Juliana Marcus is a behavior analyst and special education teacher working primarily with kids with autism. Originally from Clinton, NY, she lives in Watertown and is a graduate of Brandeis and Northeastern. She just completed her first 10k road race and in her “spare” time enjoys traveling, wine tasting, organizing, eating ice cream, watching old movies and getting more involved in local Jewish events.

Participating in Eser has been a meaningful, refreshing, and healing experience. I’ve been in and out of Jewish communities for much of my young life.  As a preteen, I convinced my parents to join a synagogue because I’d watched my cousins lead services, read from the Torah, and generally be the center of attention at their b’nai mitvah ceremonies. I didn’t care about the party afterwards, but thought, “Dang, you get to stand up there on the stage, sound cool speaking a different language, and everyone has to listen to you…sweet!”

Within two years, I had indeed followed in their footsteps.  I studied with my rabbi and became a bat mitzvah, got a scholarship to the URJ’s leadership camp, and got voted in as my temple youth group’s vice president (small town, not much competition).  I even briefly set my sights on the rabbinate.  Four years later, I’d led many a youth service, Sunday school sing-along, and summer camp massage circle, and I was off to Brandeis.  There I dabbled in various parts of the Jewish community and outside of it, never fully settling anywhere but always staying connected. After graduation things got sticky.  Full-time job hours were long, variable and far fromBoston. This wasn’t conducive to establishing a connection with my local Jewish community. 

My company, a non-profit inBostonthat provides services for children with autism, opened a school in the Middle East – not the heavily Jewishly-populated corner of the desert, butAbu Dhabi, the capital of theUnited Arab Emirates.  My interests in traveling, helping to open a school for an underserved population, and saving money for my future propelled me to apply for a transfer. I fit my life into two overweight suitcases and said goodbye to my beloved Boston Terrier (and family and friends), and embarked on a two year journey. I found the job to be rewarding and meaningful and signed up for a third year. I was also in grad school and visiting a new country every month or two – there were always things to do and people to meet – dune bashing in the Empty Quarter, cage diving with great whites inSouth Africa, sleeping near laughing hyenas on theSavannah. 

But something was missing.  I spent three years loving every minute of my life, yet I had ignored an essential part of who I am: a Jewish woman. If the topic of religion came up, I just said that I wasn’t religious.  Friends of ALL religions and nationalities were warm, welcoming, and open-minded, so perhaps I could have been less cautious.  Jews weren’t explicitly excluded from the UAE, but rather existed in small, silent pockets without any organizing body.  I quietly contemplated the Jewish holidays, but rarely did anything further to recognize them.  After three years it was time to move home and pursue new job responsibilities. 

Now that I was working in a job that I loved, with fairly regular hours, it was time to get involved.  But my location, school and work schedules and preferences make me high maintenance. I’m not looking for nosh-n-niceties events now.  I want to learn something in an informal but regularly scheduled setting. I can’t remember now who introduced me to Eser, but I’m ever so grateful.  From our first group meeting inNewton, I felt that all group members were accepted, no matter their level of prior knowledge. Our group includes teachers, IT guys, HR people, nannies, kung fu artists, engineers, Supermen, Wonderwomen, and others. Our leaders create an atmosphere of openness and mutual respect.  The text excerpts we use are from a variety of sources and help the topics become accessible to everyone.  Almost-Rabbi Seth Wax knows when to listen, when to draw out more, and when to have everyone in the circle share.  Jason is great with the transitions and historical context, and Becky is an excellent all-around hostess, organizer, and participant who poses insightful questions. Eser is what I needed to draw me back into my Jewish community – Eser is bringing me back to a piece of myself.

Last Monday, April 15 and the days following were a time that none of us will soon forget.  Between Monday and our group’s meeting on Wednesday, I’d talked to a few friends and coworkers about what had happened, but not extensively.  I work in a school, and we pay careful attention to how students are affected when faced with tragedy but, as much as possible, we attempt to provide normalcy and routine in times of turmoil, which in turn provides me with normalcy and routine.  By Wednesday night though, my head and heart were bursting with sadness and frustration and anger and even joy (that had been my firstMarathonMonday, and the spirit of the day and the heroes of the aftermath continue to fill me with lightness and positivity).  At our Eser session Seth had us put our topic on hold to share our experience of Monday and the aftermath.  No one was forced to speak, but we went in a circle and talked for the first hour of our meeting.  There were varying opinions on the importance of the events on Monday, but no matter what was said this was the catharsis I needed.  Again, Eser helped to bring me back to myself.

Eser doesn’t require a big commitment and there is so much to gain.  If any of this resonates with you talk to other participants.  We are each having our own experience of these groups, and perhaps you will find an aspect of Eser that helps fill in a piece of your story.

created at: 2013-05-02


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