

Momofuko is David Chang’s empire of bars, restaurants and casual dining that enjoys cult-like reverence. Here I do have to bow down in obeisance, as I’ve never tasted such unique and imaginative food, and I readily admit that I would love to visit Momofuko’s SSam Bar again. Moreover, the price was right – however forget about ambience!

But … and there’s always a but …

We stopped by some of the food trucks which are around every corner and I got a simple falafel. This was not a great falafel, just a somewhat mediocre falafel. I was limited in the choice of salads accompanying the chick pea balls, and limited in the choice of Middle Eastern sauces – since, as the vendor explained, the cart owner being from India, didn’t know of Tahini sauce. (A barbaric falafel felony!) So to make a long story even longer, I am not embarrassed to say that with the exception of one and a half restaurants, I would rather have falafel any day.

Now you might think me gastronomically unrefined, culinary challenged or rather simple. Possibly.

I would rather think of myself as less prone to BS; unwilling to spend hard earned money on hype without substance – and I would like to think that I am, food-wise, discriminating.

You see, in a good falafel you combine the slight sweetness of a fresh pita bread, the crunch of the falafel balls with the variety of the numerous salads if you so happen to frequent a serious falafel maker. And you top it off with some sauce , mostly made out of tahini or hummus and if your taste goes towards spicy, you put on a dollop of schug – a red spicy Yemenite concoction that is evocative of chili, but is actually different. Just imagine all these ingredients blending together: the crunch and softness, the spice and savory, the myriad of salads that go together and you get a full symphony in your mouth!

So do you still want to argue with me about the best food in the world?

Posted in Cuisine, Food, Restaurant | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 22 Comments

A Tree Worthy of a Blog

                          Blog,  Blog?   Blog!

People write blogs for many reasons. But all of us hope that someone would read our posts, otherwise why post them?

Some people write daily and some weekly. Some post mostly photographs or stories of all kinds. There are blogs about specific topics and those that are more impressionistic.

Starting a blog happened in a moment of inspiration. I’ve never thought of it before and then there was the moment when it felt like I had to write. Actually, my first blog was posted on my professional web site, when the idea of blogging had not germinated yet. Later on, I felt compelled to write, not knowing what the topic will be, it was like my fingers did the walking…

There were times when I was not even sure about the content, because I would start with a kernel and the ideas presented themselves while typing the first sentence.

There was a rhythm to my inspiration. I would almost always post just once a week, seldom more and seldom less.

Yet the last two weeks were different. I felt frozen and uninspired. I started to feel like I should write, because some friends questioned my silence. Moreover, I noticed that there are bloggers who are very disciplined and write on a regular basis. As for me, if I’m anything, it’s undisciplined.

And so I started pondering the issue of discipline and decided that at this advanced age it’s time to work on my shortcomings and start writing even when I don’t feel like it. Surely there’s something I can write about?

I started writing about my work with a particular group and when I described what I did there, it felt like boasting. Scratch that one.

Then I wanted to write about having my first grandchild and thought to myself “who cares?”, after all I know the feeling when someone starts talking nonstop about their child, grandchild, dog, cat or gold-fish. And I recalled having my first dog Poogie, years before I had my children, and while on a transatlantic flight, I was making a nuisance of myself by showing pictures of the dog (he was a puppy then and very cute) to the tired and disinterested passengers. Hence the granddaughter topic got scratched off as well.

I settled on a story I heard from my client yesterday, but while writing it I became depressed and thought to myself “this is crazy, it makes me sad, and I’m going on a vacation in a couple of days, let go!” So no sad story, it just didn’t feel right.

Which brings me to the point of this post. I am who I am, and I worked hard to accept who I am. I write in an undisciplined way, about whatever strikes my fancy and I don’t feel inspired now. So that is how I came to write the post about not wanting to force myself to be someone I’m not, and wanting to maintain the emotional experience of writing a blog only when I feel inspired and only when I feel like I have something that I care about. And sometimes what I care about appears quite suddenly, and then I may wake up in the middle of the night, or it may come to me when I wash the dishes. The topic itself can be trivial, like this one, or it might be of a political or of a personal nature, but it’s always authentic and never forced.

Tu Bishvat

And so it was that while driving to a meeting today I saw an almond tree in full bloom projecting its lush pinkish white flowers, glowing in the sun like colored snow. And I thought about the fact that this was supposed to be “my” tree, because while living in Israel the almond tree would blossom around my birthday and my parents would tell me that it’s blooming to honor me. As a young child I really believed that, and later on it was just a lovely sight for my birthday.

Jews have more holidays than anyone I know, and the almond tree was not just another tree blooming in the middle of winter, but there was a holiday around it, a holiday celebrating literally the “New Year of the Trees.”, and there was a special song dedicated to the almond tree during the holiday.

So as I was driving by the beautiful tree today, I was flooded with memories of my parents and my “birthday tree”, and of the holiday (Tu Bishvat) which was celebrated by planting seedlings and of the song about the almond tree sung by all the children during the school assembly.

I felt wistful about the innocence of how things used to be, about the children carrying small plants and preparing the soil, hoping that eventually a big and bountiful tree would grow there. And while driving on the crowded boulevard, cars passing me by on an asphalt road, I slowed down a bit to look at the tree, the tree which used to be mine, and blossomed just for me.

Posted in Blogging, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 22 Comments