When you meet Ilana Kendal, you can tell immediately that you had better take notes, as she is clearly someone with true wisdom to share. Every piece of her writing, every talk she has given, any group she has led has one theme running through it—that we can find inspiration in any life situation…even in the small moments which could easily be missed.
As a born storyteller, Ilana understands the power we have to shape our own life-narrative. She has learned to narrate her life as she goes about her day, finding meaning in everything she does, and constantly asking herself the question, “Am I choosing up?” “Choosing Up” is the name of her new book, and she defines this phrase as: The moment-to-moment practice of seeking meaning, opportunities for growth, and G-d in our experiences. Making deliberate choices about how we think, speak, and act to elevate the everyday.
And, boy, does she practice what she preaches. As a young single mother, she describes the journey she took (and says she is still on) to make sense of life and find new hope and meaning. While she had been active in Jewish outreach and education, she went back to school to study occupational therapy and psychotherapy. She thought she was leaving the world of formal Jewish education behind…but Hashem had other plans. In 2012, Ilana received a call asking her to lead a group on the Jewish Women’s Renaissance Project (which is now called Momentum). Although she wasn’t sure the timing was right, she took a chance and said yes…changing the course of her life.
The trip left Ilana feeling connected, inspired, and energized…and looking for a way to keep growing with these women. Opening up her email a few days later, she composed a small anecdote about something which had happened to her that week and the lesson she had pulled from it, and then sent it to the 18 women on her trip email list. The responses flooded in immediately, further connecting her with this inspiring group of ladies. She did it again the following week, and before she knew it, she had built up a large following full of people saying, “I am also struggling with that, but you’ve changed my perspective, and it has shifted everything for me!” She describes her writing as a kind of “soul therapy”, where she brings together her professional training, personal insights, and Torah wisdom.
Ilana realized that she was onto something powerful, and that not only was she effecting change in others, she was transforming her own life as well. She was now looking at her life through a new lens—narrating her life, and looking for lessons to share, was changing the way she actually experienced it! She was finding the hidden meaning in everything that was happening to her throughout her day, and realizing these experiences were all ways that G-d was “winking” at her, urging her to find meaning. As a psychotherapist, she understood that the same way one can use cognitive reframing to choose to think differently about one’s reality, one could use “choosing up” as a similar spiritual reframing.
After compiling and coding her stories to prepare them for her book, she found that the common thread was that they were all stories looking for a way to make different choices about how we narrate our lives; they were all stories looking for Hashem and seeking a way up. He gives us so many opportunities to make the deliberate choice about how we want to show up in our lives. And Ilana’s book is a great tool to help us get there. It contains guide questions which can be used in groups, and, of course, lots of relatable stories to illustrate the powerful concepts she discusses.
Ilana still sends out her emails every week, and she travels all over for speaking engagements. She is very much involved with her readers and listeners as she joins them on life’s ongoing journey. She hopes you will join her on the journey…and CHOOSE UP in your life too!