January 18, 2023

Five years ago in Mumbai, India, a 20 year old Jewish girl, Natalie Dayan felt lost and yearned for connection outside her world. 

She stumbled upon a TEDx talk about making connections by a woman on the other side of the world, me, Audrey Jacobs.

Natalie bravely sent me a respectful email asking to connect so she can learn from me. 

The last line of my TEDx talk is “If you connect two lives, you connect the world.” So of course I said yes.

As we began corresponding, I didn’t see what I could teach her. She was exceptionally humble and extraordinarily brave in how she navigated life at her young age. 

Natalie finished her degree in Mumbai in Biomedical engineering during COVID. She was locked down and felt trapped. She knew if the pandemic ended, she’d have to leave her family to pursue a research career in the U.S. Yet she didn’t know how to manifest it.

In her quiet and introspective way, she first looked inward. She wrote a screenplay called “Graduation, Now What,” which embodied her pain as a college grad who felt lost. She dreamed her screenplay would be produced as a Netflix film for other young adults who feel pressured to have it all figured out. 

She also looked outward and started a podcast called “The Hidden Artists.” She interviewed inspiring people who were also stuck. Natalie’s hope was to highlight ‘hidden artists’ and attract listeners who would discover and help them jump start their careers. Natalie took ‘making connections’ to a new level.

One year after COVID ended, from sheer determination Natalie manifested her goal to study in America!

Today Natalie is enrolled in a Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine masters program at USC in Los Angeles. She’s taken on a lot of debt to fulfill her dream, but she’s committed to build a career in stem cell research.

She told me this great news on January 2, when she enthusiastically responded to my holiday family email newsletter: 

“You have always been an inspiration to me ever since I first watched your TEDx talk. Now the stories of your children inspire me. In fact, reading your email in the beginning of 2023 itself is what I am grateful for. It continues to inspire me to keep pushing through the pain and get up and move forward, irrespective of how hard it is to do.”

I was moved to tears to learn, the way I stumble through life’s struggles inspires an amazing young woman I’ve never met. The truth is, she inspires me.

I was moved to tears to learn, the way I stumble through life’s struggles inspires an amazing young woman I’ve never met. The truth is, she inspires me.

Natalie hesitantly asked if we could meet in person. I immediately invited her to come a few days later to San Diego and spend Shabbat with my family.  I bought her a bus ticket to make it easy.

After a lively Shabbat dinner Natalie said, “I was so scared to meet you, who I’ve admired for so many years. When I arrived I immediately felt at home. You and your children were so embracing, kind and funny. Shabbat felt like home. I miss Shabbat; I miss my family.”

Back in India, Natalie‘s family celebrates Shabbat each week. Her Dad is very involved in the Indian Jewish community and every Friday attends synagogue while her mother prepares the Sabbath meal. There’s only about 1000 Jews in India, the most populous country in the world. Natalie traces her Jewish Indian heritage on both sides of her family for many generations. 

My sons, aged 15 to 24, had never met a Jew from India so they peppered her with questions. They were playful but also respectful, seeing that Natalie was shy. She became comfortable and shared more of her life.

What I observed is how much Natalie struggles with anxiety and yet, has become friends with the anxious part of herself. A few days prior, I posted on Facebook how my fractured self hides my doubt, fear and shame. For Natalie, her anxious self is an active partner in her success.

After my sons left, I shared my newest book, “No Bad Parts: Healing Trauma & Restoring Wholeness with the Internal Family Systems (IFS) Model” by Richard Schwartz. She shared a few documentaries and podcasts that featured IFS. We learned from each other.

The next morning we were done dissecting our inner demons. It was time for an adventure!  A friend who saw my melancholy Facebook post, messaged me late that night to invite me to Dulzura mountains to visit sacred land at the “Madre Grande” spiritual center.  

I woke Natalie up, “Get up! We’re going on a healing journey!”

Yet, the trip turned out not to be one of receiving, but one of giving. Once we arrived we realized we were called there to do a mitzvah. We were not there to heal ourselves, but heal others. My friend was ill and he needed a Jewish soul to visit, listen and care.  He also was excited to share his massive garden he planted with diverse trees and adorned with art installations designed to be in harmony with the land and animals. He needed a loving witness.

Finally after a long tour as we headed back into the main house, the residents tending the library stopped us. They asked if we’d take many heavy boxes of historic Jewish books in Hebrew which they could not read but hoped could go to a Jewish home. Of course I said yes. Another mitzvah.

After we safely descended the incredibly treacherous, long, windy, rocky mountain road, we exhaled deeply and began to reflect on our experience. 

I broke the silence, “You know we’d be OK because we had 100 pounds of sacred texts behind us to protect us!” We laughed. 

Questioning if this was meaningful for her, I asked Natalie, “How was that for you? What were you able to see and learn?”

“That was powerful. I wanted to observe how you navigate life in real life, not rehearsed on a stage like in your talk. I wanted to experience if what I sensed about your resiliency was true. If I could learn how to be brave by watching you.”

“What did you see?”

“On the mountain I saw how you stayed positive, resilient and hopeful when obstacles arose. Watching you, I learned how to reframe a situation, especially when things don’t go as planned. We cannot control what happens but we can control how we perceive it. For other people what we experienced would have been an imposition, but for you, you found purpose in it. That’s a lesson I can apply to anything.

“Also I saw how much care and attention you gave to each person you met. You reflected to them their value and contribution to the world, especially if they couldn’t see it themselves. I saw you try to bring the best out in everyone we met. I’m grateful to see how your confidence in connecting was to show kindness to strangers.

“Finally I was in awe that you chose we’d go somewhere you knew nothing about and you had the faith that we’d get there safely and it would be OK. When we began driving up a narrow unpaved, curvy mountain road, you had a calm head and a positive attitude. I was scared, but you knew no fear. You made me feel safe.”

Finally I understood, I did have something to offer Natalie. 

I asked, “Natalie, would you like me to be your mentor?”

She gave an audible sigh of relief. “Oh Audrey, yes! Thank you! I wanted to ask you but I was afraid to. Whenever I’ve needed help, I’ve asked my Mom and Dad but now there’s a 13.5 hour time difference and …  they don’t always have all the answers.”

Neither do I, but I do care. Natalie continued to ask a lot of questions, and I answered them. Not as one who has all the answers, but as one who has lived twice as long. Answers that only come from the wisdom of experience. 

In the Jewish book of wisdom, Pirkei Avot: Ethics of the Fathers, Chapter 4 says, “Who is wise? One who learns from others.”

So Natalie may see me as wise, but I see her also as my teacher. I’m honored she calls me her mentor.

Audrey Jacobs is a financial adviser and has three sons.

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