Loving Yourself: Building Esteem Through Acts of Esteem

People often ask me why I’m so confident. Some people actually go so far as to call my confidence arrogance. Actually, it’s just confidence. My confidence doesn’t stem from my appearance, nor from my intellect, nor from my business success. My confidence stems from my acts of esteem. What do I mean by that? My deep, internal confidence stems from knowing that my deeds and my character are good. That I treat others with kindness and with respect. I do my best to be understanding and giving towards others. I am by no means perfect, but I know I do my very best to treat people right, and to give from both my time and my money to help others, even when it’s not easy for me. I especially give when I’m in a bad place, and have faith in God that it will come back to me. That is where my confidence stems from.

About 5 years ago, I was struggling with my marriage and I wasn’t in a good place internally. I was unhappy with my circumstances and I was unhappy with myself. I’m not sure which was the chicken and which was the egg, but I’m sure the two went hand in hand. I wasn’t proud of who I was during that time. My actions weren’t representative of my personal ethos or of my character. And not because I was a bad person, but rather, because I was unhappy, and often, when we are unhappy, we don’t behave our best. When people gossip or talk badly about others, it’s because they’re unhappy with themselves. I learned that at a young age, having been the subject of way too much gossip growing up.

I remember sitting in my friend’s office and crying about how miserable I was. I felt stuck in my marriage and I didn’t know what to do. I wasn’t ready to give up on my marriage just yet. So he said something to me that I’ll never forget: ‘What are your acts of esteem?’ My reply: ‘What do you mean?’ Mind you, I was 25 years old at the time. He simply said, ‘What are you doing to help others?’

I immediately enlisted for some volunteer work. I did respite volunteering for Chai Lifeline, working with terminally ill children at Sloan Kettering. I did that for about 6 months, 3-4 times a week, until a happy and beautiful 3 year old girl I volunteered with regularly passed away. It was tragic, heartbreaking, and traumatic. After that, I couldn’t bear it anymore, as the emotional loss was too much, so I stopped. I started getting involved in an incredible organization, Migdal Ohr, that my family was very active in. Shortly after, I took a homeless man named Derrick under my wing. He used to always hang out in front of the Duane Reade on 73rd and 3rd St, and I’d always give him a dollar. But one day, a day I was particularly sad, he asked me to buy him milk. I said, ‘come inside, pick out some groceries.’ He picked 3 things. I told him to take a basket and make sure it was full. That relationship turned in to one that lasted many years. Each week, I’d buy him groceries from Costco. I’d put money on his phone, I helped him fill out applications for Medicare so he could get himself a set of new teeth (he didn’t have any), and I encouraged him to apply for a job (he got one). On top of the assistance with funds, I’d listen to his problems and try to help him overcome some of his troubled past. I tried to instill in him self-esteem. After 2.5 years of helping him on a weekly basis, I regretfully fell off the grid. I myself started struggling for real. My ex and I lost the bulk of our money, followed by the tragic and sudden loss of my dear friend Ana Maria, a miscarriage, and the passing of my father in law. I became more absorbed in my own life and struggles. Many years passed.

On Dec 16th, 2019, I received the following text: “The importance of being thankful. Now that I have the ability to put food on my table I want to thank you again for all the great deli meats, bread and canned goods you blessed me with in my time of need. I think back to the joy of making all those great sandwiches with your help. Thank you again. I hope you and your family are well. Your kindness brought joy to my heart and food in my stomach. Thank you and have a HAPPY HANUKKAH next week.” His text made me cry. Never did I ever think to myself that I affected his life so deeply that he felt compelled to reach out and say thank you 3.5 years later. I don’t usually share these things on my social because I don’t feel the need to. I don’t do it for others to see. I do it for myself.

So why am I sharing this with you now? I have grown very self conscious of my presence on social media. I spent years taking myself out of the eye of the community, but when I needed to make moves, I did what I needed to do. I put myself back in the public eye so I could make a living. But it has led to people gossiping about me again, both good and bad. Due to all the gossip I endured growing up, I am particularly sensitive and susceptible to gossip and unfortunately, I sometimes let it get to me. I’m not impervious. So the two things that help me breathe through it are 1. Knowing that I do it to provide for my children and 2. People tell me I help them through the messages I put out there all the time. I use that as my consolation prize, to make myself feel better when I get uncomfortable with how it affects my life, because helping others is one of the most important things to me.

Philanthropy runs in my blood. I grew up across the street from my grandmother, Honey Rackman A’H, who was perhaps one of the greatest humans on this planet. She dedicated her life to teaching in a school for underprivileged children, and later, devoted herself to saving agunot, Jewish women that are enslaved in their marriages because their husbands won’t give them a get, a Jewish divorce. My great grandfather and great grandmother, Emanuel and Ruth Rackman, were leaders of the Modern Orthodox Jewish community in New York and they dedicated their lives towards helping the community thrive. Together, my grandmother and great grandfather founded an incredible organization called Agunah Inc. On top of philanthropy, my grandmother also taught me warmth and kindness from a very young age. Her home was always open to everyone. She hosted her friends and family with grace – always with the biggest smile – and she welcomed any stranger going through a hard time into her home. The ultimate executor of ‘hachnasat orchim’.

When I started my business, I was in the worst place I had ever been in my life, and I knew that philanthropy would be at the crux of it all. That I’d start to heal myself through acts of esteem. I now had the opportunity to help others through my work, by donating artworks and products to raise funds, by volunteering my time, and by raising awareness for important charities through my various social media forums. By no means is this altruism. Philanthropy and helping others makes ME feel good, and that’s okay. So the first event I planned after I got divorced was a fundraiser. Together with an incredible woman and party planner named Michelle Farber, I threw all my sorrows into planning a fundraiser for an organization called Art Start. Homelessness has always been the cause that really pulls at my heart strings. When I lived in Union Square my freshman year at NYU, I became aware of the homelessness epidemic that plagues New York. I was blessed growing up with privilege, and I can’t even fathom not having a roof over my head. At the time, I was on the freshman year meal plan and I’d always have meals left over, so every Friday, I’d go to the Dunkin’ Donuts that was included in the meal plan, get however many meals I had left over, and would walk through Union Square distributing them to the homeless. So when it came time for me to throw a fundraiser, I knew two things – I wanted the organization to be related to homelessness, and I wanted the organization to be related to healing through creative therapy, as that’s how I began healing my sorrows. After a little bit of research on Google, my team and I found Art Start. Art Start is a NYC based organization that provides creative therapies to homeless youth in NYC shelters. A few things were important for me to accomplish with this event – 1. To raise money and awareness, but also 2. To build esteem within the youth involved in the organization. To give them the opportunity to feel good about themselves. To teach them that we are not defined by our circumstances. I hosted a dozen teenagers in my studio, shared with them parts of my life, and taught them my artistic process. I also had some of their youth do a dance performance at the event that I’m certain made them feel accomplished. We raised $35,000, and the charity chairs told me it was their most successful independent event they ever had. I HUSTLED HARD to make that event successful and it felt amazing. It was the starting point for me to begin moving on from my divorce, and all the other shit I had been through.

Fast forward 3 months to the car accident – by far the worst experience of my life. It left me dead inside. The only way I knew how to start coming back to life? Again, charity. I put together a GoFundMe page to raise urgent funds for Pedro, who had bleeding in his brain, and for my deceased assistant, Juan’s, daughter. I went on my social, with tears streaming down my face not caring how unattractive I looked, and begged my followers to help me. We raised over $38,000 in two weeks by means of the GoFundMe and a last minute fundraiser that my team helped me put together. It is, without a shadow of a doubt, the only thing that allowed me to begin my healing process.

Six months later, I was in LA delivering artwork to Andrea Bocelli – an opportunity I had through an organization called Charity Bids – when I met an incredible human named Eli Beer. He began telling me about an organization he founded, United Hatzalah, a volunteer based charity dedicated to saving lives in emergency situations in Israel. After having been through a tragic and fatal car accident, this cause personally touched my heart. I began working with United Hatzalah to raise awareness, funds, and involvement. In August, 2018, Eli gave my mother and I a personal tour of their facilities in Israel and I fell even deeper in love with the organization. I decided to paint a bespoke artwork to be auctioned off at their New York gala. The painting raised $36,000, but I also know for certain that every single one of my dedicated followers now knows about this life saving organization.

In addition, I had the opportunity to help raise $12,000 for Art of Elysium through my collaboration with Joe & the Juice. I’ve donated original paintings to the 92nd St Y and to the RFK Foundation that helped raised many thousands of dollars. ESC makes donations to United Hatzalah, the Nicklaus Children’s Hospital in Miami, Chai Lifeline, and others. We also donate prints and products to dozens of organizations to assist in raising funds through their auction tables. In addition to money, I dedicate time (something that is not easy for me) to organizing holiday gift bags for the children at the Ronald McDonald House, and often when I take my spoiled, sweet children to buy toys they don’t need, I make them buy an extra one and we drop it off together at the Ronald McDonald House on our way home. This concept of giving and kindness is exactly what is going to make my children confident within themselves. Nothing makes me happier than when Miro says to me ‘are we going to give these to the sick kids?’ or ‘mommy, I want tzedakah (charity) to give to the poor people.’ Makes my heart flutter.

I’m not sharing this because I want you to think highly of me. That is honestly irrelevant to me. I do these things because they make me confident, and they contribute toward my self love. I was born, raised, and currently live in NYC – a place of great privilege – and I never knew just how fortunate I was growing up until I got older. Every person is richer than the next. For the first 25 years of my life, I compared myself to others. It is easy for us to get caught up with nonsense and forget all our blessings. It wasn’t until I lost many of my real blessings – my safety and security of my home, 2 dead friends (both younger than 30), a miscarriage, the death of my father in law, and a failed marriage – that I learned the most important lessons. Trust me, Chanel bags and gold Rolexes don’t buy happiness. Acts of esteem buy happiness. They build character and confidence. So just remember, next time you see all the other moms at school doing drop off with fancy cars and fancy clothing, don’t compare yourself to them. Think about your deeds. Are you kind to people? Do you smile at strangers? Do you volunteer? Do you go out of your way to help your friends and those who help you? Those are the things that will give you real, internal satisfaction.

I truly believe that if we instill acts of esteem in our children from a young age, we will truly begin to fix problems that plague our communities like bullying, eating disorders, gossip, insecurities, and many others…

And on that note, I will say this… My company gets donation requests multiple times a day, and as much as I’d love to give to everyone, I cannot afford to do so at the moment. So, I am creating an internal philanthropy budget that will get allocated quarterly. If you know you will be hosting a fundraiser and are interested in me donating a product, I will now require two things 1. The request must be made months in advance before I allocate my funds and 2. I want to know why you are involved in the organization. Why does it speak to you? That’s how you will get my product for your auction tables.

Last but not least, in the spirit of this post, I’m going to donate a clutch, a luggage tag and a belt to the charity you choose! 3 different winners. In the comments section below, leave the name of the charity you think should receive the donation and the reason you support the particular charity.

Happy commenting and tizku l’mitzvot.

8 Comments

  • The Moriah School of Englewood saved my sons self esteem and self worth. While they may not save lives like Hatzalah, they save souls. How often we find kids whose self esteem plummets due to their experience in school. After being in a school for 3 years my son was asked to leave. We applied to 4-5 schools, constantly being rejected. It seemed as if noone wanted my children. Eventually we applied to Moriah. After a brief meeting with the administration they accepted my kids. Other schools wanted testing and interviews. Not Moriah. I was told “Mrs. Elias, you sent us the paperwork, we know your childrens challenges. ” Within one month my family and friends asked if he was on anti-depression medication. My answer was “He is in Moriah, a school where they care about a childs self esteem and self worth. A school where they motivate and empower”.
    This isnt only my story. There are so many others as well. My friend just told me how the principal volunteered for three months to teach a student at home since he was unable to attend school.
    Please do not let my lack of writing ability be the reason you pass over donating to the school. The educators are one of a kind.

  • H💜PE against domestic violence in an initiative that we started through UJA after I saw an unmet need in the Jewish community. We stand for Hope, Opportunity, Protection and Empowerment, which we provide to victims everyday. I believe that our mission and who you are and your mission align perfectly! Please watch this short video to learn more💜

    https://vimeo.com/370363937

    This is all voluntary work for me however my professional website is listed below. Because we are through UJA we don’t have a specific website about our cause. I believe you may be interested in the work I do as I empower men and women every day to coparent effectively and divorce with dignity!

  • 23 years ago my ex-wife and myself, along with 4 other families, started a synagogue in Englewood, NJ – Congregation Kol HaNeshamah (https://kolhaneshamah.org/). For 23 years we have served as the only fully egaliterian, traditional, Conservative Synagogue in Englewoood & Tenafly. We have about 65 families and on the High Holidays we have about 250 people attend services (and we have never charged for tickets).
    From day 1 we have been committed to Tikkun Olam, not only for the Jewish community, but for multiple communities in both NY & NJ. On the High holidays, as well as asking for a Financial pledge, we ask people to commit to a few Tikkun Olam events and get a tremendous response. You can get more details on the website.
    Every year we hold an auction to raise incremental funds for the Congregation, to allow us to continue to provide the services that we do. To receive the items that you are donating would be wonderful, as it would allow us to increase the funds that we generate.
    Regardless of whether you choose to donate to us, I invite you and your family to come out to Englewood on a Shabbat and learn more about us (if you’re not Shomrei Shabbat of course).
    Thank you for your consideration.

  • Sharsheret South Florida annual gala! Brianna and Carly do an incredible job helping support women and their families who are facing breast cancer or the brac gene and need a place to turn for questions and help.

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