Monthly Archives: July 2015

Davening With Fire 002 The Real ‘Star Trek’ Transporter Machine

Mary Oliver I Go Down To The SeaAs a kid growing up in the 1960’s, Star Trek was a major fixture in life. That simple, elegant T.V. show opened so many avenues for thought and reflection. The characters and the story lines got me to think about life and morality and so much else

But it was those cool gadgets which ignited my fantasies. 

Chief among those gadgets was the transporter, a device which could beam a person or object to any destination at the speed of light. No waiting in lines. No security searches. No lost luggage. All that was needed was someone to operate the transporter. 

While such a transporter system is a long way off, I’ve discovered how the siddur, that simple book or prayers, can deliver me to other worlds and times and all in the speed of thought. To hold a siddur, whether it be ripped and worn or freshly purchased, is to hold Jewish destiny in my hands. To hold a siddur is to hold the same words that Maimonides and Rashi and all the holy ones of our people held. The paper and print may be different; many of the words themselves have been added or even changed (here and there) but the essence remains the same as it was thousands of years ago. 

So when life gets me down and worries pile high, high, high, I don’t say, ‘Beam me up, Scotty’. I pick up a siddur and suddenly I’m in the best of company: with those who’ve been there and done that in the best and worst of times and gave us all an eternal legacy which sustains and heals us. 

Shabbat Shalom everyone!

Davening With Fire 001 Natan Sharansky & The Power Of Tehillim

I believe in the person I want to become



A story about Natan Sharansky, the former prisoner of conscience and tireless fighter for the Jewish people, recently made the local rounds. Someone spotted him doing a bit of pre-Shabbat shopping. Thrilled by the opportunity to be in close proximity to one of our present day heroes, this overwhelmed gushing observer could think of only question to ask Sharansky, ‘do you still carry the book of Psalms that Avital gave you when you were sent to Siberia?!’ With that, Sharansky revealed a tiny well worn book, held together by string and tape, and replied, ‘I don’t carry it; it carries me!’

Now that’s something I can relate to! Our eyes and minds trick us into believing that the material world rules us; yet, it’s the ideas which we hold dear that give us life. Our aspirations and longings lift us. And when the ideas are drawn from the book of Psalms (Tehillim) or the Siddur (Jewish prayer book) then those ideas can sustain a life in the Gulag or Siberia or the Nazi death camps or in the great spiritual depression of our time. 


The Cognitive Parent Shabbat Chazon The Vision Thing

how success is built


This Shabbat is called Shabbat Chazon because of the first word of the Haftorah which we read in shul. You can read more about that here. The word ‘Chazon’ means vision. While the Haforah refers to the prophetic visions that foretold the exile of the Jewish people (and their return), the word ‘vision’ triggers a recollection from years ago:

Many of us remember the 1992 presidential campaign in which Bill Clinton handily defeated incumbent president, George Bush. Clinton, a master of spin and communication, introduced a slogan that would do great damage to Bush’s chances of victory. The slogan?

‘It’s a vision thing’. 

In other words, in spite of Clinton’s terrible baggage of scandal and incompetence, Clinton convinced enough Americans that Bush lacked a vision for a better America. 

It was a brilliant tactic for one simple reason: visions mean the difference between life and death to us. 

And that’s why all of our obligations to our children must flow from the vision that we have for them and for ourselves. All our urging, cajoling. yelling, bribing and so on, must be rooted in a vision that we have for them. If we’re smart we’ll make that vision positive and uplifting, one that is rooted in the promise of a beautiful future for themselves and for all of humanity. 

So, on this Shabbat, lets tell our kids the Jewish vision: the future is bright; our success is assured. All that’s required are baby steps of self improvement and the knowledge that we’re in the best of hands.

Shabbat Shalom to all! 

Stinky & Smelly In Jerusalem…and loving it!

Getting dressed this morning, I noticed my reflection in the mirror.

‘Man! You’re Ugly!’, I blurted out to myself.

Now just be sure, we’re on day five of the nine days: that means no shaving, no haircuts, almost no laundry, and bathing restrictions. And we’re in Jerusalem, where it’s sunny and hot. As one of my sisters would put it delicately, ‘Josh, you’re a bit ripe’.

But as I reflected on the unkemptness of my appearance and how gross it feels to be wearing re-runs, I realized the deeper meaning of the Galut exile and the promise of Geula redemption.

For me, the fundamental truth of life is that my eyes deceive me all of the time. My default setting is to judge a book by it’s cover. To come to sweeping conclusions and lifelong decisions based entirely on superficialities and half-stories. I’m the original sucker. 

That’s the source of my misery. It’s also probably the source of your misery.

Judaism was the answer for me because it teaches me that a deeper story lies beneath and that story is a good story; in fact, it’s the greatest story ever told because it’s the story of the universe. Judaism offers me a personal redemption because it brings me into the flow of truth at it’s deepest levels.

Of course, realizations like that are never forever. Like an ‘iffy’ cell signal; sometimes I’m connected and sometimes I’m not. This Galut exile was the epic loss of connection with truth; we totally fell for all the delusions of externalities, circumstances, and impulse. The promised Geula redemption will come about when we, as a people, will return to our roots as the radical truth seekers that we once were and always will be.

All of this is brought home to me by my self imposed temporary ugliness and smelliness. I know that the stench and ‘grodiness’ (one of my kid’s words) is external to my true essence; underneath, just like you, I’m beautiful and really don’t smell like the men’s bathroom at the Vince Lombardi Rest Stop on the New Jersey Turnpike. But sometimes I’ve gotta embrace the false externals of apperance and sensory experience so that next week, the clean clothes, the luxorious hot showers, the shave and haircut will bring me to back to the truth of who I really am.

And I can’t wait!

The Cognitive Parent: Parshat Matot-Maasay & Teaching Boundaries

We all want the best for our children. We want them to grow into adulthood filled with happiness, health, and accomplishment. 

To do that we must teach them about boundaries. 

That’s the lesson we learn in this week’s parsha when we read about the boundaries of the Land Of Israel (you can read about them here 

The Land Of Israel is a magical place; when we follow the rules the Land yields unparalleled treasures. This mysterious power however only exists within the boundaries set by God. Inside those boundaries: boundless potential. Outside those boundaries: nothing special. 

The same applies to each of us: within the boundaries of self respect and decency we can access our potential. If we violate our boundaries or violate the boundaries of others we fritter away our power. 

​So how do we teach our children boundaries? Here are a few ways that have worked for me:

1) Teach right from wrong and live it! Life is complex. Each of us needs to know ​what’s in and what’s out. Our kids need to know that too. As their parents, we are their most important teachers. 

2) Teach them that it’s okay to say no. If there is anything that the Facebook generation needs to know is that ‘no’ is a good thing. While we all grew up with social pressure, kids today seem to be under so much more. That’s why they need you to tell them that they can say no to unwanted requests for friendships and activities that violate their values and goals. They need to know that they can turn to you for support especially when their no is met with derision.

3) Walk the walk but with compassion. Our kids look to us for examples of how to live their lives. We are their most important living teachers. So when our kids observe us setting boundaries they see how to live. But it’s also vital to teach with compassion: when we angrily set limits with our kids they feel rejected, When we set those same limits out of compassion (such as by saying, ‘I love you too much to let you do that’) they may not thank us right then but they will know that we love them and expect them to grow into strong, upstanding people. 

That’s it for now! Shabbat Shalom!


Rabbi Dr. Josh Mark, PhD is a psychologist and psychotherapist in Jerusalem with 24 years experience. He specializes in cognitive therapy and works extensively with teens and young adults on difficulties with depression, anxiety, eating disorders, addictions, psychological trauma, and interpersonal conflict. He has written extensively on recovery from depression and borderline personality disorder. He is licensed in the State Of Israel. You can read more about him and his work at his website,


Cognitive Pearl #098 Suicide & Hope

Einstein It's A Miracle












A client asked me if I was worried that he might commit suicide.

Wow. That’s a question that I don’t get asked everyday. As loaded as the question was however I felt it was important to give the answer. Not ‘an’ answer.

The answer.

‘Actually, I am a bit worried that you might suicide but I’m more worried that you’ll miss an opportunity which lays before you.’

Now it was his turn to be caught off-guard.

So I explained that as I saw it, he was dealing with some terrifying issues. These were issues (relating to family obligations) that he was finally taking on in a manner that offered the best chance of his coming out the other side. The size of the prize makes the journey fraught with danger, suicide being a small risk compared with the bigger risk of bailing out of the process. In the meantime we would continue to work the process and in the vernacular of my youth, let the chips fall where they may.

Content with my explanation he left a few minutes later when our session was over. The after-image as he left: determination and confidence.

Suicidality has fascinated me since entering the profession. It’s struck me that overall, all of the holy trinity of professions (psychiatry, social work, and psychology) seem to be quite confused by the whole topic. Whether it’s predicting suicidality or what to do to prevent it, professional consensus remains elusive. Societal expectation that somehow we soothsayers of the human mind should ‘know’ who kills himself and who doesn’t even more ironic.

For me however suicidality goes to the heart of my approach to cognitive therapy. And that’s the topic I’ll be fleshing out in the coming posts.

Cognitive Pearl #097 Returning The Crown: Mastery & Redemption

If I make you breakfast


It’s been so many years yet the wisp of a lyric of a Sheryl Crow song still rings in my mind:

“I’m a stranger in my whole life”

That’s a sentiment that our clients can relate to. Rooted as they are in pain and shame and in the impossibleness of their individual situation they are strangers in their own lives. They are the masters of nothing; the pawns of nearly everything.

It’s hard not to think of this terrible state as we enter into the Nine days prior to Tisha B’Av (you can read about that here). These Nine days sweep us all into the vortex of pain caused when our fears rebelled and ruled over our faith. The terrible report of the spies, the destruction of the Temples in Jerusalem, and all the rest were symptoms of the real problem; we fell to our knees, bowing down to our own abject terror. 

And we’ve been trying to stand up ever since. 

The work of redemption and healing, whether it’s for our clients, ourselves, our nation, or the world, is returning the crown to where it belongs: clear thought. Only clarity of thought and the joyous transcendence which flows from it offers us the possibility of coming home to ourselves. 

Cognitive Pearl #096 Time & Mother Earth

Don't Look At The Jug









In my previous post, I introduced two ways to help reorient clients to the present moment. Here’s one more:

3. Strengthening their executive functions. Our minds are complex chaotic systems within systems. Yet, somehow our minds sustain us physically, emotionally, and so forth. This is all due to the blessing of our executive functions. You can read more about them here. Anxiety, depression, psychosis, as well as psychosis and many other states (including bereavement) levy a heavy price on these functions. Here are some of the things that I do with my clients to strengthen them, 

Get them writing. Shopping lists, budgets, schedules, reminders, sudoko games, and journaling help organize frenzied minds. Whether it’s with paper and pencil or using an app on a phone, the physical act of writing grounds and organizes. Grounding reduces cognitive stress so they can more easily focus on the challenges and opportunities of the moment. 

Get them physical. Anxiety, depression, psychosis, you name it, are states that remind me of a scene in the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey when one of the astronauts has been severed from the tether that connects him with the space ship. We see him horribly and helplessly floating away. My clients always relate to that image. My answer is to get them reconnected with Earth. They do this through bathing, cooking, cleaning, walking, peeling potatoes, dancing in their living rooms, or tossing a ball from hand to hand. Anything that gets them out of their ‘lost in space’ mind set and back to Earth will help them reorient to the now. 

Use Prostheses. Without getting into the spiritual and psychological downsides of smart phones, tablets, and all the rest, technology can really help our clients. Calendar apps, To Do List, apps, Journaling apps, and even Cognitive Therapy apps (here’s a good one). And let’s not forget how the convenience of music, lectures, and guided imagery meditation in the palm of the hand. This technology is no different than the prosthetic arms and legs and eyes that we use to the limited live again. And living brings people back to the now. 

To be continued!

Shabbat Shalom!

Cognitive Pearl #095 The Moment & It’s Loving Embrace

Jerusalem cats tale






In my previous post, I suggested that a function of the sensation of the passage of time is part of our pattern recognition abilities. The sensation of time provides a background standard to organize the contents of our lives. We categorize, prioritize, plan, and respond based on the sensed temporal immediacy.

In our work, ‘sensed’ or ‘felt’ time has great relevance. The anxious, overwhelmed client not only experiences a swarm of threats; all of those threats are bearing down on him NOW. For the anxious there is no reprieve of ‘later’. As one of my clients described it, ‘I’ve gotta do everything right the hell now!!’

Similarly, the depressed client, especially when in a dysphoric mood state, is immobilized by regrets anchored in the temporal space of NOW. While clients may describe events in the past tense, their affect and cognition are temporally centered in the present and in the future. A client described his misery as watching ‘reruns of past failures scheduled for the next hundred years’.

In order to feel better our clients must do things that give them pleasure and mastery. Because of its enormous influence on their abilities to plan and do things, our clients’ temporal orientation is vitally important. The good news is that temporal reorientation in the vast majority of circumstances is accomplished easily. Here’s some of the ways which I’ve noticed and which I’ve developed further:

1. The imposition of temporal order through activity scheduling. The mere establishing of appointments has a reorienting effect. Cognitive therapists have long used activity scheduling to extend our efforts to bring the client back to the unpolluted now.

2. Helping the client establish a renewed sense of time through dialogue. The client centered psychotherapies in general, and cognitive therapy in particular, have always advocated ushering the client into the moment. We do this with dysfunctional thought records and with all of the homework assignments that we prescribe.

Most importantly it is our reassuring insistence which compels both client and therapist into the present. Instead of preoccupation in the past, we focus on present symptoms and ways to feel better now. While I acknowledge that past experiences and future risks are part of our work, I often explain to my clients that the best way to heal their lives and help them blossom, is to be rooted in the loving embrace of the present moment. From that secure position they can go back or forward in time and process anew the traumas of the past and fears of the future. 

To be continued!

Cognitive Pearl #094 Which Side Of The Bathroom Door

If your eyes are open






The motivational speaker, Zig Ziglar, once remarked that the length of a minute depends on which side of the bathroom door one is. His observation graphically illustrates that time is experienced differently depending on circumstances (such as needing to go potty).

Yet what fascinates me is why we need to keep track of time in the first place. Is it not enough that our physiological functions keep track of time for themselves? Beyond the social convenience of keeping track of time (it’s much easier to plan a meeting when we all arrive at the same moment) and the technological requirements for synchronization, why did nature endow us with the sense of time?

To suggest an answer, at least this cognitive therapist’s perspective, let’s consider the most basic of cognitive skills: pattern recognition and it’s correlate, pattern deviation. Pattern recognition requires the ability to discern. This incredibly important cognitive skill requires a reference point against which observed phenomena are monitored.

This capacity is not uniquely human. My dog can track a wayward ball rolled across the floor and grab it. What makes the human capacity for pattern recognition different however is the enormous demands that we put on ourselves and our environment. While Sleepy’s abilities to track that ball are no doubt a manifestation of his predatory skill set, he has no idea of the subtle and myriad differences that I need to live my human life.

And that’s where the sensation of time comes in.

The sensation of the passage of time provides the background information for us to measure so many of the contents of our crazy, complicated lives. Priorities are set according to their time (temporal) immediacy. Our interaction with the world around us is shaped by the duration of events. Time provides the ‘antihero’ to those wonderful moments of transcendence, moments when time falls away like some unneeded clothing. And when human life is disrupted such as by trauma and misery, time becomes both part of the suffering, and as we’ll read about in the next post, part of the healing.