Love And Health
Written By Linda L. Esterson Photographed By Justin Tsucalas
What is love?
Love is a feeling of admiration, of adoration or simply comfort. Love means wanting to spend time with someone, and thinking about them when you’re apart.
But, love is not just about feelings; it’s about wanting to give to someone. The Hebrew word for love is ahavah, based on the three-letter root aav, which means “I will give.”
“To really love someone is to constantly give to them,” says Temple Oheb Shalom’s Rabbi Steven Fink. “Their satisfaction, their comfort, is more important than our own.”
“You try to do, as a mother, to give to your children so they are happy. That’s what love really is,” he explains.
Countless research studies attest to the value of love and relationships with other people, and their role in both mental and physical good health. But love and giving aren’t always about another person.
Many people find love through giving of themselves to a job or through volunteer work.
Jill Rosenberg serves as business development manager for the Department of Radiation Oncology at the University of Maryland Medical Center. She’s married and has a toddler. She loves her job.
The most rewarding aspect, she says, is making sure patient experiences are as pleasant and seamless as possible as they fight cancer. She does this by creating programs, and as a cancer survivor, helping patients go through the ups and downs of treatment. She created a concierge program she developed to relieve anxieties patients face in coming to the hospital.
As part of the Magic Castle Program, Rosenberg becomes Princess Jill. She helps deliver wishes to children undergoing cancer treatment.
At the start of their cancer treatment, children write three wishes and put them in the magic castle located in the department lobby. As they go through treatment, if there are difficulties, staff calls Princess Jill, who arrives in tiara, cape and wand, helps them settle down and reminds them about their wishes.
Once they complete treatment, there is a party for them and they are granted one wish, “something so important they are not able to get otherwise.” Flat screen televisions, iPods, laptops and dollhouses are among the gifts provided through donations.
“It’s a light at the end of the tunnel for these patients,” she says. “It gives them something to look forward to.”
As a nine-year cancer survivor, Rosenberg, 31, serves as a positive influence for patients. Some will speak to her when they’ve fought everyone else. “I hope my survivorship helps inspire other patients to want to live.”
Often she accompanies them to physician appointments, as an extra set of ears, and takes notes for them when they often tune out due to shock.
Recently she received a call that a patient passed away eight years after completing treatment. She was the first call his wife made.
“This type of call reminds me of why being dedicated to my work is not only fulfilling to me, but really makes a positive difference to patients and families,” she says.
She’s rewarded with cards, emails and letters, and the feedback reinforces her love for what she does. She keeps her cell phone nearby at all hours and encourages her patients to call anytime.
“Even though it’s an institutional connection, it’s a really important personal connection,” says Diana Terrill, Ph.D., a psychologist in private practice in Towson.
“Knowing what is fulfilling for yourself is important,” Terrill adds. “Often people choose what’s close to their heart, and those are the people most fulfilled in their careers.”
There are also proven health benefits to being fulfilled and being committed to something other than a partner.
Dee-Dee Shiller, a gynecologist and director of the Women’s Wellness Center at Northwest Hospital, believes in a strong mind-body connection and fulfillment is a large part of that connection.
“I think that in the future, doctors are not just going to say to stay away from tobacco and high-fat foods,” Shiller says. They’ll also tell you to “make sure you are in a fulfilling physical relationship and make sure you are spiritually and mentally in balance.”
The sense of belonging, whether to a religious organization, volunteer group, interest club or team, generates happiness and mental health. So does doing something that brings pleasure or gratification, like a job one loves or a volunteer position, says Patti Friedman, a licensed clinical psychologist. “What matters is that one feels he or she is making a difference on some level.”
Since she was 11 years old, Emily Peisach has worked in some capacity at the Owings Mills Jewish Community Center. She started out volunteering through the Top Notch Teens (TNT) program with the Noah’s Ark program, helping with 3- and 4-year-olds. That’s when she “fell in love with working with kids.”
“I felt a connection with them and reaching them on their level,” says Peisach, 25.
Once she was too old for the TNT program, she volunteered her time. While in college, she spent summers volunteering until she could be a teaching assistant with the Early Childhood Education department. She was promoted to director of the Noah’s Ark camp and early childhood coordinator in April.
After 14 years with the JCC, she says her commitment is a combination of a love for the job and a love for working with children.
“I love waking up every morning and coming to work,” says Peisach. “I find it very rewarding working here and doing what I do.”
Peisach says her happiness at work combined with happiness in her personal life adds up to total fulfillment.
“I am a healthy person mentally and physically,” she says. “When you’re happy in the different areas of life, it gives you more energy to maintain your health.”
What’s Love Got To Do With It?
Love in Judaism
The Torah first discusses love when Isaac falls in love with Rebecca upon meeting her. But instead of what we call today “love at first sight,” it was probably “lust at first sight,” says Rabbi Fink.
“It produced a chemical reaction. … Love takes many years and a great deal of effort,” he says.
Love is not just about romantic love. There’s love for a parent, love for a sibling and love for another in a non-romantic sense. In the Book of Samuel, David and Jonathan share the love of friendship and are as close as brothers.
There’s also love in honoring and respecting our parents, as required through the Ten Commandments, as well as the commandment to love God, which we share each time we recite the V’ahavta and teach and perform mitzvot. The love for parents is exhibited in the Book of Ruth, as displayed between Ruth and her mother-in-law, Naomi.
The Song of Songs of Solomon shares the relationship between man and woman via romantic love and their giving of themselves to one another.
“It all goes back to the essence of love is giving,” says Rabbi Fink. “We find meaning through giving.”
Judaism and Valentines Day?
Love is celebrated in February during the pagan holiday, St. Valentine’s Day. Many participate by sending flowers and giving sweet candy to loved ones.
Valentine was actually a Christian saint, dating back to ancient Rome when Roman Emperor Claudius forbid Romans to marry. The emperor believed that married men were too attached to their families and would not be good soldiers.
Valentine, a Roman priest, believed that two people in love should be able to marry with God’s blessing. Valentine married couples in secret until the emperor discovered him. Valentine refused to stop marrying citizens and refused to bow to the Roman leadership. He was sentenced to death.
Other stories are told of his falling in love while in jail with a blind girl whom he healed through prayer. Prior to his death, he sent her a note and signed it “From your Valentine.”
Word spread of his doings and his execution, and his name became synonymous with cards, chocolate and flowers.