Marianne Williamson, Jewish women and the “schpilkis”

(This bit of writing was taken from a paper I wrote some years ago. I just found it recently, and thought it might hold some interest for some people. So here it is.)


A couple of years ago, I was fortunate to hear Marianne Williamson speak at a Yom Kippur service in San Francisco.  I can’t say I remember everything that she said, or that what I remember I remember correctly, but what I think she said made an impact on me, and I’d like to share the essence of it here.


She began by saying that certain conversations must take place within the tribe — not the kind of conversations one necessarily wants ‘others’ to listen in on, but the ones that must take place for the tribe to grow and heal.  (Kind of like tribe group therapy.)  She spoke about how the Jewish people share a history of persecution so great, that it has managed to seep into our cells.  Our bodies have literally inherited and internalized oppression at such a deep level, that as a people, we have developed practically a genetic tendency to expect the worst.  She went on to say that we not only have come to expect the worst, but to bring it on ourselves.


She dedicated the rest of her sermon to exploring the question, “What is it that we are doing to bring on continued persecution?  And what can we do about this?”


According to her, every ‘tribe’ has its own ray, or essence, or unique role to play on the planetary stage.  No one role is more important than any other.  No one people is more ‘chosen’ than any other.  It’s just that certain ‘peoples’ are chosen for certain things, for certain purposes.


Attempting to capture the Jewish soul (or role), she explained that human beings were called to (the One) ‘God’ thousands of years ago, and for some reason at the time, the Jews were the ones who listened.  Ever since, they have been praying and meditating with vigor, while genetically surviving as a tribe.  As a result, and in a very physical way, Jews became ‘hardwired for spirit’, programmed over thousands of years to ‘hear God’ and ‘God’s messages’.


According to Marianne Williamson, this has been both a blessing and a curse, largely because of a tribal trait she attributes to the Jewish soul-personality.  She believes that Jews as a people have a special capacity for magnifying energy, and then manifesting that energy.  “Whatever Jews do,” she said, “they do it BIG and LOUD.”   They get noticed.


She then went on to share a fascinating study about monkeys, which I can’t back up scientifically because I’m just barely remembering the basics.  At any rate, from what I can remember, some anthropologists were studying a tribe of monkeys.  Out of their observations, they concluded that approximately 10% of the monkeys were depressed.  This 10% tended to live on the outskirts of the tribe and did a lot of ‘complaining’, whining, etc.  The anthropologists wondered what would happen to the tribe if the 10% of depressed monkeys were removed.  Marianne Williamson invited the audience to guess what happened. The majority guessed that another 10% of depressed monkeys eventually emerged to take the place of the original depressed group.


What actually happened was astounding.  When the depressed monkeys were removed, the entire tribe died within six months!  It seemed that this 10%, these depressed ‘kvetchers’, were essential to the tribe’s survival.  They were the ones who could see when bad things were about to happen.  They acted as a warning system for the entire tribe.


Drawing a parallel between the role these monkeys played in their tribe and the role Jews have played in society, she suggested that one of the Jew’s most important roles has been to notice what’s missing, to see what’s wrong, to point out society’s failures and shortcomings. In other words, at least on one plane of existence, the Jews’ spiritual purpose was to kvetch!


Assuming there is truth to the statement, it comes as no surprise that Jews have never been the most popular people in the planet.  Who wants to hang out with people who are always testing for weakness and pointing out what’s wrong — LOUDLY?!


She made another interesting observation, describing what happens when people who are ‘hardwired for spirit’ do not prepare their bodies for the task — for containing, channeling and harnessing the spirit they are genetically destined to embody.

They end up expressing themselves in distorted ways.  Jewish women in particular, she said, (often kept out of the spiritual loop by the patriarchy) suffer from this problem.  How does their suffering manifest itself?  Through ‘the schpilkis’!  Inundated with spirit, without a clue as to what’s happening in their bodies or how to deal with it, they fill up with anxiety that eventually takes the form of neuroses, even hysteria.  Jewish women without a spiritual practice end up feeling, acting and being too much.  They are too sensitive, too loud, too controlling, too critical, too…


Of all of the tribes, Marianne concluded, Jews do the poorest without ‘God’ (or spirit).  And since they amplify whatever’s going on, they do the poorest… out loud.


Towards the end of her sermon, she shared a bit about her own struggles as a public figure, and how crushed she has felt when being criticized.  One day she asked someone close to her, “Why are people so hard on me if I get something wrong?”


The person answered, “Because they really really want you to get it right!”


Somehow that person’s response spoke to her, not only as a woman learning to deal with the projection field of celebrity, but as a Jew.  His response reframed anti-semitism for her.  Perhaps there was something about the Jews and the unique role they’re supposed to play in the world, she said, that made the world look upon them with higher than usual expectations.


Perhaps the anger, hatred and flack the Jews receive on a global level are in some way a reflection of those high expectations. And perhaps, just perhaps, the persecution of the Jews would lessen if we could learn two simple lessons:  One, to prepare our bodies to harness the Spirit we are designed to house.  And two, in addition to pointing out all that is ‘wrong’ or missing in the world, to point towards — and embody, to the best of our very human ability — what is possible, the true potential of humanity.


* * *


I’ve thought back to Marianne Williamson’s sermon on several occasions, especially during these past years, as I’ve witnessed what feels like an amplified de-volution in the Middle East, a set of increasingly reactionary priorities and actions taken by the Israeli government, and a growing anti-Semitic climate around the world. I’ve seriously questioned the role I am meant to play, and how I can best support the vision of peace and mutual respect I hold deeply in my heart for the world.

I have come to think there is something profound to Marianne Williamson’s words, at least for me.


I certainly can relate to the role of the kvetch.  Throughout my life, whatever religion, movement, education or community I’ve been involved with, I’ve often felt compelled to drudge up the shadow, to notice and declare what’s missing, suppressed, and/or not working, and ultimately, speak up for the oppressed… (even when I see my own ‘people’ playing the role of oppressor).

I haven’t always been received with open arms.

Many times, in fact, I have ended up in the line of fire, with my teachers, family members and peers wishing I had just stayed quiet.  Half the time I wished I could have stayed quiet!  For good reason too.

I rarely felt equipped to deal with the consequences of speaking out, which usually involved some sort of emotional flooding, verbal paralysis and/or social ostracism.  I also relate to the challenge of being a highly sensitive and spirited woman in desperate need of grounding herself through a spiritual practice.


Up until recently, I’ve largely seen these tendencies as mostly undesirable.  Certainly not hints at a life purpose, or reflections of my Jewish spirituality.


In a way, Marianne Williamson’s speech was like a giant reframe for me, a call to embrace my Jewish roots and the particular way in which they come through me.  Perhaps one of my main purposes in life is to cast myself into various healing and learning environments, test for weaknesses, and share what I discover about what works and what doesn’t.

And perhaps, I should start seeing my semi-neurotic and overstimulated tendencies as my Jewish body’s way of telling me when it’s time for spiritual practice.


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