Let me tell you about a typical day in the life of Ilana Olin.
Mom wakes me at 7:00
. Mom wakes me at 7:05. Mom screams at me and I get out of bed at 7:15, get dressed, eat breakfast, pack all my stuff, and I’m out the door at 7:42. I arrive at school at 8:02, go through my school day and then take the bus home. I get home at 3:20 and then, on a Hebrew School day, leave the house at 3:35 to arrive by 4:00
. I leave just as we start tefillah, eat dinner in the car on the way to the gym, and then practice with my gymnastics team until 9:00. Then, I eat dinner again on the way home, get home around 9:30, do homework, shower and go to sleep.
Aside from the Hebrew school part, I do this three times a week, which includes about 12 hours at the gym. Oh, and did I mention bat mitzvah lessons and practice? Throw in another half hour each day of that, plus lessons. You might say that I’m pretty busy.
And, yes, I am driven. I have high expectations of myself and work very hard to live up to them. In a particular event or exercise, I won’t stop for the day until I can do everything perfectly three times. For me, this means no wobbles. This hard work has paid off to get me to where I am in gymnastics today. And my hard work in studying for my bat mitzvah has also paid off, because here I am!
By now you should be able to tell a few key things about me: 1) that I love gymnastics, and have since my first “Mommy and Me” class when I was 18 months old, and 2) that I’m a perfectionist.
You might be relieved to know that I am not completely insane. I do have my limits. Perfectionism is only a good thing to a degree. It has its limits.
I’ve discovered that perfectionism is for the imperfect. I believe in doing everything to the best of my ability, no matter what it takes – but then being able to know my limitations and to accept them.
My Torah portion begins with the word “NaSO” – which literally means “lift up.” That makes sense to me as a gymnast, because we do a lot of heavy lifting. The burden is very physical - I need to lift myself up onto the bar or the beam, and sometimes off the floor.
But it’s also psychological burden – to lift yourself up to higher and higher levels. It takes an incredible amount of focus and determination. And even more, you have to control your fear. It takes courage to try something new, something you’ve never done before, especially if you are doing it on a beam that’s only a few inches wide.
And you also need self discipline. My portion gives the example of the Nazerite, and my haftarah details the birth of the most famous Nazerite, Samson. A Nazerite was someone who took a special vow to lead a very disciplined life, never drinking wine or cutting their hair.
But it’s important to note that very few people took those vows and there are no Nazerites anymore. Jews have always struggled with perfectionism. We are always looking for role models who go above and beyond, but the Jewish message is that we should also do things in moderation. It’s OK to make mistakes, as long we always try to improve. That’s why we have the High Holidays, a time when Jews get it right on the balance beam, making up for the times when we fall. Too bad we don’t get a High Holidays at our meets!
Self discipline is important to me, like it was for the Nazerites. I only watch a couple of programs on TV a week: “Glee” and “Modern Family.” That’s it.
The most important thing for a perfectionist is to know your strengths and weaknesses. I’ve learned to recognize them and improve myself based upon them. As a person I’ve changed as I’ve grown. I have learned that one mistake won’t change my whole life. I’ve learned to go with the flow, too. There have certainly been times when I’ve made a mistake in a routine, but then collected myself and done my personal best for the rest of the routine.
Now that I’m a bat mitzvah, I’ve learned to never give up, that practice makes perfect… or almost perfect – because perfectionism itself is imperfect!
For my mitzvah project, I raised awareness about heart disease and collected money to donate to the American Heart Association. Remember, 1 in 3 women will die of heart disease. Thanks to the support of everyone here, I have already raised over $1,500 for this cause.
Author of "Embracing Auschwitz" and "Mensch•Marks: Life Lessons of a Human Rabbi - Wisdom for Untethered Times." Winner of the Rockower Award, the highest honor in Jewish journalism and 2019 Religion News Association Award for Excellence in Commentary. Musings of a rabbi, journalist, father, husband, poodle-owner, Red Sox fan and self-proclaimed mensch, taken from essays, columns, sermons and thin air. Writes regularly in the New York Jewish Week and Times of Israel.
Friday, June 10, 2011
TBE Bar/Bat Mitzvah Commentary: Ilana Olin on Naso
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