Dealing With Tragedy – How to Cope Right Now

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Mozelle Forman 

 

In 1967, Israel defeated three Arab armies, gained territory four times its original size, and became the preeminent military power in the region in only six days.   At that time, the world questioned how could this have happened?  How could a tiny, untrained army, fighting three massive enemies on three borders at the same time win that war?!  Those of us in Am Yisrael, who believe that Hashem Himself runs the world, had the answer – it was Hashem’s will.  Today, as in the days of the Holocaust, we find ourselves asking a very different question:  how could such a vicious attack be perpetrated on our innocent brothers and sisters?  How did the Israeli intelligence – touted as one of the most sophisticated in the world- miss this?  And those of us who believe that Hashem Himself runs the world understand that the answer is the same – it was Hashem’s will. 

 

Asking Why? 

 

Now, being curious creatures, who seek explanations for why things happen, we torture ourselves with the unanswerable question: why?  Why was this Hashem’s will?  And like the child who asks why he may not stay outside and play after it gets dark, and the teen who asks why he cannot have the latest gadget, no answer that we get to “why” will suffice.  No answer will comfort us or bring back our lost brothers and sisters and soldiers.  As mere mortals, we are not equipped to comprehend why.   

 

I have been asking myself these questions, as I believe we all are. We know, however, we will never really find a satisfactory answer.  There is so much information coming at us but it is impossible to know the real truth. I have made a conscious decision to limit my exposure to the media because the emotional pain I was experiencing was overwhelming.  At first, I felt guilty, like I was hiding. And I asked myself why I should have the luxury of being ignorant when others were suffering so greatly. But I reasoned that my suffering is not alleviating theirs and my pain does nothing to help Am Yisrael.  Instead I have immersed myself in  lectures and hizuk talks to help make sense, if that is even possible, of these tragic events.  I will share with you the most salient points I have heard and read.  They have brought me comfort and direction and I hope they do the same for you. 

 

Rabbis Offer Messages of Hizuk 

 

My fundamental worry and fears were related to the timing of the attacks – right after Rosh Hashana when everything that will occur in the coming year is decided.  I reached out to Rabbi Shmuel Choueka of Ohel Simha in Long Branch and asked him, “Rabbi, were we asleep on Rosh Hashana?  Did we miss the mark in our prayers?”  He replied, “Who is to say that our tefillot didn’t prevent the attacks from being worse?  Who is to say that our tefillot didn’t save thousands of others who may have perished?”  I found comfort in his words, because although we may not see an immediate impact of our tefillot, we believe that they protect us.  In a recent speech, Rabbi Joey Haber stressed that having bitachon means trusting and accepting whatever Hashem brings – sometimes He brings salvation and sometimes He brings pain.  Hashem’s wisdom is something we can never fully comprehend, so asking why is the wrong question.   

 

 

We cannot even ask why the enemy perpetrated this attack.  It makes no sense rationally.  This attack was not intended to yield political gain; it will not serve to further any political cause. So why?  Rabbi Y.Y. Jacobson emphatically states, “The sole purpose of the heinous attack was to sow panic into the Jewish world, to inculcate the Jewish people with incessant fear and weakness, to demoralize our nation, to make Jews feel helpless, to make Jews feel hopeless, to make Israel feel an insecurity that will tear us asunder,  to inculcate the Jewish psyche with a sense of pain, sadness, and depression.”  The actions of the enemy were intended as psychological warfare.  And in this war, we are all soldiers on the front lines.  And if we succumb to this attack with paralysis, emotional overload, anxiety, and depression, the enemy has triumphed. 

 

Of course, we are overwhelmed.  Of course, we are suffering. Mrs. Chani Juravel, LCSW, is a popular lecturer and therapist in Rockland County. She believes we should feel strongly about the fact that we share the pain of our brethren in Israel because it shows the closeness of am Yisrael.  Dr. Norman Blumenthal, Director of Trauma, Bereavement and Crisis Intervention at OHEL, believes that even though we are not on the front lines, because we are actually experiencing the events of the war when we see photos and videos and read or hear the news, we are all experiencing primary trauma – an experience or event that changes the way we view the world. “This event is so huge, so relevant to who we are as Jews and a country, that it feels very immediate to us.  And because this is a protracted event, like Covid was, we are vulnerable to shutting down and despairing.”  We should not minimize our feelings of pain.  We cannot be oblivious, but neither can we be all consumed.   

 

So what can we do with our questions and our in the face of this unfathomable tragedy?  How do we support our children and answer their questions when we ourselves are distraught? 

 

The Tools of Limiting Media Exposure and Self-Care 

 

Overwhelmingly, all the experts agree that first and foremost we must limit our exposure to the media.  Dr. Jerry Bubrick, Director of the Child Mind Institute, speaking at an SBH event, said “Being bombarded with images on social media and seeing the war in real time – real people and real events – we are at risk for developing anxiety and feeling personally unsafe.”  He advises that children under 10 should not see any images at all. As much as possible teens, and you yourself, should avoid overexposure to images and videos.  Shlomo Lieberman, Director of Mental Health at Sephardic Bikur Holim, concurs and adds, “Being engrossed in social media will make us fear that we are drowning in terror and powerless – exactly how the enemy wants us to feel.  An antidote to this feeling of powerlessness is to engage in our daily tasks, which help us to feel grounded, and to perform acts of hesed, both here and in Israel.”  Rabbi Joey Haber encourages us to do whatever we feel we can – say prayers, donate funds, make changes in ourselves – in order to feel like we are actively doing our part.  In addition, Mr. Lieberman advocates for self-care. “We are not selfish when we take care of ourselves at a time like this.”  If we are celebrating a wedding, we should do so fully.  We should engage in the things that give us pleasure without any guilt.   

 

Jewish Resilience 

 

Mrs. Dina Schoonmaker, a beloved teacher, international lecturer, and relationships counselor who lives in Jerusalem, reminds us that as Jews we have amazing emotional resilience, the ability to cope and bounce back from adversity.  We have a long history of condemnation and survival to draw from.  When the Jews were rounded up into ghettos, despite the poverty and fear, marriages were celebrated.  We know that there were celebrations of Simchat Torah in the death camps during the Holocaust.  We know, in fact we are commanded collectively, to contain two opposite emotions or ideologies.  Hashem is our Father and our King.  Our job is to love Him and to fear Him.  In the same vein, we must feel connected to all Am Yisrael, feel the pain and suffering of what they are experiencing, and continue to live a full, productive life. 

 

At the Pesach seder we acknowledge that in every generation an enemy rises up against us to destroy us and Hashem saves us from their hands.  We must keep this in our hearts and minds and let it keep us from hopelessness and despair.   

 

May Hashem help us vanquish our enemies, accept our prayers, bring lasting peace to his world, and bring Mashiach speedily. Amen