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  • Tara Joy Larrick

Women of Faith: Amy from All Spice and Acrylics

Welcome to the Women of Faith Series!

These women contributing have poured their heart and souls into these posts wanting to share their beliefs with you. I welcome them with open arms and I pray that you will as well.

A little about the series, I asked them all the same 12 questions to shed light on the beliefs of their faith and their personal journey.

This is meant to be educational to expand your view of what others believe. I ask you to be respectful in any comments you leave and really start a conversation into exploring each of these faiths. Though you may not agree with their faith or beliefs, let's respect them by making this a safe place for them to share.

1. Please give an overview of your faith and what it believes. I am Jewish and generally spiritual. I love Judaism for its rich history, culture, connection to nature and connection to myself. When I think of me in relation to my faith, I think of the backbone of my childhood – rich family memories around the kitchen table over Shabbat dinner or celebrating Passover, the smell of my mother’s perfume sitting next to her in temple, and brushing my fingers against the cover of the Torah scroll when it was paraded down the aisles on holidays. Judaism to me, is a joyful celebration of life – a true culmination of ritual, music, culture, nature, and spirit. When I pray to God, I am really looking deep within myself and seeing my ancestors, and a history I can only sense – it’s a beautiful feeling. 2. Was there a specific time of reason why you believe what you do? My story is quite unique. I was your typical Jewish girl – I loved to eat, we celebrated huge Passovers every year, warm family and Jewish community, had the typical over-produced bat mitzvah, etc. On April 25th 2005, we had our usual Passover seder (the second night) – 40 people joyously singing in our basement, food and laughter galore. Suddenly, I found myself in intense pain. To condense a VERY long and intricate story, I went into cardiac arrest – in this emergency, I was operated on, and apparently, once I was cut open, my stomach literally burst to the top of the OR. I needed 122 units of blood and after both lungs collapsed, I almost died. Again, fast-forwarding through a bunch: I was in a coma for 6 months. When I awoke, I was told that I had no stomach anymore. I could not eat or drink. It was not known when or if I would ever be able to again. 27 surgeries later and over 3 years without food or drink, I’m fine now and truly appreciating life and my faith, more than ever before. My Jewish identity really does overlap with my creative practice and my life as an artist. My grandmother was a holocaust survivor at 18. She was an amazing seamstress, and survived when Nazis recruited her to sew uniforms. My Grandma was never bitter – she sang, found blessings/gratitude, savored life - Her art and spirit enabled her to survive. I first read The Diary of Anne Frank in middle school, and was struck by her spirit, and how closely her mindset and vivacity resembled mine. I too would journal like crazy about the beauty of nature and the hidden blessings in life – I shared her infectious childlike wonder and a burgeoning curiosity. I’d read her journal repeatedly be awed by her appreciation of life, faith, hope, belief. I played Anne in two regional productions, and they were the most rewarding theatrical experiences of my life. I truly felt alive in this role, and grounded in my heritage and my endless love for life. Having survived a coma and other medical traumas, it was my artistic fighting spirit and my love of life – like Anne’s – that inspired me to persevere – my writing, art and music got me through. I am also passionate about Jewish music – I’ve learned cantorial chants, and played violin in a Klezmer band. I live life joyously, and my art reflects the grateful, exuberant reverence of God. 2. Does your faith have religious books? Please name them all if more than one and give a brief description of its purpose/origins. Too many to name! I adore Abraham Heschel – a scholar, rabbi, philanthropist, and inspirational thinker. His writings on nature and spirit are so universal you don’t need to be Jewish to appreciate them. Also, anything by Martin Buber, specifically I and Thou. These books are wonderful overviews on Jewish Philosophy: Finding God: Selected Responses Paperback by Rifat Sonsino Everyday Holiness: The Jewish Spiritual Path of Mussar by Alan Morinis Jewish Spirituality: From the Sixteenth-Century Revival to the Present (World Spirituality) by Arthur Green Jewish Mystical Autobiographies: The Book of Visions and Megillat Setarim (Classics of Western Spirituality) by Hayyim Ben Joseph Vital and Isaac Judah Jehiel Safrin Legends of the Baal Shem Tov Anything by Larry Kushner “Why Bad Things Happen to Good People” Wise Words: Jewish Thoughts and Stories Through the Ages by Jessica Gribetz Shalom Aleihem Short Stories Why we Pray Rabbi Nachman’s Stories The Zohar The Jewish Bible: Tanakh: The Holy Scriptures -- The New JPS Translation According to the Traditional Hebrew Text... by The Jewish Publication Society And so much more! 4. How do you put your faith into practice everyday? My love and appreciation of life shines bright through my strong belief and unwavering faith in God. My love of Jewish traditions, history and culture are interweaved in how I live my life and my perspective on the ways of the natural world. I’m a true survivor, with a powerful story to tell and a strong message to deliver to the world. My show Gutless & Grateful is a musical tale of facing death, and surviving to find blessings inherent in my life and world. Joy and gratitude enabled me to survive and thrive. My creative practice would impact the Jewish community by reinvigorating people’s sense of faith in God and belief in miracles, even in dark times. This message is imperative to Judaism, and also universally relevant. I hope that sharing my story and will inspire the greater arts community as well. I have used my art to heal myself and found that it has been the best inspiration and therapy in order not just to survive, but thrive. My detours have shown me that I can still be the performer I’ve always aspired to, but now with an even greater gift – a story to tell. Jewish culture is so much based on storytelling, with lessons and morals interwoven, and my story has a place among them. 5. Do you believe in Heaven? How do you get there? If you don't, what do you believe happens after you die? I believe that you can’t destroy spirit. I don't think very literally in terms of religion – I feel we all share the same spirit, and when we start getting literal and scientific, we miss the point and the beauty and the reason for it. I do believe the spirit lives on. I don’t know if there is a specific heaven or hell, but I believe that the soul’s energy is still very much with us, and all around. 6. What do you/faith believe about the human condition? Is being a good person enough according to your religion? There are many Jewish schools of thought, but definitely not that the human being is inherently evil, good, or needs to be saved. I believe very much in free will. We have the power to decide for ourselves. Judaism advocates for good deeds and help mend the world. As long as a person has other people in mind and compassion for the universe, I believe this is enough. 7. Who do you/your faith believe Jesus is? What do you know about him? I don't know a large amount about Jesus, but I am accepting of anyone’s view of how they view spirituality. 8. Who do you believe God is? If you believe in God, what is he like? (Base this on your religious beliefs) If you don't believe in God, why not? God is spirit, God is in us, God is everywhere. When I was in third grade, every night I would my fingertips together before I drifted off to sleep – it was my little language I had with God. Somehow, I told myself, if I pressed my fingers together as tightly as I could, and felt that warmth in between each tip, whatever I said, God could hear me. And so every night, I would do this ritual, like a grasshopper rubbing its legs together, and chant the same words: Dear God, thank you for a beautiful day today. Please let me live a long, happy and healthy life. Please visit me in my dreams. Amen. And then I’d slowly feel my eyelids fall, and I would be transported into the world of dreams. I remember dreaming about heaven, my favorite popstars coming over to play, being chased by vampires, and other embodiments of childhood fears and fantasies, but I never did see God. When I woke up in the morning, I would run through my dream from start to finish, trying to remember every last detail and see if God was there, like a Where’s Waldo storybook. But I never did spot God. I often imagined him in an oak tree, right in front of my window, and told myself he never came to my dreams because he was too busy watching over me as I slept, keeping our home safe. I rubbed my fingers together more firmly and fervently as I grew older – all the way until I was 18 years old. I never gave up my search for God. I saw Him in all of nature, but I wanted my own message in my dreams. Outside my window, there were so many different trees – different shapes, colors, positions, – every tree unique and unashamed to be so. They stood tall, and each outstretched its branches to God in its own heartfelt way – some reached wide, tall, around, and some reached deep down, the earth which is what their roots are for. And they reach out towards each other too. They all knew that God was everywhere – including in themselves. This was the lesson I was to learn myself. 9. Have you had to defend your beliefs? What happened? After my coma, my childhood dreams of one day finding God shattered. Now, it seemed as though there was no God or anyone to protect me anymore. I felt betrayed, as though the promises made to me as a child were all lies – that fervently rubbing my fingers together day after day for 18 years was all for nothing. Losing your faith is a scary thing – especially in the midst of danger and uncertainty – because you don’t have anything substantial to stand on. There is nothing to tell yourself when you fall, and there is nothing to push you forward, even when the future feels daunting. But here I was, a teenager, completely displaced out of the life I felt belonged to me, suddenly a medical marionette with a new body, vitality, literally woken up to a different reality that I could never anticipate or even comprehend as a happy-go-lucky high school senior. 10. How has your faith/beliefs changed you? They have helped me anchor to my past, remember who I was, keep me present now, and give me the strength to move forward into the unknown. 11. Have you ever questioned your faith? How did you question it? And did you get the answers you were searching for to keep believing? After feeling betrayed by God, I allowed myself to believe in miracles again and feel that overwhelming sense of gratitude for the miracles that do happen every day. Most miraculously, the realization that God was in my dreams all along, and even better – with me day, night, everywhere and anywhere. Our dreams are the seeds that God plans for us, where our intuition whispers to us, and where we can find an anchor to our place in the world – even if we are “displaced” from it suddenly at 18. 12. What is something that you want to tell people about your faith? I also just got engaged, and am in the process of interviewing rabbis for our wedding, which is inspiring an entire spiritual rebirth in me, as I educate myself on Jewish wedding customs old and new. Judaism has always been part and parcel of my life. I've been a religious school teacher, a bar mitzvah tutor, played in a klezmer band, played Anne Frank twice, and read Abraham Heschel for my own enjoyment. I feel as though my life would be lacking in color without Judaism. When you undergo a near-death experience, then you are suddenly told my doctors that you may never recover and go back to the life you were leading the day before your coma, it is very hard to keep faith. As a child, I was told to give all of my troubles to God. So, every night in the hospital, I would pray to God - I would pray that he still existed for me. I would prayer that he would let me at least drink a sip of water "next week." And I prayed for "next week" every day for three years. If I did not keep God and my Jewish faith alive throughout all of the uncertainty, I felt like a part of me would be lost forever. Especially since both of my grandparents died while I was in a coma - they were my main lifeline to Judaism. Like a museum, I feel like it is my job, mission, and honor to keep Judaism alive for my family, my future children, and myself. Everything I do, I do wholeheartedly.

Amy Oestreicher is a 27 year old actress, musician, teacher, composer, dancer, writer, artist, yogi, foodie, and general lover of life. At the age of 18, Amy fell into a coma for months, and once she came to, she resolved that she would never become the “patient” or “victim” that her medical circumstances wanted her to be. She simply allowed the unexpected detour to force her to investigate new productions and hobbies – she started a chocolate business, learned to cook and authored a food blog. She taught herself to paint and created mixed media acrylics, and put up three art shows within one year. For her triumph over her medical ordeal, Amy was honored in the Northeast region by the Great Comebacks organization, for 2014. Throughout the ups and downs of 27 surgeries, Amy has managed to live a fulfilling life and has kept her spirit alive, always hungry for more knowledge, joy, and experience. She prides herself of ending every night with a list of what she’s grateful for. Amy is currently studying performance, visual arts and playwriting at Hampshire College. Having taught, inspired, and healed through her own learning, Amy plans to pursue a masters in Expressive Arts Therapies to help others find their passion as a form of discovery and healing.

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