Discovering the Power of Resilience

June 28, 2024Beth Levin

My journey is marked by loss and hardship, as well as exquisite beauty, spirituality, and the pursuit of joy. Navigating the twists and turns of such a journey has been both overwhelming and deeply rewarding. 

This story is about the power of resilience. It celebrates the capacity of the human spirit to rise, thrive, and find joy amidst life's most formidable challenges. 

I have been told I was strong for most of my life. People told me that I was strong because I had survived so many hardships - the loss of my brother, a fire that destroyed my home, the addiction of my first husband that brought chaos and uncertainty into our lives for so many years, the subsequent divorce, my son’s diagnosis of a genetic disorder – and more. I never felt strong, I just did what I had to do to take care of myself and my family.

When I met my second husband, Daniel, I was hopeful that the difficult times were behind me. We were both working, successful, each the sole caregivers of three children, and madly in love. We decided to marry and merge our blended family of three boys and three girls, although I can assure you, we were nothing like the Brady Bunch.

Independently, both Daniel and I were laid off from our jobs, and the job searches were more challenging than we expected. It was difficult to find a job because I was either over-qualified, or I didn’t have the master’s degree credential that employers were looking for at my level of experience. I began to think about what I wanted to do, and not just what I could do, so I began looking for opportunities in the Jewish community. I landed a wonderful position working in women’s philanthropy for a Jewish Federation in New Jersey and started learning about fundraising and philanthropy. I had always been involved in the Jewish community as a lay person but never as a professional. In my new role, I got to meet so many wonderful people including generous and caring donors and inspired Jewish leaders. I learned about the role that women can have in shaping and changing the world.

Less than six months into our marriage, I got diagnosed with breast cancer. What followed was a whole year treatment including surgery, chemo, radiation, hair loss, early menopause, and a whole host of short-term and long-term side effects including hair loss and weight gain. 

Again, people told me how strong I was to survive this.

In August 2016, we moved to Florida from New Jersey. It was not because of the cold and snow, but because we needed a change. We were struggling to make ends meet.  While grateful for the job at Federation, I was earning a fraction of what I had been earning in my previous role. When the opportunity came for a new position for my husband in Tampa, we were eager to move and start anew. 

I immediately became involved in the Jewish Community in Tampa, first joining the sisterhood at Congregation Schaarai Zedek (CSZ) and landing a position at the Jewish Community Foundation. The genuine, warm welcome we received by CSZ led us to join a Reform congregation for the first time. The Jewish community provided a soft landing for me and my family as we settled into a new place. 

I had previously served on the board and as sisterhood president of my temple in New Jersey, so I quickly became active at our new temple in Tampa. I love the Reform Movement, and the more I learned, the more I wanted to know. I quickly accepted positions to serve on the sisterhood and temple board again and applied to serve on the board of Women of Reform Judaism.

However, more hardship awaited us here in Tampa. In 2018, Daniel was diagnosed with cancer, and his prognosis was not as good as mine. Nonetheless, he optimistically embraced treatment, convinced that he could defy the odds. Daniel loved to cook and eat and it was devastating when his illness robbed him of the ability to eat, forcing him to only get his nutrition through a feeding tube. We were already largely homebound before COVID-19 restrictions forced the rest of the world to do the same. He was already so sick when I found out that I had been accepted to serve on the WRJ Board, but he was so excited for me, and so proud. Unfortunately, he died before I was inducted onto the Board in the spring of 2021.

I was heartbroken. I truly felt that I would never be happy again. People again told me that I was strong and that I would get through this. I wanted to rage. I was done being strong.

I went to every grief therapy I could including individual therapy and group classes held by hospice and the Jewish community. Then one day, in our grief class over zoom, the topic of staying strong came up. I spoke about how that word made me feel so angry and empty, and in the conversation, the word “resilient” came up. It was my “aha” moment. Resilience, I could embrace, as it concerns the capacity to withstand or recover quickly from difficulties. It implied moving forward, and moving forward is what I desperately wanted and needed to do. I began to study resiliency and embraced a new way of being. I learned that resilience can be developed and improving resilience has a whole host of physical, mental, and emotional benefits.

I began to change my life. I embraced my work at WRJ and was excited to become a part of the newly created Education to Action (E2A) Committee, where I can contribute and explore my passion for advocacy. I accepted the position to be sisterhood president. I bought a new house, joined the committee for the Tampa Jewish Film Festival, became active in Hadassah, and volunteered a lot. In my effort to relieve the immense loneliness I felt due to Daniel’s loss, I soon became overcommitted. I was busy and stressed, and although I was surrounded by people, I still felt so lonely.

I longed for a life with more joy.

I decided to create a life full of joy, meaning, and fulfillment. While this was clearly a mindset shift, it also meant making some hard choices.

I left my full-time job and opened my own business, which I called “Joyous Again.” I became a certified resilience coach so that I could help others on their journeys from grief to joy, and then earned another certification as a leadership coach so I could enable people to find their purpose and more meaning in their lives. 

I spent time exploring the things that I used to enjoy and went out of my comfort zone to try new things. I evaluated my relationships and spent time nurturing the ones that were most meaningful and created new friends too. I put all my resilience tools to use, and took steps to improve my physical, emotional, and mental wellbeing. I embraced my spirituality and my love of Judaism. I took every opportunity I could to travel, domestically and internationally. I read more books. I became more curious. I went to concerts and festivals and discovered that listening to live music is my ultimate joy. I slowed down to really see things – embracing the beauty all around me. I rested. I took the very best care of myself. I decided to live intentionally and authentically, and of course, joyfully.

Another thing I love to do is speak to groups and share my personal story of resilience. Travels over the last couple years have led me to explore the Jewish communities that existed in Frankfurt, Vienna, and Budapest. Our Jewish ancestors thrived in the face of adversity and overcame horrible and restricting laws designed to oppress and destroy us. I love sharing about the resiliency exemplified by the Jewish people as I share my own story. I am heartened to see Jewish museums and monuments, and countries taking responsibility for their actions and roles in the persecution of Jews. It gives me hope for our Jewish future even during these difficult times and I am extremely proud to be a Jewish woman today. 

Despite facing numerous hardships and heartbreaking losses, I have emerged with a renewed sense of purpose and an unwavering commitment to find joy and meaning in my life once again. By becoming more resilient, I have increased my capacity to face new challenges with consequences. By embracing change, nurturing my passions, and prioritizing my wellbeing, I have not only found healing and happiness but have also become a guiding light for others navigating similar challenges. Through my commitment to live authentically and joyfully, I wish to inspire us all to embrace life with courage, compassion, and gratitude. I hope my journey reminds you that even in the darkest of times, there is always the possibility of light and hope, and opportunities to live a life filled with purpose and joy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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