Still Stressed? ‘Have A Romance With Life’ Says Author Debbie Mandel
Posted 2/26/2003
By Tzivia Emmer, Jewish Press Staff Writer

“I knew it was my mission to be happy,” says Debbie Eisenstadt Mandel.

The petite former English teacher, whose book, Turn on Your Inner Light, was published
in January, projects an infectious enthusiasm not only for the system of mind-body healing and
stress reduction that she developed, but for just about everything. I visited her at her Lawrence,
N.Y., home to talk about the book and how she happened to write it.

Debbie is the only child of Holocaust survivors Samuel and Tuna Eisenstadt. Her father
lost an entire first family in Auschwitz; her mother survived the war by working for a gentile
farmer. Remarkably, after the war the couple built a life that Debbie remembers as filled with
light and joy. “We laughed a lot,” she says of her childhood in Brooklyn.

She attended the Crown Heights Yeshiva and credits her training in Tanach and
commentaries with providing a basis for the Jewish framework that underlies her thinking. Her
father’s stories and the flowers blooming on her mother’s windowsill infuse her memories.

“My father always told me to be b’simcha,” she said.

Debbie puts simcha, joy, and optimism at the center of the system she calls Turn On Your
Inner Light.Simcha is not only a foundation of the Jewish approach to life; as an antidote to
stress, it’s also a key to physical health. Positive emotions, mind-body researchers assert, have a
beneficial effect on the immune system and thus on overall well-being and resistance to disease.

Looking at many healing traditions, Debbie originated an approach that is a mixture of
spirituality, psychology, body movements and breathing. An exercise fanatic herself, she
consulted with fitness professionals to fine-tune her system.

“I read everything,” she says. “And then I found, whether I’m reading kabbalistic things
or Chinese herbal medicine, everybody’s saying basically the same thing.”

Lined up in Debbie’s bookcase are titles like Heal Your Body by Louise Hay, The
Politics of Cancer Revisited by Samuel Epstein, Kabalistic Healing by Shirley Chambers,
Women’s Bodies, Women’s Wisdom by Christiane Northrup. And, of course, Love, Medicine
and Miracles by Bernie Seigel, the preeminent pioneer in mind-body medicine.

It was an endorsement from Seigel that opened the door for Debbie’s work to be taken
seriously. At first, she admits, no publisher would even speak to her. She wrote the book in a
burst of inspiration – she woke up one morning with the idea and then didn’t stop until she had
finished, nine months later.

“Who are you to write this book?” one editor asked.

“Who am I not?” answered Debbie with endearing chutzpah.

One might say that as a descendant of the rabbinical Panim Meirot dynasty, Debbie is the
ideal person to write a book entitled “Turn on your Inner Light.” (Panim meirot literally means
Radiant Countenance, but in a play on words the word panim is also related to p’nimi, inner.)

“I think I see all that I’m doing as the legacy,” she said.

A series of workshops at medical and community facilities grew out of the book, and then
took on a life of their own. Most recently Debbie has given workshops for Holocaust survivors at
the Y in Lawrence, N.Y., and workshops on boosting the immune system for breast cancer
patients at Hewlett House in East Rockaway. After 9/11 she developed a workshop called KIND
(Kids In Need of De-stressing) to address the needs of children living. Her workshops at
Brooklyn College are for both faculty and students and are aimed at helping students de-stress
and become empowered academically.

In Turn On Your Inner Light, Debbie provides an antidote to 29 different life situations,
including job burnout and overall fatigue, with a mind-body prescription for each. All the
exercises begin with conscious breathing and with identifying the point in the body where stress
is occurring.

“Pain is not a bad thing,” she said.. “It’s telling me that something is wrong with my
spiritual component and it is coming out in my body.... That’s G-d’s way of giving me another
opportunity to regroup my awareness.”

With conscious breath comes conscious perception. And perception, a new, more
objective way of looking at one’s life, can change our reality. Anger and resentment, which are
sources of stress and potential detriments to health, can be transformed into love and forgiveness,
Debbie tells her workshop students.

Her basic piece of advice for everyone: “Have a romance with life.”

Having a romance with life means “to live in the moment and enjoy every little thing.”

Debbie described visiting her mother, now in a hospital Alzheimer’s ward at a hospital.
She brings cookies for the patients. “You lower your expectations,” she said. “You are happy
with the elemental moment of touch and love that is there – whether the person can say your
name or not. The core of the person is there.

“You take Kodak moments in your head.”

She says that meditation and visualization, added to the body she teaches, can help
change one’s outlook to one of optimism.

At bottom, however, a healthy optimism, she said, “is rooted in the confidence of
knowing that what’s happening is not [from] me; it’s coming from a Divine source. Once you
know that, how can you not be joyous, how can you not be optimistic? G-d is in you.... You don’t
have to do it alone. There are no failures, there are only learning experiences.... Anything can be
modified, after a couple of months you can modify the brain pattern. Do something affirmative
and joyous every day.”

I pointed out this can be difficult for many people.

“That’s the test,” she said.

“And you think, maybe this sounds perverse, but that’s what Auschwitz taught me.
Nothing fazes me because of my legacy, because of the dark shadow. I’m thinking -- Compared
to Auschwitz how can you bellyache about anything?”

I looked around at the rather lush suburban environment.

“So even here in this beautiful home, in this country-like setting, somehow there’s this
little kernel that’s still Auschwitz?”

“It’s a big kernel... We can always grow from suffering.”

© Copyright 2001, The Jewish Press Inc. (ISSN 0021-6674)