My Jew-rnery: A Search for Meaning
How did I get here? We all have our stories, and mine began with the loss of my husband six years ago. I’ll never forget walking my 2- and 5-year old daughters down a long corridor to say good-bye to their father. In tragedy, we’re faced with two choices:
1) lose hope in something bigger and better because you can’t imagine a God who would do this to you
2) dig deep and look for the meaning in your tragedy.
I knew that my two little girls wouldn’t be okay if I opted for option one, so I decided to search. I wasn’t sure what I would find, but I began looking for meaning in my loss, in my life and pretty much every moment, object and experience I encountered. I knew deep down that there had to be more, so I held onto hope and as a single mom and 35-year-old widow, my journey began.
I grew up Jewish. I went to temple, followed the rituals, celebrated the holidays and even had a Bat Mitzvah. And while I considered myself Jewish, I had no real spiritual connection to Judaism. When my husband died, I wasn’t sure where to turn for comfort. It was the hardest day of my life and the first time in my life that I couldn’t get by without the help of something or someone other than myself. The pain was too raw, the emotion was too deep; it was simply too much for me to go through alone.
A friend of mine gave me a book by Rabbi Naomi Levy called To Begin Again. One of the first modern, women Rabbis, she created her own prayers that touched my soul in a way I still can’t quite explain. Sadness from the depths of my soul was released, and it was as if God talked to me through her prayers. It was the first time in my life I believed in my heart I was Jewish.
I started to feel hope and courage to move forward and created a non-profit called The Packaged Good to honor my late husband, help others and forge a path for myself and my girls to heal. Over three years, we sent out more than 35,000 care packages to people around the world. In serving others we received the greatest gift: we connected with inspiring people who, like us, found strength out of their tragedies and reminded us that we weren’t alone.
After launching The Packaged Good, I got more involved in Jewish Life. My kids go to Davis Academy, and we are members of Temple Emanu-El. I took an unbelievable trip to Israel, participated in The Jewish Federation’s Front Porch to evolve Jewish Atlanta and even moved The Packaged Good to The Marcus Jewish Community Center. Both my daughter and I wrote books: Packaging Good and Kindness Come In, respectively, and we participated in the MJCCA Book Festival together. I guess you could say I’ve become a bit of a Super Jew!
I didn’t stop searching, because I knew that I was only seeing a glimmer of light and that the world had so much more to show me. In my pursuit of answers, I worked with Rabbis, healers, teachers and scholars. I worked with Vanda, Inc, a business that provides tools and services to look inward and release thoughts that no longer serve you, intensely for hours every week for the last two years (after three years of therapy!) I talked with Christians, Jews, Hindis and Bahais, and many who had suffered such despair that they too began to search. I realized there are so many searching, but it was the “searching” that connected me to others regardless of their religion or faith.
I was awarded a scholarship to study Torah for two years by Rabbis and teachers around the world through the Wexner Heritage Program. And would you believe my first class was taught by Rabbi Naomi Levy, the woman whose words had ignited my journey to discovering my Jewish faith in powerful new ways. It was a full circle moment full of meaning for me.
I’ve been participating in the Wexner program for almost 10 months, studying with people and teachers from all walks of life and all committed to finding meaning, together. I don’t have it all figured out, but I am learning and growing and am honored to share some of the wisdom I have gained through my search with you. These lessons over the past few years have been the biggest gifts to my soul and I hope that my sharing them helps you feel inspired, connected and find hope when you need it most. Because I hear you. Deep in your soul, you are searching too.
- There is meaning in everything if you are searching for it. This is a way of living your life where you are reflecting in every moment. The meaning is what you need to uncover. The awareness and asking the question is the process for finding yourself or reconnecting to your soul. And for the naysayers, I ask why not? Why not live your life with meaning and beauty? You create your own reality. Why not create it with hidden messages and hidden beauty that you have to uncover? It makes life so much more rich and interesting.
- Jewish texts are reflections of your soul. The point of the texts is to debate them and wrestle with them to figure out who you are. You have a Torah inside of you, but you’ll never discover it until you begin searching for it. The interpretations of the text change with every generation. Don’t move away from a tool that helps you look inward. Look beyond the words and ask yourself what texts you find inspiration in and which you struggle with. And maybe even make things up when reading through the lines. The process is asking yourself, “Who am I?” And like Abraham, you’ll be able to call back to God (or yourself) with “Here I am.”
- Sabbath as a self-reflection tool is powerful. Are you connecting to yourself? Are you listening to yourself? Wisdom from our ancestors was very simple: do not lose yourself. Remove the ideas you have learned of Sabbath and think of it as an opportunity for self-reflection and self-connection. The seventh day is to remind you to not lose yourself.
- Knowing thyself takes work. It’s why study is so important to Jews. Debating, studying and new experiences help us understand ourselves more deeply, but it takes time and effort. You have to learn how to grow through study. No matter if it’s a healer, a priest or a Rabbi, they will all agree that taking the time to truly know yourself is hard work, but a connection to your soul is the greatest reward.
- Evolution and resilience is what “chosen people” means. I have always felt uncomfortable with Jews being the “chosen people.” I’ve come to realize that God wants us to choose life and wants us to evolve as humans just like you want your children to grow and develop. Throughout history the Jews have withstood the trauma of being exiled, losing Temples, enslavement in Egypt and the Holocaust. These tragedies created a people of strength and resilience. I’ve experienced firsthand the power, strength and growth that comes from loss, and I’ve grown to think that we were “chosen” to experience hardships so that we could evolve and grow as humans, and now I’m committed to helping others evolve consciously in this next era of Judaism.
- You can’t fully live without a tribe. Throughout Jewish existence we have taken care of each other. Going through a loss, you realize how valuable your people are and how much you need others. Knowing you can count on your family or your tribe allows you to take bigger risks with bigger rewards. It allows you to live life more fully and helps all of humanity evolve.
- Don’t be afraid to ask or to search. As Jews, it’s part of our heritage to debate the texts and inquire for answers. Are you asking questions of others, how about of yourself? Like the four sons at Passover, make sure you are learning by always seeking answers.
- Helping others is a path to healing. Tikkun Olam and helping others is a core Jewish value, but I have found that giving to others reminds me that life is bigger than myself or my problems. Helping others gave my girls and me hope and helped us move forward after our loss. When you are lost, helping others is a way to get back on the path of life. It connects you to humanity and allows you to see other perspectives.
- Prayer gives you peace. I’ve always been a worrier and never really knew how to pray, so in an effort to alleviate my anxiety, I learned. Prayer allows us to give our worry up to God or something bigger. It allows us to name what we’re feeling and then let it go. I also learned to pray for what I want, not what I don’t want. Praying for what you want sends out the positive energy in the world, so that it may come back to you. As Jews, we need to be for something, so I always try to choose life and light and move towards the positive. I think the world needs more praying and less yelling. I remember one of my daughters having a meltdown during a long car ride. I was tired and wanted to yell, but instead I prayed for her to find comfort and imagined my arms tightly hugged around her. She stopped crying and I never said a word. That is the power of prayer.
- It’s important to align your mind, body and soul. The Torah gives direction on what to eat and not eat. The lesson is that your body is important. Without taking care of your body, you don’t live on this Earth as long to fulfill your purpose. Without connecting to your soul, you miss your purpose in life and what your heart really wants. Without taking care of your mind, it overruns your heart and leads you astray. These three things need to remain in harmony and connected to meet your highest potential.
- Our biggest challenges are our own egos. There is no accident that the heroes of the Torah also have faults. The external force that is an obstacle for the hero can only be conquered once the person’s own ego is balanced with their heart. Moses led the Jews all the way to the promise land, but his ego got too big and God kept him from finishing the trip. He died alone on top of a mountain. He was still a hero, but it was a lesson for all of us to keep our ego in check. This is probably my biggest challenge. My ego is an asset for getting things done, launching businesses and checking off lists, but it also makes me want to control everything. I’m living my highest self when my ego and heart are working together. Life is bigger than my ego. This is an every-day challenge where I need a Sabbath check-in every seven hours, not every seven days. I think most people think their issues are on the outside, but our biggest challenge is often on the inside.
- This journey is never ending, and there is no going back. Just like the Torah ends before the Jews reach the promise land, the journey continues for us. We need to continue to do the work to evolve until the day we leave this Earth. We will never reach the destination, but the journey is pretty amazing. And the people you meet who are on this journey are a gift. As with any experience or learning, you can’t go back to who you were before because that person no longer exists.
And how did I get here? I’m just a normal person who experienced great loss. A normal person who holds a job and raises two girls and is searching for meaning. A normal person who has decided to create her own reality, full of meaning and connections and to live her life Jewishly. And why are you here?
Wexner Heritage Member Sally Mundell (Atlanta 18) is an author, philanthropist, innovator and an e-commerce and direct marketing strategist. She has built teams and revenue-driving programs from the bottom up for companies such as Spanx, Home Depot, Delta, Georgia-Pacific, Coca-Cola, Carter’s and Kids II. Sally’s awards and recognition include Top 40 Under 40 by Direct Marketing Association and Top 40 under 40 for the Atlanta Jewish Times as well as coverage in media channels such as AJC, AJT, 11Alive and Channel 2. Sally has given back to the community through her innovative charitable concept The Packaged Good, a 501(c)3 non-profit that is the first ever storefront created to teach children the joy of giving. Sally is the Founder and President of the Board, and most recently launched her first book called Packaging Good. Sally supports the Jewish community by leading the Social Justice committee at Temple Emanu-El, serving on the Front Porch committee for The Jewish Federation of Atlanta, and frequently speaking at organizations about the benefits of Tzedakah and Tikkun Olam. Sally likes to volunteer often with her two daughters Ruby (10yr) and Matilda (7yr).