Today is Yom Kippur. Here's a quick refresher from “Yom Kippur is the most important holiday in the Jewish faith. According to tradition, it is on Yom Kippur that God decides each person’s fate, so Jews are encouraged to make amends and ask forgiveness for sins committed during the past year. The holiday is observed with a 25-hour fast and a special religious service.”

Yom Kippur is uncomfortable for the obvious reasons: not eating or drinking for 25 hours straight does not feel natural. While the body struggles, the mind oscillates between agitation and calm. I have been observing the holy fast for 15 years. Will I do it next year, and the following ones? I don’t know. For me, part of the day’s discomfort is asking myself why I actually decide to make it special. Why would a non-religious, non-believer, non-practicing, (food-loving!) Jew go through the hurdle of a fast — and most importantly, the reflection that goes with it?

Part of the answer is simply the acknowledgment and honoring of a piece of my identity. Though I didn’t choose to be born in a Jewish household, I respect the heritage that has been transmitted to me and survived painful decades and centuries, through stories, traditions, and community. I sometimes feel that my Jewish identity was “outsourced” for most of my life, through Jewish schools, youth movement, family gatherings and with little effort from me. But over the years, especially since living away from home, I have learned to pick and choose which habits, practices, and beliefs resonate with me, and in Kippur I have found meaning.

This day is about reflection. We’re meant to ask ourselves what wrong we did in the past year and ask for forgiveness to the people we’ve offended or hurt in any way. By doing so, we look back on a full year of experiences, relationships, growth, failures. Like many, I have a busy life in a fast-paced city (slightly less so in a pandemic) and spend most of my time working or socializing. I fill the blanks with devices. My mind is constantly running from one “to do” to the next, cluttered with noise and activities and conversations and always more. I don’t spend a lot of my time reflecting, thinking, or just being.

“If I am not for myself, who will be for me? But if I am only for myself, who am I? If not now, when?”, says Hillel.

I'm very familiar with this quote and heard it hundreds of times, but never paid attention to the order. But this year it has a different taste. A friend recently told me something that resonated, she said “being in a good place personally is important to me because it means I can show up for others”. “If I am not for myself, who will be? But if I am only for myself, who am I?”. First, you show up for yourself. Do what you can to be healthy, find purpose and joy. Then you are able to be present for your loved ones, your community, and anyone who crosses your path. Taking care of yourself is both an opportunity to become and feel better, but also and maybe mostly a responsibility towards others. If I'm calm, I can support my friends through tough times. If I'm healthy, I can carry some of the weight on their shoulders. If I'm happy, I can share some of my joy and help them see the good in the dark.

This pandemic has been very difficult to deal with for many and it looks like we might all be getting back to some kind of lockdown in the coming weeks and months. Perhaps we can use this time to take a break from the business, and reflect? Here are a few questions I am asking myself today and for the months to come.

  • Am I nurturing all the parts of my identity that matter to me?
  • How do I feed my body, mind and soul?
  • Have I spent enough time with myself?
  • Am I happy with the language I use with myself?
  • What routines/habits do I have? Are there any that I want to change? Add?
  • Have I listened?
  • Have I been honest?
  • Have I been present?
  • Do I tell people I love how much they mean to me? Do I say thank you enough?
  • Have I lost anyone this year? How will I honor them in the future?

As a side note, Steve Schlafman offers a good guide to personal annual reviews here:

I struggle to make decisions, whatever the scale. From ordering a dish at a restaurant to choosing a place to live, I spend so much time pondering options that it becomes exhausting. The decision-making process ends up taking up a lot of mental space, consuming brainpower and energy that could be used more pleasantly and efficiently otherwise.

Over time, I came up with a few tricks to avoid that. I was catching up with a friend the other day and told him about my 'high school picking story'. It's a framework I use from time to time to make decisions for myself and I thought I would share it more widely.

When I was 11, my parents asked me to choose between two high schools:

  • School 1 was a well-known institution, famous for its high-quality but strict and rigorous education. Anecdotally, this is the school my dad went to.

  • School 2 had a great programme but had a more familial vibe, wasn't as strict or as serious. I knew a bunch of my friends from primary school chose to go there.

I told my parents I would go to School 1. I thought it was the right thing to do – the most challenging school, the most prestigious one. A few weeks later, my parents sat me down and told me that actually, after thinking about it more, they decided I would go to School 2. Apparently this put the biggest smile on my face and I looked like the happiest girl in the world.

This story helps me put things into perspective. When I face an important decision, I try to imagine a scenario where someone comes to me, sits me down, and tells me “this is what I chose for you”. What would my immediate physical reaction be? Would I smile? Or cry, get angry, be disappointed? Would it feel right in my guts? I think we often know the answer but are too scared to be honest with ourselves.

I'm celebrating 3 years as a Londoner. I'm grateful for the opportunities, the friendships and the millions of flavours that the city continues to bring into my life.

I often think about Paul Graham's essay on cities and ambition. I'm still trying to figure out what message London sends.

So where are you from?

I got that question a lot when I was in New York City a few months ago. Never really knew what to reply.

“I live in London!”

But you don't sound British?

“Yeah, I was born and raised in Brussels, Belgium. My grandparents are from Poland and Italy though”

It’s a bit long. Maybe a bit much.

But sometimes I'd get a different one.

Where’s home?

“Oh”, I would think to myself, “that’s a good one”

Where is home? Is it a place? A feeling? Is it static or does it change over time? Is it an aspiration? Real or fictional? Identity or community? Both? Or just a space between walls?

I’ve been thinking about it for a while. I don’t have a good answer yet. Home is singing out loud in the car with my sister. Any car, really. Home is cooking dinner for old friends and new ones with a few bottles of wine. Home is walking in NYC and feeling that you are exactly where you’re supposed to be. Home is smelling my mom’s bolognese sauce simmering from another room. It’s the lake in my hometown I used to run to when I needed to breathe. Home is seeing a childhood friend for the first time in a while and knowing that even if you haven’t spoken much recently, you’ve got each other’s back. Home is music. Home is finding old family pictures in a shoebox. Hot showers and cold sheets. Home is both where you come from and what you aspire to build, it is past and future all at once.

It's a bit long, though. Maybe a bit much?

“Is there anything I can do for you dear? Is there anyone I could call?” “No and thank you, please Madam. I ain't lost, just wandering” – Adèle

I first became familiar with the concept of 'radical amazement' when I was 11 and preparing for my bat-mitzvah. In the Jewish tradition, both boys and girls get to celebrate that important day with their family and friends – but only boys are allowed to read in the Torah. As a young feminist, I could not tolerate what felt like a terrible injustice and decided to join a reform synagogue which would allow me to read the holy texts as well. My family is far from religious and I never believed in God, but I was determined to start my journey into adulthood in a way that aligned with my principles.

I don't remember much from that year but I do remember bits of the text I prepared. It touched on the importance of being constantly amazed and grateful. The big lesson was that amazement doesn't always come naturally: we can train ourselves to seek and nurture it. Everything that surrounds us can be intriguing and new and wonderful. Seasons come and go but they always bring new colours. The tide goes up and down but waves never look the same.

Over the years, I've tried to cultivate this sense of amazement. Today it manifests itself in two ways. The first one, the more intellectual one, is pure curiosity: here, being amazed means being curious, wondering and questioning and hopefully learning. I'm very lucky to be doing a job that involves extreme curiosity and inquisitiveness, where amazement and questioning are required by design at all times.

The other one, more spiritual, is an appetite for beauty. I'm not talking about the type of beauty that is aesthetically pleasing, but rather the beauty that exists in moments that are profoundly human. The look in a mother's eyes. Partners holding hands. Loneliness in a crowd. Here, being amazed means taking the time to actively witness and cherish moments of beauty, or moments of truth. No reflections, no questions.

That's why I fell in love with photography, and with film. It gave me a tool to encapsulate the beauty that I see all around me, keep it forever and share it with the world.

Beauty and truth always feel both instantaneous and eternal to me.

I love big cities because there's always a high concentration of beauty. So many people living side by side, interacting, bumping into each other. And even when the city feels cold and concrete buildings seem to take over, it always ends up being the perfect set for the most beautiful human stories. I also see beauty in the absence, the longing, the “no longer”. This is a special kind of beauty because it's nostalgic but also full of hope. What could have been? What could still be?

'Beauty is truth, truth beauty,' – that is all ye know on earth, and all ye need to know. – John Keats

Welcome to my blog. This is a picture I took in Tel Aviv a couple of weeks ago. I loved the simplicity of the scene: books in a woman's body (or perhaps was it a violin?)