The Conspiracy

A Shabbaton Taught Me Wellness as a Woman on the Autism Spectrum

Sarah Waxman and I immediately bonded over our curly, Jew-fro-esque hair. As Jewish women have done for centuries, we swapped notes over the creams, conditioners, gels, and mousses we use to keep the frizz away. But what I really learned from Waxman, the founder of a Jewish women’s wellness initiative, was that my mental health deserves as extensive a regimen as my Jewish curls.

Michele Amira Pinczuk, Sarah Waxman, and Rabbi Sarah Tasman at “Being in Circles: A Women’s Wellness Workshop for Women.” | Via Michele Amira Pinczuk.

What is the shechinah, the divine feminine, in Judaism? This was the central question posed by “Being in Circles: A Women’s Wellness Workshop for Women,” a retreat held the first week of May in Beallsville, Maryland.

The shabbaton for Jewish women in their 20s and 30s was organized by Waxman, the creator of a women’s health organization called At The Well, and Rabbi Sarah Tasman, who is the organization’s D.C. community manager. Over the weekend, Tasman and Waxman addressed self-care, the spirituality of menstruating, and how both intersect with Jewish ritual and, specifically, the traditions of Rosh Chodesh, the new month.

“This weekend was an opportunity to make a deeper connection with our bodies and our spiritual lives,” Waxman said. “We hope these young women feel equipped and supported to start their own Well Circles (women’s groups) and that they can rely on At The Well for meaningful content at the intersection of women’s health and Jewish spirituality.”

I was introduced to At The Well through a local Moishe House, and it has since become something of a haven for me as a Jewish woman on the autism spectrum. During the weekend’s activities, I found comfort meditating on one of my favorite verses from the Torah during the morning Shabbos yoga session: “El na refah na la” or “Please God, heal her,” which is based on Moses asking God to heal his sister Miriam. This verse had significance to me as someone who struggles daily with anxiety, wanting to be healed.

Waxman’s Rosh Chodesh event exemplified the Jewish value of compassion (chesed) by providing a safe space for women’s healing. Even the blessings over the wine were framed as an opportunity to discover our inner shechinah. The yoga and mediation on Shabbos morning made me feel like I was recovering slowly from my inner fear.

The shechinah as an image gave me a powerful model of womanhood to which I can aspire. “The shechinah is down to Earth,” Rabbi Tasman said. “She’s understanding, supportive, and experienced through our emotions. In Jewish tradition, she was present during the times in which the Israelites were wandering in the desert and in distress. She is amongst the Jews as we are spread out in the Diaspora.”

The extensive autism spectrum is often misunderstood. I am not anti-social, but I do suffer from extreme social anxiety, which makes me want to hide in my room. Being on the autism spectrum feels like a million forms of anxiety silently happening all at once. The idea of the shechinah described in At the Well now comforts me as  I struggle day to day. While Tupac said, “Only God can judge me,” I take solace in the idea of a non-judgmental, female spiritual source that’s there in times of “wandering” and “distress.” As the granddaughter of holocaust survivors, family members often tell me to be strong, to have chutzpah, to not give up when I have anxiety. But it’s nice to be reminded that there is the shechinah, a force of mercy that sees just as much beauty in the struggle.

Michele Amira Pinczuk is a student at the University of Maryland.

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