Who We Are
Jessica Youseffi

1. When were you at Hadar?

Summer of 2011

2. Where are you now (physically)?

Palo Alto, CA

3. What are you up to now?

I am finishing up my graduate studies in Holistic Counseling Psychology and pursuing my license in Marriage and Family Therapy. I am also a therapist trainee at a counseling agency for adolescents, where I primarily work with LGBTQ youth and a substance abuse treatment program. On the side, I enjoy teaching mindfulness classes at local middle and high schools.

4. Is there a beautiful piece of Torah from your Hadar days that you keep close to your heart?

I must thank Rav Shai for sharing some of Rav Kook and Rebbe Nachman’s teachings on teshuvah. They offer a model for how to approach self-inquiry, repentance and change from a place of strength and worthiness instead of shame or belittlement. Rebbe Nachman advises us to “find the good in yourself” as the foundational task for us to be able to do teshuvah without falling into despair. This text was introduced in contrast to the High Holiday prayer by Rav Zuti, where we say, “Behold, I am before you like a vessel filled with embarrassment and disgrace.” Additionally, Rav Kook offers an alternative interpretation to Rav Zuti’s prayer. Rav Kook encourages us to see our lives as having a deep sense of meaning and purpose, as we were precisely created for this moment (and not any other) for our unique sacred missions to perfect the world. In the years since Hadar, I have continued to see how the spirit of these teachings are alive in my studies and clinical experience. I have learned about how shame, harsh self-criticism, and “tough love” make change and growth infinitely more difficult. On a neurobiological level, self-criticism can be experienced as a death threat, as it activates our body’s stress response and decreases crucial executive functions like decision-making and critical reasoning. This is a striking contrast to self-compassion which promotes optimal brain functioning and flexibility. As Rav Kook and Rebbe Nachman likely understood, connecting with our basic goodness creates more motivation for change than harshness and self-criticism. I strive to practice Rebbe Nachman and Rav Kook’s teachings by reinforcing my clients’ strengths and by supporting them in developing greater self-compassion and sense of meaning.

5. If you could describe your experience at Hadar in one word what would it be (feel free to elaborate beyond a single word)?


6. Can you tell us a little about your microgrant work?

I will be facilitating a class on Mindfulness and Mussar that will be based on the Tikkun Middot curriculum developed by R. David Jaffe for the Institute for Jewish Spirituality. I am excited to bring together my three loves: mindfulness practice, Torah study, and community. I look forward to joining with others to cultivate greater awareness and to reflect on how to live more wholesome lives.

7. Is there a time this past year when Hadar specifically came to mind?

For the past three years, I have had the great fortune of being part of the Silicon Valley Beit Midrash, an incredible Torah learning community in Palo Alto. I have had the opportunity to learn with some of the best Torah teachers of our generation including Benay Lappe, David-Levin Kraus, Yaffah Epstein and Charlotte Fonrobert. The Beit Midrash’s high quality egalitarian and chavruta-based learning feels like a small satellite Hadar on the West Coast. I was also transported back to Hadar many times during a meditation retreat led by Rav James in the Mojave Desert in California. The morning chants and niggunim took me right back to the many inspired and memorable evenings at 69th and Amsterdam.