Episode 33: From Narrowness to Freedom (with Rabbi Minna Bromberg, PhD)
4:53PM Oct 25, 2022
Shalom everyone! Welcome to the Light Lab Podcast. Eliana light here, and if you're listening to this when it has first come out, then a happy Cheshvan to you, Chodesh Tov, wishing you a good new month ahead. Yes, Rosh Chodesh Cheshvan has just happened. Many call it Mar Cheshvan because there aren't any holidays in the month of Cheshvan. However, maybe Cheshvan is not so Mar so bitter after all, first of all Shabbat is still happening. That's good. We love that. Second of all, this span of chagim, of holidays has been meaningful and beautiful, at least to me. And it's nice to be able to get back into a rhythm. How can we bring the joy and intentionality of the chagim, of the holidays, into our everyday life? That's my blessing for you this Cheshvan. I'm really excited to bring you an interview that we did a couple of months ago before the chagim with the amazing amazing Rabbi Mina Bromberg PhD, who is the founder and president of Fat Torah. And if me saying the word fat that way causes you to Oh, perk up your ears or maybe feel something in your body, I invite you to sit with that and continue. Because as you'll hear in the episode, what Rabbi Mina Bromberg has done with Fat Torah has been incredibly liberating, and really meaningful for me in particular, as a fat Jewish woman, and for hundreds of other fat Jewish people and allies, in particular, through the Facebook group of Fat Torah and the Instagram presence. And I've been in sessions, teachings where Rabbi Mina has spoken on these topics and it's been incredibly profound. Rabbi Mina Bromberg is passionate about bringing over three decades of experience in fat activism, writing and teaching and change making at the nexus of Judaism and body liberation. She's working on a book that will be coming out soon called Everybody Beloved, a call for fat liberation in Jewish life, and you'll get to hear her journey part of this journey as it intertwines with her Jewish and spiritual journeys in our interviews. She received her doctorate in sociology from Northwestern University in 2005, and was ordained at Hebrew College in 2010. Since becoming a rabbi, Rabbi Minna Bromberg has led a 250 family conservative congregation in Redding, Pennsylvania, released her fifth album of original music because yes, she is also a songwriter, a singer and a vocal coach bringing her spirituality and body liberation to vocal work, which is incredible. And she's also run the year in Israel program for Hebrew College rabbinical students. When she's not working on Fat Torah, she's a voice teacher, a vocal coach working with prayer leaders, which we love, and she lives in Jerusalem with her husband, Rabbi Allen Abrams and their two children. We're going to link to the Fat Torah website and social media in our show notes. I invite you to go and visit and to continue listening to this episode, especially, and even if you are feeling a little bit uncomfortable with the way that we are using the word fat. And if this is something that you want to talk to Rabbi Bromberg about, in a loving, respectful way, message her on socials and if you'd like to talk to me, you can do the same. You can also email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. And with that, I'm so grateful to share my conversation with Rabbi Mina Bromberg PhD.
Hi, Mina, thank you so much for joining us today.
Hi, Eliana. I am just so delighted to be here.
So grateful that you came in all the way from the holy land in which you reside. Lovely that we get zoom to be able to talk together like this. And I want to start out as we often do, with reflecting on your journey and I'm wondering what was tefillah for you when you were a kid?
So I was just talking to someone the other day about my experience of T'fillah as a kid at Jewish summer camp. And I was completely in love with having T'fillah every morning, I went to Tel Yehudah for two years so that was my Jewish summer camp camper career. But I came there from a town where my brothers and I were the only Jews in our school district. So it was really quite a shock to the system to arrive in a place where there were hundreds and hundreds of people who are all Jewish or nearly all Jewish. And I would say that the the keva, like the fixed quality of the morning of the Shacharit, of the morning prayers that we did at Tel Yehudah at the time, were just so immediately comforting and, and soothing almost in a way to sort of have that as a way to start my day. And I had come, we there is a synagogue in the town where I grew up. And we we went whenever it was open, which was not year round at the time. And I love prayer there as well. And I think, you know, for me, the idea that you could do this every day, was sort of wonderfully mind blowing, and lovely. And also because of the way that little kids just soak up, soak up liturgy, it was, you know, the, if then meant that, you know, years and years of being relatively unaffiliated, later, they still had that Shacharit liturgy in me in ways that were really kind of amazing to me, and something to sort of hold on to.
That's really beautiful. When you say that the liturgy showed up in your life in other ways, I'm wondering if you could expand upon that.
Some of it, I think, was just about the skills of then being able to go into a synagogue with the similar way of praying, and still know all the words to Ashrei 25 years later, only because I had learned it as whatever a 10 year old and it was still with me. But I think that often when I think particularly about song, and, and liturgy, that the way that song, both songs that we sometimes say that, I did part of my beginnings as a songwriter, were around, wanting something that I could carry with me. And I'm all sort of wanting a tape that I could play in my head. And so I think there's something about the way that in an almost physical way the the body and mind carries on with us. And you know that we see this, even when people are dealing with dementia, or aphasia or other things that really interrupt our ability either to remember or authentic speech, the ways that song can sometimes still be something that's able to be transmitted is just an amazing, amazing thing. So I would say mostly in that way, this the liturgy stuck with me.
It's beautiful that you brought up songwriting, I'm wondering, on that particular journey for you, did any elements of T'fillah slip in there any prayerful feelings or connections to the liturgy?
That is a great question. I'm thinking about my earliest songs, my earliest songs. I mean, I guess I could sort of retro actively say that they were certainly about yearning for connection. And I absolutely think that prayer is about yearning for connection, and particularly about whether there's a way to experience connection and the yearning itself. So this desire to, you know, when we're in mid song or made prayer, this, this real desire that the yearning itself is sort of the string of connection. So I sometimes think of the line also from Ashrei, karov adonai l'chol korav, right, that, that God is close to all who call upon God, and what does it mean to imagine that the closeness is generated by the calling, and whether that calling is, whether the closeness is something that we actually feel in the calling or not, right, like whether the closeness, like not so much, that God comes close to us when we call but that somehow closeness is contained in our crying out. So they said, you know, and I think that my early songs, they mostly sound like the songs of a single person who didn't want to be single. And I love the idea that in fact that yearning for connection absolutely has has the divine in it.
That's beautiful. I really see my early song writing in that as well. And I'm wondering, as you reflect on this journey, kind of through childhood and through young adulthood, did you have any experiences, or have any teachers that influenced your ideas of what T'fillah is, or could be? Prayer experiences that maybe from the outside, don't seem like prayer experiences, but really felt prayerful to you?
It's interesting, because I think that some of my most powerful spiritual experiences as a young person, were actually about being alone in nature. And so in some ways, I guess I could say that, you know, the ocean was my teacher, or the beach was my teacher. I'm trying to think of whether there were also people, I certainly had teachers. I mean, I think, prayer for me, and song, and certainly songwriting for me is also about the desire to be seen for who we are, and accepted for who we are. So I certainly had teachers either formally or informally who, who had that accepting presence, who were that accepting presence for me. And feel really lucky that I did.
Yes, that is a lucky and beautiful thing. I love the idea of the ocean or the beach, being your teachers, I would assume that they were teachers and thinking about or feeling sense of gratitude, awe, expansiveness. Is there anything that you would want to add or expand on to in that list?
Yeah, I think definitely sort of the that sense of wonder. I used to love to and I still love to, I used to love to, this isn't true of every beach. But on some of the beaches where I grew up, if you look through the sand, you can find really miniscule shells like tiny, tiny little baby shells. And so I used to love to just like lie on the sand and look through the sand for shells for these tiny, teensy little shells, and then I would have a, I would have a collection of these tiny shells. So I think just that process of sort of being with my own sense of, of wonder, that there was a certain I grew up definitely feeling quite marginalized and quite different than my peers, and, and not particularly appreciated by my peers. And so I think that there was something about connecting with, with nature, that also just felt like it was, again, a place of acceptance.
That's so beautiful. And that, that theme of acceptance, I would think, perhaps played a role also in maybe a parallel or winding as well journey of fat liberation and self acceptance. And I'm wondering, where you see, or if you see, T'fillah spiritual or liturgical connections, or echoes on that journey of yours.
The most obvious one for me, is in my journey with dieting as a child. So I started dieting as a seven year old and stopped when I was 16 or so. And those years were really years where I had a lot of hatred of my body. And, and a lot of self hatred for not being able to control my body in ways that I thought I was supposed to be able to. And the decision to stop dieting was one that I very, very early on, very strongly associated with, with yetziat mitzriyim, with the Exodus from Egypt, and just really experiencing a sense of personal liberation and what it means to be freed from something that you feel completely stuck in. I think that was even before I knew the beautiful teachings on this idea of Egypt as a place of narrowness, which also then sort of layers on beautifully to narrow ideals of what body should look like, etc. So, I think anywhere in the liturgy, that that gets yetziat mitzryaim comes up, which is pretty frequent, right, that it's comes up in, in Kiddush when we talk about, you know, why we're marking Shabbat and it comes up in, you know, certainly in mi chamocha and celebrating at the shores of the sea. So any of those resonated for me in that way. And I also had a sort of song snippet of my own, that I remember emerging from a very difficult argument that I had with a loved one about my decision to not diet anymore. And feeling completely alone after that, after that argument, and, and then the the sort of song snippet that came to me was a huge, was definitely about I can sing it for you if want, it was definitely about what it means to hold on to something that no one else around you hold on to. Because I think one thing that's amazing to me about sort of the parallel of yetziat mitzrayim and deciding not to diet anymore, is that still still now, but certainly, when I was doing this 30 years ago, the feeling that it's not that you're leaving the place of stuckness, in order to immediately enter a wonderful Promised Land, you're agreeing to give up what you're giving up, in this case dieting, because it's not working anymore, and because you just can't stay there anymore. In fact, you're wandering into complete unknown. And so I think, you know, that part of it, for me, was a willingness to, to give up what wasn't working for me, in the absence of, I had had some support from my, from my mother, certainly. And I pretty quickly thereafter connected with the fat acceptance movement. But in terms of sort of, you know, you're wandering around in a world that's completely suffused with diet culture. And so so the little song prayer snippets that came to me it goes like this.
Oh shelter me, Shechina, beneath Your wings. Oh shelter me, in this storm, my anchors hold. My redeemer being, oh shelter me, Shechina, beneath Your wings.
And so I feel like that's also just really, you know, definitely one that sort of stayed with me as a, as a prayer.
Thank you so much for sharing that I felt that comfort. And also, as you said, the closeness in the calling of that, of that beautiful prayer. And it's really special. And I feel like you've tapped into this. If you don't feel like there's a prayer that directly connects to the thing that you're trying to say, write your own, right.
You we get, we get to be the architects of our own liturgy in that way, which is so beautiful. I also, of course, can't help but reflect on my own body acceptance journey. Making the decision to stop dieting at 16 seems incredibly radical and incredible to me, because I didn't come to that until I was 30 years old. I dieted on and off from also probably around age eight. And I don't have to go into details. But certainly towards the end there, I was not treating my body with the love and the care that it deserved. In fact, if a straight sized person was doing what I was doing to my body, they would probably be told they had an eating disorder. Whereas I as a fat person doing this to my body was praised for doing the thing that I was supposed to be doing. Which, looking back on that seems awful. I'm wondering, yea, 16 years old. How did that how did that come to be? How did that come to you?
So I had been, so I think my mother's sort of somewhat parallel journey with mine was a big part of what enabled it. And I would also say that the other most powerful force was that I was in college. So I went to college early, I went to Simon's Rock, which is a school that was designed for students who want to leave high school early. And so I was at Simon's Rock starting in the late 80s, late 1980s and early 90s. And it was the first time that I encountered teenagers who were out as gay and lesbian, which was the terminology we used to design. Some of them might have still bisexual, but I don't think queer was in use as much at the time. And um, And I think there was something that was also particularly powerful. So like that, for me the model of, I think, especially gay men in the age of the AIDS epidemic, when it was absolutely an epidemic, and when there was no good treatment for it whatsoever. Were I think, for any of us coming of age, certainly around sexuality, there was this sense of sexuality as deadly. And to have then people in my life and in my friend circle, who were out about an identity that was so so stigmatized, was an incredible example for me. And an incredible example of radical acceptance of oneself. So I think that was hugely inspiring. And then I think the piece that, that my mom and our parallel journeys really provided was sort of this journey through through a couple of different approaches to eating and relationship with the body that purported to be not diets. And I think in retrospect, they were sort of like, I mean, they were basically intuitive eating, if they're in its infancy before the term Intuitive Eating had been coined, I believe, maybe, or before I encountered anyway, but intuitive eating, and also the folks that I was hanging out with who had written a book called overcoming overeating, they still had weight loss as a value. So there was still in those, and the folks who do who did Intuitive Eating have, by the way, done some amazing sort of work on themselves and on their book, to really make it much more liberatory than it was when it was first published. Because the sense was, the hope was that if you were eating intuitively, then you would also, by the way, lose weight. So it still had that element in it. But it was at least a sense that we ought to approach our bodies with a sense of love and respect and not hatred. And then somehow, I found the magazine Ratings, which was a magazine for plus size women, that was not a fashion magazine. So there were like, there were, there was BBW, which was a big, beautiful women, which was much more of a sort of fashion magazine for for larger women and radiance was not that. And in I imagined that in the pages of radiance, I found out about NAAFA, which is the National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance, which has been around since 1969. And connected with them and connected with they had, there was a part of NAAFA called the fat feminist caucus. And that really appealed to me. And so I started going to fat feminists, feminists gatherings, in hotels in New Jersey, and we would, you know, we would have workshops on how to deal with doctors, and also dating advice and all kinds of other things. And we would also have pool parties and just hang out with each other. And, and that was really, just that, I mean, that was the beginning of my life and the world of fat activism. But it really came from a place of finding other people to connect with who, who were fat and who had decided to be okay with that.
It seems so simple. And yet as we know, it is so much more complicated than that. But your parallels to coming out, they certainly ring true for me, I remember, this was like, right before COVID I don't have to go through the whole thing. But I like I was wearing like a crop top and an oversized coat, which are things that I was reflecting on, as a fat person, it's like, don't wear anything that's too small, because we'll see all your stuff hanging out and don't wear anything that's too big. Why would you take up more space, and I referred to myself as fat in that post for the first time. And it felt like coming out. It felt like this is a part of my identity that I have been trying to distance myself from my entire life, trying to stop being that and the acceptance of just like this is who I am and of course, so many well meaning people particularly I would say well meaning women in the Jewish community, who flocked into say - You're not fat, you're beautiful. And then meeting, you know, the kind of learning that comes I'm wondering, yeah, what do you see as the particular challenges or the particular shade of fat phobia on one side and fat acceptance on the other that you have encountered in the Jewish community?
So I have to say that the aspects of fat phobia that I've encountered in the Jewish community have been magnified many fold since I started talking about Fat Torah, and I've been collecting other people's horror stories. So my own sort of most obvious experiences are certainly around. So one most obvious experience that really was part of what launched Fat Torah was this Hannukah party that I went to with my daughter when she was three years old, and I was nine months pregnant with her little brother, where we were supposed to be dancing, and I'm someone who am at a place in my relationship with my body, where I'm generally actually comfortable dancing in public, which feels like a wonderful thing. But at the time, I was nine months pregnant and didn't really feel up for dancing. And I realized that I had this whole dialogue in my head about, wow, I hope everyone here knows that I'm pregnant. And that's why I'm not dancing, which when you think about it, is actually a very ableist thing to say to yourself, like, anybody should be able theoretically to show up in a space and move or not move, however they can and however they want to. And so I had that piece of the dialogue. And and I had another piece of internal dialogue about, you know, like, Oh, come on, you know, no one's judging you, everyone's wrapped up in their own stuff, don't worry about sort of trying to pacify myself. And then we took a break to eat sufganiyot beautiful, delicious fried jelly doughnuts for Hanukkah, and the song leader, after a little while very deftly, you know, didn't give the the three to five year olds, very long to eat the sufganiyot and immediately wanted to get back to singing and dancing, which was a great move on his part. And so he said, let's all get back to dancing unless you've gotten too fat from the sufganiyot! And the one piece of it was just that reminder of like, oh, right, my fears about being judged, or because I'm constantly being judged. And so to simply try to pacify myself, is really not such a helpful approach, because it is the case that I'm constantly being judged. And so there was that piece of it, just the personal pain, which, you know, I think, when we think about Jewish leadership of all kinds and leadership in general, you know, what we do and what the role of our own personal pain is, is a really good question. But in this case, it was important for me to acknowledge that it's, it's ouchy, when someone says something shitty about bodies, like mine, in public, and in private to, but certainly in public. And so there was that piece, just the personal pain. And then there's the piece of, you know, how can this guy say this in front of these little kids, when we know that kids that age are already starting to judge their own bodies and other people's bodies. And those kinds of judgments can lead to all kinds of disordered behavior, and really have an impact on mental and physical health. And then there was a piece of it that was like, you know, this is actually a barrier, you're like, the stigma that you are perpetuating is a barrier to our enjoyment of our holiday traditions. And so there was that piece. But the piece about it that was really, you know, transformative and sort of made it Fat Torah for me, was that I also had this upwelling of like, this guy seems to not get that we are here, because Hanukkah is a celebration of fat. Like, where did he miss that? And of course, you missed it, where everyone misses it, right? And so, so that desire. So for me, it's definitely always been, you know, as you framed it, in your question, this sort of twinning of where does fatphobia show up in ways that create barriers to connection with Jewish tradition? And how can Jewish tradition itself be used in ways that are liberatory? So when I talk, when I teach about, and when I write about the ways that that happens, I divide it somewhat arbitrarily into four different four different areas of impact and action. And those are sacred space, by which I mean, all of the physical access issues, so does your synagogue or your Sukkah or whatever, or your home or whatever Jewish space you're creating, does it actually have seats that fat people can comfortably sit in? And that's obviously there are other physical access issues as well. But that's an important one. Sacred, so sacred space, sacred speech, which is about how we talk about food and bodies, sacred time, which is about the ways that our holidays are really about mostly feasting, and also some fasting and the importance and centrality of how we think about food and bodies to the year cycle. And then sacred texts, which is really about you know, what would it mean to have a fat liberatory approach to learning sacred texts and to Torah itself, what would it mean to have a Torah of fat liberation. And so I think some of the, for me most painful stories that I've sort of been collecting from other people are really around the ways that anti fat bias really does get in the way of their connection with Jewish community or Jewish communal life. So I think what I wasn't anticipating when I started this work, and when I started asking other people to share their stories was how many horrible stories I would collect about clergy, and other people in positions of leadership. Right, because when I was on the bima, I wasn't preaching about my diet. And so I right so I wasn't in the room, usually, when there were rabbis who were doing that, and doing that in ways that really reinforced stigma. So yeah, so I think any of those things that really just reinforced stigma, and, and reinforce the ways that stigma is a is a barrier to full participation.
I, of course, I'm seeing parallels in my own life. But one of the incredible things out of many incredible things that Fat Torah is doing, I think, perhaps even the most, the most radical, at least to me, is just getting all of us together to talk about it. Because I think are so I've read, one of the hallmarks of having a fat movement is that it's a marginalized identity that we have been conditioned to reject, which means that we're not going to come together around it, if we're trying to reject it. And so accepting yourself as part of the group is the first step and hearing different people's stories and recognizing that we aren't alone. I'm also for the first time hearing your speak making a connection. And I'd love to hear if this is something that you've conceived of. Thinking about, particularly the older Jewish women in my life who are or have been constantly talking about dieting, and make make comments on my body and each other's bodies, which again, because diet culture is the water we all swim, and I don't necessarily see it from a place of malice, but I'm thinking about what it meant for our ancestors, at least my ancestors to come to America. And that part of a rejection of Eastern European Jewish culture, the kind of Protestantion of American Jewry, part of that was bringing on a Protestant ethic around food and enjoyment. And supposeed gluttony, and part of it was about taking up less space. You know, I think about Allan Sherman, who is one of one of my one of my faves musician who kind of parodied this idea by having a full orchestra in a gorgeous choir, and coming out and being loud and very Jewish and in your face in a way that in the 1960s, people were trying to squash. And I never I've thought about this on like a Jewish humor level and on a synagogue level, I don't think I've ever thought about it on a body level. Zaftig wasn't something to be afraid of, or scared of, zaftig kind of a Yiddish word for plump, I guess one might say, until we came here. I don't know that that is hitting me I think particularly hard.
Yeah. So absolutely. So, and the, the piece that I would add to it. My my mom and I actually wrote an article for the Fat Studies Journal. So Fat Studies, which is an academic journal, had a special issue on Jewishness in Judaism. And, and my mom and I wrote an article that was exactly about what you're talking about, about sort of tracing our Ashkenazi families, for generations, from my great grandmother for whom I'm named, who, you know, who was herself an immigrant, through my grandmother, who was, you know, first generation American and my mother and me, and looking exactly at the ways that becoming American and particularly becoming white Americans, was this process of also embracing white body ideals and white supremacist body ideals. And so some of the work that's helped my understanding of this, there's a sociologist named Sabrina Strings, who wrote a book a couple of years ago called Fearing the Black Body, where she's really looking at the roots of fat phobia in anti black racism. And she does also though in that book talk about anti immigrant bias and, and and you know, looks at, you know, the ways that immigrants were and are seen as sort of out of control, right? This sort of sense of immigrant bodies is out of control. The other person who talks about that, in her work is a wonderful scholar and friend named Amy Farrell, who wrote a book, I think, in 2009, called Fat Shame. And in there, too, she talks about sort of the ways that fatness was associated with immigrants and, and folks who weren't white, and that there was sort of this white body ideal, particularly for women, but not only a, thinness that develops in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. And so I think, absolutely, that as Ashkenazi Jews were sort of in this real kind of project of becoming white Americans, that part of that was absolutely about embracing diet culture. And I think, you know, it's powerful for me also to think about, you know, the ways that voice and body interact, certainly in that, right, but as you were saying, you know, sort of being loud is also a way of taking up space.
We'll definitely link to that article, if it's available, as well as the other books you've mentioned, as well as many other resources, for our listeners to do more learning with Fat Torah and get involved. Something that I was also reflecting on, was that for a long time, I've imagined, like, I'm like, there's a, there's a Polish woman in my DNA, there's like an ancestor. And I used to look upon that and kind of be angry and like the things that you did with your body they have passed on to me, that's why I have all of these quote, unquote, problems when I saw them as that. And I think part of my own fat acceptance has been acceptance and love and compassion towards the Polish woman in my DNA and thinking, there were times in your life where you were starved, where you were kept from getting the nourishment you need, and what a slap in the face it would be to think that your ancestor is purposefully starving themselves. All my body wants to do is survive, right? All my body wants to do is keep me alive, and I am punishing it for keeping me alive. I, I have found that that kind of ancestor acceptance, and love has been has been a really big piece of it.
Absolutely. I mean, the ability to eat less food and not die, is a pretty amazing for a body to do. And it's not so surprising that those were the folks who were then able to reproduce. And that's when people genes passed.
Pass on that to us. Some of the people who listen to this podcast are community leaders, or prayer leaders and prayer leaders. And I'm wondering what you would like to say to them, people that hold this position in communities and congregations, what are a few things that we can do to make our spaces more accommodating, as you said, but also spiritually, and prayerfully? What are the kinds of things that we can raise up or keep out to make it more of an acceptance space for all bodies?
I think the word acceptance is so beautiful, because, and I think it gets a little bit denigrated as like a low bar, you know, like don't like, don't want to do more than just accept yourself. But I think that when I think about acceptance, as the willingness to be with what is, that is an incredibly powerful spiritual practice. And I think, in fact, is at the basis of the rest of my spiritual practice and sort of what I come back to right. Am I willing to be with this moment? And so one of the, it's fascinating to me that I'm stuck on Ashrei today, right, but just like that opening line of Ashrei yoshvei veitecha. Right, what does it mean to say, to think of dwelling in God's, first of all, to think of dwelling in God's house as dwelling in the body? And to say that those who dwell in your house will have the sense of happiness. And will be able to, od yehalelucha sela, right? That that, od heyalelucha comes from that that continuing to be able to pray to offer praise, comes from the willingness to be with what is and so if when I think about you know, what I would offer to prayer leaders I think about it first in terms of, this is the the voice teacher and me coming out right but it starts with - Am I able to stand in this space with my feet on the ground? And, or with my butt in the seat or whatever it is that's grounding me in in the world as it is. Right, that the prayer leader is the connector between the world as it is, and infinite possibility. And when I, when I do this work and voice work, we'd really do it as a as a posture thing, right that, that your feet are grounded, that your feet on the ground represent your willingness to be with the world as it is. And the lifting of the crown of the head represents the openness to infinite possibility. And that the human being and in this case, the fair leader is the person who's willing to stand on that, in that axis. And in that space of being a connector between what is and what could be. And so I think it comes first with what does it mean when I'm a prayer leader, to be to be willing to be there in acceptance of my own body as it is today. And I think that really does come across right that you can see, you can see congregations, or groups of campers or whoever it get kind of nervous when the person who's leading doesn't seem comfortable in their own skin. And so some of it is, a lot of it, but comes back to that practice of what does it mean to be willing to be with what is right now, and to be offering prayer from that place. And so I think that can then kind of ripple out, right, but that mean, you know, that means that physically, I'm trying to do my best to be in the moment and be with the body and the breath as it is and to be with the voice as it is and to be with, you know, whatever the tuning is, as it is, you know, obviously there are times for fixing as well but right to be with what is. And then then verbally that includes things like not denigrating my own body, not making excuses or apologies for my own body or my own voice or my own leadership, even if it arises in my head, right to like, allow it to arise in my head and pass right self criticism, whatever. And to let it pass but to not verbalize it and to really let the mouth be a gateway that I'm able to use to decide what I want to share with the people who I'm leading, and what I want to decide not to share. So often when people ask me, we know what what's the you know, sort of what's the one thing you would say that community should do to be more welcoming? And I usually say that, what I highly recommend is that they stop complimenting weight loss. Which of course, is a very, very simple and not very easy thing to do, right? It's part of our way of connecting with one another to notice and comment on someone else's weight loss. And it is so completely toxic, right? Because it let's first of all, we're commenting on something when we don't know why that person has lost weight, or how that person has lost weight. So we don't know if what we're actually complimenting is an eating disorder. We don't know if what we're complimenting is God forbid side effects of some horrible disease or treatment for a horrible disease. We don't know if what we're complimenting is actually grief. And the ways that for some people grief manifests in weight loss. And so when we come at weight loss, instead of actually making a connection and making a genuine inquiry into what's happening for this person with their body, which would be you know, a much more intimate thing to do, right? We're just sort of laying on them this supposed complement, and we're letting them know that we think they're better than we were before. And we're also because we're often speaking in these sort of public communal spaces, we're also letting everyone else in earshot know that we value thinness more than fatness. And so wherever everyone else in your shed is with their relationship with their body, we're sending them a very clear message that we think it would be really better if they had a different body. So and that, and I bring that up partly because again, it's that, you know, I think often we think of like, well, what can we add? And this is like know what, what can we refrain from? What can we just stop doing? It's pretty, pretty challenging. But I think a good challenge.
It is it's the kinds of things that a lot of people do automatically, right to kind of make those connections. I remember, I'd say this was a couple years ago, when I was probably in the throes of it and I had, I was the smallest quote unquote, I guess I had ever been. And I was at a Jewish conference. And I was with my friend and I said, we're going to do a lap. And I want you to notice, because I need someone to witness me and not telling me that this is all in my head. Because right for so many people, especially thin people, it's about it's only about self image and it's only about self esteem. And it's not actually about like what happens for real in the world. I said we're gonna do a lap and I want you to notice how many people say, Wow, you look great, to me, and not to you even though you look amazing today. And it was almost everybody. It was mostly women. It was one man who I didn't know very well, who said, I know I'm probably not supposed to comment on your body, but and I was like, nope, nope, stop there.
He was actually correct there.
Right? You were right. And it was just, it was really powerful, I think to have someone there to witness. And one of the things that Fat Torah has allowed us to do is to witness each other. So you gave some beautiful advice for prayer leaders. And I'm wondering, to end with with a prayer or practice something that we can do along with you.
I think one of the most powerful teachings is also one of the most basic in the sense that it's just so central to Judaism, which is the practice of acknowledging every human being as created in the divine image. And so when we look at the roots of that, in our textual tradition, certainly we have, you know, the language itself of human beings being created in the divine image in in the in Bereshit, in Genesis itself. But there's an amazing conversation about what it means to be created the divine image in Mishna Sanhedrin. And that's where we get the wonderful Midrash, the wonderful interpretive teaching, that imagines God as stamping out coins in God's image. And the metaphor there that's used, the comparison there is that what's so amazing about God is that when a human king stamps out coins in his own image, they all look the same. And when God creates us in God's own image, we all look different. And so right there in missioner, right, right there in this 1800 year old text, we have the sense that being created in the divine image means that we look different from one another. I think we tend to think about being created in the divine image as some sort of noncorporeal soul kind of thing. And certainly, that's not a distinction that our tradition makes, that actually the diversity of human form, is a marker of God's greatness. And so I think, having in mind, just that sense of, I was created a Divine Image, I exist in the image of the Divine, my body is a reflection of divinity in the world, is an amazing thing to be able to come back to, even when, and maybe especially when it completely contradicts what we're actually feeling about ourselves at the moment. So I think that place of bringing truths that we deeply believe up against our emotions, or our, our experiences of the moment, is really where a lot of amazing spiritual work can happen. So some people talk about body neutrality and weight neutrality, which is a way in, which is a lot of things. But one thing it is, is to sort of, you know, take a self judgment that arises. So the way I learned it was, you know, to take a self judgment that arises and then to follow it up with a completely neutral statement, right, so I hate my whatever. And then sort of countering that with, and the sky is blue. Right, which is, which is a neutrality approach, right? Like, you know, my, whatever part of my body is x, and then to counter it with meaning of the sky is blue, right, which isn't, which is sort of a neutralizing. But I think there's something for me even more powerful about saying, you know, these, you know, these size, or these blood tests, or these, whatever that I'm finding so hard to accept, are part of what it means to be creating the Divine Image. So my favorite example of this, that just from my own life, which was actually not so much about not necessarily so much about being a fat body, but I was running late to a class. And the problem was that I was the teacher on a university campus. Um, you know, I was feeling really, really, really horribly judgmental of myself in this like rush to get to this classroom. And I had this sudden, like, Flash, this is the image of God running late. And what's powerful about it, which I I shared this with folks in my rabbinical school, and my teacher, Rabbi Sharon Cohen Ainesfeld was like, yeah, like, isn't the image of God so often running late? Like where are you God. You seem to be running late. And so to hold that sense of, what it means to imagine and what it means to allow ourselves to speak, that this body is the image of God, right? What can we learn both about ourselves and our bodies? And also, what can we learn about God?
So simple, and yet, for so many of us, so devastatingly difficult. Listener, I invite you to repeat that to yourself and feel it. I made in the Image of God, this body is made in the Image of God. And also as a practice, I have found for building fat acceptance and myself was to surround myself with images of fat people just doing the thing, being alive. We can link to some of those places in the show notes, but also, just like many phobias, this can be internalized. And I know I myself, sometimes when I see someone that's more fat than me, my reaction is one of judgment. But to then make the second reaction. This is a human being that is made in the Divine Image, how can we extend that to everyone?
Absolutely. That's a wonderful extension. Thank you for that.
Ah, wow, I'm so grateful that we were able to have this conversation today. And I really hope that our listeners will check out more of your work more of Fat Torah, join the Facebook group, which is for fat folks and allies, of which we need many. Anything else, as we wind down that you would like to leave us with?
Just to reiterate something that you said, which is how important it is to connect with one another. And that, really that, you know, I talked about a willingness to be with ourselves, but absolutely, you know, what it means to also find ways to be together, that you know, that when you have, you know, if we think about it from sort of a community organizing standpoint, it is hard to get a movement going when no one wants the identity that you're organizing the movement around. But this can really be, and for me absolutely one of the biggest, perhaps the single biggest joy of starting Fat Torah has been being able to create a space where people can can be together and not feel as alone and not feel isolated, and not feel like the problem is them.
Grateful for you for creating that space and so grateful, thank you so much for joining us on the podcast today.
Thank you so much for having me. It's been a delight. I really welcome anyone who has further questions or anything to just be in touch.
And thank you so much for listening. Our editing is done by Christy Dodge, thank you Christy. Our show notes are done by Yaffa Englander, thank you Yaffa. Our theme music is A New Light by me, Eliana Light. And find us on socials at the light.lab. You can email me at eliana@light lab.co, emails about the podcast can go to podcast@light lab.co. And we can't wait to be with you again soon.