Category Archives: Uncategorized

The World Was Created For Me

I wrote this piece for my reading evening at Tmol Shilshom, Sweet Beginnings, in honor of the Jewish new year. Sign up for my mailing list to hear about future events.

deena levenstein reading at tmol shilshomIt was just me and my parents home for Shabbat. On the brink of adulthood, I was absolutely unsure about the next steps in my life. But that Shabbat I was home. And since my mother had decided to tell each of us in person, it seemed like the perfect opportunity – to my mother, that is – to tell me that she was pregnant.

Oh my effing God. I was imminently turning 20 and my mother was pregnant of all things.

I was alone. None of my other four siblings – the people who were ultimately about to go through this with me – were around.

I shuddered. I shook.

I hid my reactions and nonchalantly said that I was going out for a walk. I paced the Katamon streets, struck and angry.

A few weeks later, in Toronto, my brother stepped out of a moving car upon receiving the same news.


A few months later Shabbat began, this time with my mother in the hospital hopefully in the process of giving birth, and a few of us at the Shabbat table thinking of nothing but.

We had a quick meal – I couldn’t eat – and I ran down the hill to the hospital to get the news.

My father told me I had a new sister. A little, yet very real, person in my life. A person who I loved before I even met her.

I went into the labor room and quickly met the tiny little thing.

I then went out to the hallway, sat on a cold metal bench, bent over and wept.

And wept and wept. Until one man walking by reminded me that this was indeed a joyous occasion.

Silly man, I thought. Does he not know that one can weep. And weep and weep, from joy?

Eight years later…

I had broken up with my boyfriend. I was now very alone in Vancouver. I worked in a job that spit me out after four days. I’d miscalculated and overspent during my move to an apartment with a higher rent.

My God. Good God. What was I going to do?

I knew I needed income immediately in order to keep afloat and so, in this state of urgency, I searched. Although I wanted a job in the Jewish community, I even looked in Craigslist.

Very quickly I found a position in the community posted there. But… with old people? I simply couldn’t work with old people, I thought. It will bring me down. Even more down than I already am.

But I went for the damn interview. I begrudgingly went and begrudgingly put on my best face. During it, on the other side of the room, I could see the elderly people sitting around a table for their morning activities. One man – who I later learned was named Sam – sat slumped over in a wheelchair. The entire site broke my heart. Just seeing the elderly people from afar made me sad.

I got the job. I got the job and I accepted it too. Because I needed to. But it seemed like such a bad fit that I felt like I was misleading my new employers; I really did not see myself lasting there for more than a short while.

But what could I do? I was being dragged along for the ride we call life and I didn’t have much choice.

I hesitantly arrived to my first days. I smiled at the clients, who almost always smiled back. I made conversation and they were happy to talk. I ran programs for them about the Jewish holidays and Jewish history and they loved it all, the ones that stayed awake, that is.

And we had a musical kabbalat shabbat together every Friday. I played the few chords I know on guitar, and we all sang together, the men with synthetic teepee kippas, the women with doilies, all of us smiling at each other.

The opposite of my fears had come true. I noticed that no matter my mood in the morning – which was often down – it was raised by the people I’d so dreaded from afar. They’d stopped being “old people” and instead became just people. Some became acquaintances, some became friends and some became very good friends.

The fact that the two people I became closest with – Cecil and Yvette – have since passed away, does not exactly matter.

What matters is that Cecil, a Jamaican Jew, would have swept me off my feet and never let me go if he had been around half a decade younger (so he said). What matters is that whenever I was talking about Jewish history, I knew I could look over at him and find him listening intently, and laughing in all the right places.

What matters is that I had a kinship with Yvette, a French Holocaust survivor with a similar demeanor to mine (I like to believe). What matters is that after moving back to Jerusalem, we would send each other voice recordings which I adored receiving (Allo Deena, I hope you are well. Have you found a husband yet? Don’t worry, things are not how they used to be…”). What matters is that I was able to offer her my love during the terribly painful end of her life. What matters is that I know she loved me, and I still love her.

My desperate situation forced me to make a desperate choice, leading me to a year of meaningful memories that I cherish.

For me or dust and ashes?

It is said that Reb Simcha Bunem carried two slips of paper. One pocket had a note that said: Bishvili nivra haolam—“For my sake the world was created.” The other pocket had a note that read: Veanokhi afar vafer”—“I am but dust and ashes.”

In these stories and many others in my life, I have felt like things are happening despite me and all I can do is react -

I have often felt like afar vaefer.

But now I wonder, am I dust or, in fact, is the world not being constantly created for me? Especially for me…

And in that case, what is a sweet beginning? What really are beginnings? And what might make them sweet?

I’ll tell you what a beginning is. It’s what is happening all the time. It is doors or windows unlatching, allowing movement. It is the potential all around us. It is the availability of that potential.

But this is not necessarily a pleasant experience. It can be terrifying, it can be painful.

And so a sweet beginning, a sweet moment, is one that we somehow open up to, possibly even embrace, fears and all.

I, for one, think I’ve more than internalized that I am dust and ashes. Now it’s time for me to focus on “The world was created for me.” Because, it is!

And that is a sweet beginning.

שנה טובה ומתוקה.

Why you should stop reading your readers’ comments

A very famous blogger (if only I could remember who) doesn’t allow comments on his blog. If someone wants to share their thoughts (or passionate attacks) about a piece, they can do it on Facebook, he said, in order to keep it more controlled and to keep his website clean.

Continue on, my friend. (image source)
Continue on, my friend. (image source)

Assumptions assumptions. It is assumed that having a conversation going on your blog is some great ideal. And that it’s important to interact with your readers, replying to most/all of their comments. Why? And talk about freakin’ exhausting!

I keep speaking to popular bloggers who are emotionally worn from comments left them by their faithful followers. Sometimes it’s the same reader every time who pushes the writer’s buttons. Sometimes it’s trolls (whatever that is). But does it matter? Every time, these writers spend countless joules figuring out:

  1. How to internalize the comment – what to think and feel about it.
  2. Whether or not they should reply to the comment of question.
  3. What to reply.
  4. Whether or not they should continue a conversation with the reader.

Ugh! Aren’t we writers? How did we become socializers instead?

Now, this is not only a problem because it takes up so much time and energy. It’s also a problem because of how it can affect a person’s writing.

Having to deal so much with readers’ comments has three potential negative repercussions.

  1. A feel good picture (image source)
    A feel good picture (image source)

    It could have the writer calculating what/how/how much to write too much based on the readers. This could be misguided based on one or two verbal people who have nothing better to do than try to get your attention. It could also be based on not getting comments, the thinking being that if I didn’t get comments, it must not be a good piece or maybe I’m just not a good writer.

  2. It could make the writer obsessive about what comments she’s getting and how many. It could have her returning to a post many times on the day it’s posted in order to see how it’s doing. This activity is supposedly based on the above-mentioned assumption that it’s of utmost importance to read your readers’ comments and interact with them. But this what writing is supposed to be about? I don’t remember reading about the importance of obsessing over readership/commenting in On Writing by Stephen King.
  3. It almost definitely creates a situation where the writer becomes dependent on external feedback – writing passionately after getting good feedback and hiding miserably in a corner after negative feedback. And when you’re bombarded with feedback (silence is feedback too), it’s a creativity-sucker (or a muse-muter).

I think one of the great challenges for writers is figuring out how to tap into our own feedback system and decide selectively who is worthy of our listening ears. From whom am I truly interested to hear what they think and continue developing my writing accordingly? This is a question not to be taken lightly!

For now, this piece is dedicated to the talented bloggers I know who periodically curl up in a corner because of the interactions they need to deal with online. When I hear about it, I feel like giving them a virtual slap and saying, “Don’t you see that you’re writing is good? Continue on, my friend. Continue on.”

The use of dramatic words in a not-dramatic industry

I don’t know why but I repeatedly see website development clients pushing their service providers to rush. Is it just in web development or are clients of all kinds pushing their service providers to do everything faster? And better too, I’m sure.

Look at your new website! Isn’t it beautiful? photo source

To the chagrin of web dev clients the world over, I believe there are certain words that should never be used when discussing building a website. These include:

  1. Urgent, and
  2. Critical

Work for a client should ideally be done in a normal amount of time, but is it really necessary to make it urgent?

And here’s the irony. Almost every single time, at one point in the project (if not more), the work comes to an absolute and complete halt. I mean 100%. And not because of the web developer or project manager or graphic designer.

Wait... How did we get here? image source
Wait… How did we get here? image source

Nope. At some point, the project stops because something happens to the client. They realize their attention needs to be put elsewhere for a few days/weeks/months. They run out of cash. They find they have difficult decisions to make regarding the site. So many possible reasons, with the exact same outcome: a project that’s on hold.

I find rushed projects to be problematic but it isn’t only because of the stress of having someone push and push, feeling like you’re never working fast enough. It’s also because I know – I just know – that there is a 99% chance that this mad rush to the finish line will stop so fast that the worker will be left trying to figure out what just happened.

Being part of a regular flow of a project is fine. Sometimes it moves faster, sometimes slower, sometimes it needs to be put on hold for a bit. But after being pressured by a client to rush, when the client becomes the one to hold up the project, it’s tempting to start giving them talks about the importance of keeping a project going, even if under normal circumstances the delay wouldn’t have bothered you too much.

The talk won’t work, though. Because the same way that the project should have moved at a natural pace to begin with, including fast movement, slow movement and pauses, it will need to stop when the client needs to take that breath, whatever the reason may be.

And that’s OK. And you know exactly why. The reason it’s OK for the project deadline to be pushed off is because it wasn’t really urgent. Nope, it was just a really nice website that hopefully one day soon will be a really nice live website that will be enjoyed by all who visit it.

And when that happens, it’ll be really lovely.
Not at all critical.

Is the website still breathing? image source
Is the website still breathing? image source

The epiphany to somewhere

You know when you have an epiphany regarding one of the whacked out ways in which you interact with the world? Inevitably, what immediately follows is a deep sense of joy and release. “I’m free!” you think to yourself, simply because you just pinpointed another pattern of yours that causes you unnecessary pain.

When I experienced this elation today, I decided to share it with a friend, lest it get lost in the abyss called my brain. When I did, my friend asked me the question I realized I should be asking myself: “So what are you going to do with it?”

Hmmm. Good question.


  1. I am going to feel happy and grateful about it. Done.
  2. I am going to share it with a friend. Done.
  3. I am going to write a blog post about it…working on it people! No pressure.

I feel good. I feel great. I feel wonderful.

Ok. And now?

I hadn’t thought beyond those initial actions and I think I know why. I was feeling so much lighter that, despite past experiences, I assumed the change had happened and I was ready to move on.

Yes, a change has happened; experiencing an understanding of self so clearly is a huge step forward. Yay me. But part of why it’s so important not to miss that step of internalizing the experience is because otherwise it will turn into yet another fleeting moment instead of the life-altering one it has the potential to be. Only if you take the epiphany and decide you want to work on self improving that aspect of yourself will you start down the road of long term change in attitudes, interactions and decisions.

I must confess: I imagine myself a miraculously changed person often.

Thinking my life is changed following an epiphany is like when I think I’ve changed my eating habits (yeah right, chomp chomp) by making decisions about them while fasting. Or when I think I’m now going to be nicer to my mother because one day I actually am nicer. On a day, by the way, that I happen to be in a particularly good mood (Hi mom!).

So yes, celebrate your epiphany. Just don’t forget that the next step is to ask, “What do I want to do with it?”

Wait! Did I just have another epiphany?

Eureka, readers. Eureka.

photo source
photo source

The importance of including a link and direct reference to embeds in your blog posts

In both and it’s relatively easy to allow readers to receive new blog posts to their email. It’s also ridiculously easy (not relatively, just ridiculously) to embed many types of media in your WordPress sites.

This ease is causing me to make a recurring mistake about which I keep smacking myself on the forehead; I embed YouTube videos without directly referencing them and linking to them.

See? I just did it. The problem is that embeds don’t work in email. And so those of you reading this in your email don’t even know that you just missed out on watching The Doobie Brothers sing Listen to the music. Sorry. (Here is the link.)

Here is how one should do it:

I’m first writing some natural text leading up to the embed (which doesn’t only have to be video). And when I’m about ready to insert the video, before it, maybe in brackets, I just write: (watch Gone till November by Wyclef Jean)

There ya go.

And just one more little linking tip. If the link is an external one – not to another item in your own website, set it to open in a new tab.

Happy embedding!

“Bubby” cookies with spices


I need to prepare for a meeting I have in a couple of hours and so I baked cookies.

Mix dry ingredients in one bowl:

  • 1 cup sugar (I used brown and a bit less)
  • 2 cups flour (I used 1 cup whole spelt, 1 cup 70% whole wheat)
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, ginger – dunno, just sprayed a bunch in

Mix wet ingredients in another bowl:

  • 3/4 cup oil or 1/2 cup oil and apple sauce to make up the difference
  • 2-3 eggs
  • 2 tsp. vanilla extract

Then slowly mix the dry ingredients in with the wet ingredients.

Preheat oven to 190C. Spoonfuls on a greased cookie sheet, yadda yadda.

Bake 8-10 minutes.

P.S. I don’t think I’ve ever made cookies that have anything like a cookie texture. This statement still stands unchallenged.

How to export your Blackberry contacts as a CSV file

It took me a couple of hours to find the solution that worked. Why so long? It’s a mix of Blackberry making this important task seemingly impossible to do and people putting up “How to” posts without showing a publish date making it often difficult to decipher what is actually still useful information.

So in order to help you eliminate the waste of time, I’ll point you in the right direction.

1. You need the not most up-to-date version of Blackberry Desktop Software (AKA Blackberry Desktop Manager) in order to succeed in this task. So, uninstall the new version if you have it on your computer.

2. Click here in order to access a file you can download of the version you need: 6.1. Download and install it.

BlackBerry Desktop Software 6.1 download link2. Go to this page and follow these amazingly easy to follow instructions.

This worked totally smoothly for me. Yay!

Signs that those weren’t the (red) signs

Amira Young wrote a post explaining how she could have known that her marriage wasn’t going to work based on signs she shared with her readers in said post.

Amira, I would not be surprised if you did in fact have a gut feeling that something was off in the relationship. But I’m not convinced that the signs you shared in your post are them.

For example…

1. You knew how, when and where he was going to propose.

It doesn’t sound like he did anything wrong. I actually think it sounds pretty nice and romantic. I’m serious. The problem is there is an expectation that everyone should do the American-style proposal. This is a pretty unfair assumption. If that wasn’t his cup of tea and he didn’t have it in him to do it, face this fact. He is not romantic in this way. (You say he wasn’t romantic in any way but that’s too vague to refer to.)

So, either take it because he makes up for it in other ways, or leave it because maybe this is something you really need.

Also, everything needs to be a discussion. Theoretically, during your dating period you could have explained to him what kind of romantic gestures you enjoy and want. And then you could have seen whether or not he attempts to do things for you based on what you like. I can’t know whether or not you tried that.

2. The family insisted on having a kosher wedding

There are a lot of people who keep certain traditions at important occasions (like men wearing a kippa during the wedding ceremony). It is more about how you and your groom dealt with the whole thing, rather than the outcome, that would be telling.

But having a kosher wedding could be purely a nice gesture towards your heritage. It in itself doesn’t say anything about your in laws and definitely not about your ex.

3. He only had one friend to invite

Some people don’t have many friends. I’m not sure this is a bad sign. The strange thing is that you only found out about this when you were doing the invitations. How did you get that far in your relationship without ever meeting his friends or at least talking about them? That seems to be a red light regarding your relationship, not just him.

4. You were “forced” to wear a white dress

You wrote: “[I] acquiesced my wants and desires just to make everyone else comfortable.”

In general no one should feel like they’re being forced to do anything in a relationship. If there is a disagreement – even if it supposedly only has to do with you and you could wonder why he should even have a say in it – then there should be a discussion/argument and then you should reach an agreement that makes you both feel OK.

The way you felt about it is a very bad sign. Again, not necessarily (though possibly) about him. But definitely about your dynamics.

5. He didn’t want to wear a flower

You say his argument was childish. But maybe your argument about your wedding dress seemed childish to him. Why do you need to be able to relate to his reasoning? The huge problem is the fact that you felt such a lack of respect towards him in regards to this. You can’t marry someone towards whom you feel such disrespect.

I also don’t get what the big deal is that once he realized his brother wore one at his wedding, he decided it was OK. Why do we always need to be 100% logical and make purely “mature” decisions? He probably never thought in his life he’d wear a flower. He sounds like he’s not the type of person to notice what someone else is wearing and so the theoretical idea seems girlie. But hearing that his brother did it puts it in perspective and makes him realize it’s OK.

And… Wasn’t that nice of him to give in in order to make you happy? I wonder if he felt that he acquiesced his wants and desires just to make you comfortable.

6. He wasn’t involved in the wedding planning

Meh. This could go either way depending on the dynamics between you guys.

7. He hugged you at the end of the chuppa

That is so sweet. My heart breaks to think that maybe he’s more traditional or private than you and instead of enjoying the show of affection, you deemed it as not enough (and at all connected to your sex life – I’d assume that at this point you knew what your sex life with him was like).

Of course I can’t really know what his reasons were but definitely, the hug in and of itself is a fine and lovely thing to do at the end of a chuppa.

Sorry babe

Sorry for sharing such strong opinions about your piece. I feel like you didn’t write the real stuff and honestly I’m happy you didn’t because that’s between you and him (and it would probably not be fair to him to air your dirty laundry online).

And meanwhile, until you figure out the real issues (or maybe you did and don’t feel comfortable sharing them publicly), it’s so important not to learn the wrong lessons from our past relationships. And your post definitely is a sign of wrong lessons learned.

The perfection in mediocrity

My grandmother has a new idea. She wants me to wear a t-shirt when I go on dates that says:

I know how to bake bread and apple pie. I’m an amazing balabaste. With me you surly will never know hunger.

It’s a gimmick, for sure, but it just might work. As long as it’s a flattering t-shirt.

Another year has gone by and I’m still single. Often, at this time of year, I think about my singlehood, I feel pretty badly about it, and I hope that in the coming year I’ll meet my beloved.

But this year is different. So much has happened this year and I have so much going on even as I write this, that I hardly have time to focus just on that. There are many matters that are much more pressing.

I see that I am most definitely dealing with issues that are forcing me to grow in very interesting ways, and I am thankful for this. Although I am most definitely sad that I am still alone, I think that I am living a full life.

Even in the dating arena I can’t have many regrets. I am a very proactive dater and as I become more refined over the years – I am like good wine – I understand more about what is important for me and what is not. As a result, this year I dated quite a few guys who were on the right track. As other singles can attest, this is a huge accomplishment.

I have heard the idea that if there is a goal that is very important to you, then you should put a certain amount of time towards it on a daily basis – maybe half an hour a day. Well, I can definitely say that I put at least that amount of time towards this goal. The fact I’m still alone continues to bother me, but I know I’m doing what I can to remedy that and all the meanwhile, I’m involved in a many other good things too.

While I cannot feel too badly about my relationship status, I am feeling very frustrated by my writing. Writing is so important to me but something has created a huge block in me over the last year or so and it isn’t letting up. Yes, I wrote some of my most “successful” pieces this year but I know there is so much more where that came from and I yearn to be getting many more pieces out on a regular bases.

But I have been very down on myself about my writing – my style, my vocabulary… It’s been poisonous the thoughts I’ve been feeding myself.

As a young girl, writing was never considered my thing. On the contrary – my mother always called my spelling creative because it was so far removed from proper spelling. I have come to love writing but am aware of my shortcomings. My lack of vocabulary, my sometimes preachy tone… One of my biggest challenges is the fact that I don’t write about extremely personal things, especially if they involve others, which removes the option of writing about a huge amount of stuff about which I have a ton to say.

It’s been difficult and upsetting. I walk around wishing I could write more but it’s not happening.

And so I know what I want to work on in the new year. Well, besides all the other things. I want to work on seeing the perfection in mediocrity. So often I stop myself from creating something or doing something because I am scared it will be insignificant. So often I do get myself to do things but the actions are accompanied by a great amount of fear because I am scared I’m going to do them imperfectly and possibly cause harm.

Basically I’m scared to act. I push myself and I do a lot of things that are very scary but I know I’d have a real blast if I decided to do my best – the key being “do” – and hope for the best. And whatever comes, let it come.

It means having faith in my ability to deal with whatever comes… But of course I can do that.

I want to publish posts that aren’t great and be OK with it. I want to then move on to the next post without dwelling on the success of the last one.

I want to hone the skills I know I have and discover the ones I don’t yet know about. And this will happen if I let go of the need for perfection.

I have a belief that unless you are one of the greatest – musicians, artists, writers, actors – you aren’t making a significant change in the world. I want to contemplate what it is that leads me to have this black and white belief and work on throwing it away.

My perfectionism has, to a large extent, frozen me in place. The modern world trains you to believe that perfect is something that exists. For example, I just bought a new computer bag and keep thinking that maybe I should have held out for something better. For something more perfect.

What a waste of energy.

Perfectionism is a freezer. It doesn’t allow me to act because I know the chances of me being perfect are so slim that it’s a lost cause before I even start.

And I want to stop this destructive way of thinking.

I just saw an old woman, being taken on a stretcher out of her building to an ambulance. She seemed lucid; she was looking around. If she is in fact lucid, she could have been thinking many things. But I imagine she was thinking, “How did I get here? I’m not old.”

And she grew up in a time when time went more slowly. Today, time is zipping by quicker than we can grasp. That day is going to come sooner than we realize and we won’t feel old but we’ll be old and that’ll be a simple fact. And maybe we’ll be able to remember facts from our lives and maybe not.

All those things are out of our control. What is in our control is to look at our lives today, see what we have control over, and take action there.

Someone recently taught me that you need to look at a situation and figure out until what point you can have an effect and from what point it is not your responsibility because you simply lack control – even if you lie to yourself that you have it.

I hope to work on all these things this year.

To put it in one short sentence:

והעיקר לא לפחד כלל – the main thing is to not be scared one bit.

Shana tova.

Read about my mediocre success one year later.