I was honored by the ADL last week with the Deborah award, given to women leaders who embody the qualities of the Judge and Prophetess Deborah. Madeline Albright and Diane Feinstein have gotten it, as well as pretty much every important CEO-type who also does good work outside of their profession.
While I don’t judge as a profession (and have largely tried to eliminate judging from my personal dealings) and God has not (yet) spoken to me in a manner of prophecy, I was honored to be given an award that bears the name of such a great woman. The ADL chose to honor me not at their entertainment awards but as a “regular” person at their Deborah awards because of (I think) my prominent role as a writer and advocate for Jewish living and parenting at Kveller.com, my work with UCLA Hillel and the Jewish Free Loan Association of Los Angeles, and my role-model appeal as a woman in science who is also a mother and also a working actress.
The event was supported by noteworthy folks including the president of Warner Brothers, Peter Roth, the co-creators of the Big Bang Theory, Bill Prady and Chuck Lorre, and all of my agents and publicists and even one of my mentors Shep Rosenman, who happens to now be my lawyer, who gave me my award. I hate being honored in general, largely because I hate talking about myself or hearing others talk about me.
Shep knows this, and when we met a week or so before the ceremony to talk about what he would say, I told him I wanted to take out an ad in the program journal that just said “HASHEM” in giant letters because for me, that’s kind of what it’s all about. Everything in my life comes from Not Me (HaShem) and I am grateful but also really careful to try not to make it about me because it’s not. He smiled. He got it. His introduction to me referred to me as “unusual” and he talked about my teaching and love for learning, and that felt just right.
As an aside, the ad I took out acknowledged my ancestors, my rabbi from UCLA Hillel, my study partners, and included a quote from Psalm 62: “Upon God rests my salvation and my honor.”
I got up on that stage and I thanked the ADL and my parents and mother-in-law and husband (who brought our boys to the reception where they were completely overwhelmed with people asking them things they had no answers to and my husband took them home after 35 minutes). I congratulated the other honorees (the fascinating Dr. Renee White Fraser and trail-blazing inspirational Debra Wong Yang). And then I totally told the audience, “this is going to be really Jew-y.” They laughed and then it got really quiet.
I stated unabashedly that nothing in my life is really about me. And I shared excerpts from a letter that guides my actions and my thoughts. I learned about this letter from one of the Yeshiva University Maccabeats (hey, if I ever win an Emmy I won’t be able to discuss any of this on that stage, so I took the opportunity to discuss God and the Maccabeats on this stage, ok!?). The letter is a father’s guide for his son upon his son leaving home. It’s everything one father said to his son about how to live, how to behave, and how to bring personal and spiritual redemption.
Many people use this letter as a weekly meditation, and I cannot recommend it highly enough even if some of the religious concepts seem “extreme” to you at first. It was written by the Medieval Rabbi and scholar, Ramban (Rabbi Moshe ben Nachman) and it’s called Iggeres HaRaMbaN, or “Ramban’s Letter.”
Here’s what I excerpted:
When you act humbly and modestly before everyone, the radiance of God’s glory and the spirit of the Shechina will rest upon you, and you will live the life of the World-to-Come.
Speak gently at all times, with your head bowed, your eyes looking down to the ground and your heart focusing on Hashem. Consider everyone as greater than yourself. If he is wise or rich, you should give him respect. If he is poor and you are richer — or wiser — than he, consider yourself to be more guilty than he, and that he is more worthy than you.
Torah should always be learned diligently, so you will be able to fulfill its commands. Examine your actions every morning and evening, and in this way every one of your days will be spent in teshuvah (repentance).
Read this letter at least once a week and neglect none of it. Fulfill it, and in so doing, walk with it forever in the ways of Hashem, may He be blessed so that you will succeed in all your ways. Thus you will succeed and merit the World to Come which lies hidden away for the righteous.
A journalist present at the awards wrote the following day:
“[Bialik] accepted her award with a funny, self effacing speech, thanking her family, her publicist and attorney… It does seem unlikely that her Talmud philosophies like ‘examine your actions every morning and evening’ will become a Hollywood mantra.”
First I want to say to this journalist that it’s not Talmudic; Ramban lived in the 12th and 13th centuries and the Talmud was codified several hundred years before that. Most of his references are not from the Talmud, they are from the Torah, Prophets, or Writings (Tanach).
Second, I am glad that what she took away was that I was funny and self-effacing and that I thanked the people who literally made me and made my career. Sounds like me!
Finally, the words that guide me may not become a Hollywood mantra, but my circle of influence is actually a much smaller and more manageable place. It’s about 1,500 square feet and it’s my home. It’s where my boys were born and raised. It’s where we sleep and say Shema and it’s where we learn about being Jewish and what a big responsibility that is.
My role as these boys’ mother makes me the first and most direct connection and example my sons have regarding ethics, humility, and the Divine aspects of this amazing universe.
Ramban was onto something. Maybe I’ll write my own Iggeres HaMayim someday, but for now, I will stick to the classics of our people and see if I can make humility, compassion, devotion, faith, and love the mantra in our home and, please God, beyond.