Dealing with Trauma
On October 7, 2023, we were reminded that regardless of our affiliation or level of observance, our enemies viewed us through the same lens, namely as Jews. Our enemies don’t distinguish between philosophy, belief, or lack thereof, in Hashem; they just know that they hate us and want us dead. Imagine what a world it would be if in response to their hatred of us we decided to love our fellow Jews unconditionally. It doesn’t mean that we would agree on all issues, but it would mean we would disagree respectfully, and treat others as we want to be treated.
For millennia, we have had to deal with anti-Semitism, and it has certainly created a lot of angst and generational trauma. It’s surprising that we can even get out of bed! Dealing with trauma is not simple or the same for everyone. There is a plethora of literature as to how people cope with short term and long-term trauma, which I invite you to explore. And explore it, we should! (Check out some articles on our Facebook page.) Just assuming, “This too will pass,” is not the healthiest path to take. It’s just a way of “kicking the emotion down the road.”
One of the ways to deal with trauma is to talk it out. One prime example is the Jewish way of death and dying. When a loved one dies, our only job is to bury him or her. The mourner is exempted from all positive mitzvot until they get that done. Immediately following the funeral, we go home for a 7-day period in which we sit “shiva.” Shiva is unique in that the conversation or lack thereof is led by the mourner. When one enters the shiva home, the mourner doesn’t get up to greet the consoler, but rather remains seated. Additionally, there are no regular greetings, such as “Hello,” or “Hi.” Rather the consoler merely enters and sits down waiting for the mourner to start the conversation, thereby letting the consoler know that the mourner is ready to speak. During the week, the mourner will usually tell, and retell, stories of the deceased again and again. By the end of the shiva, the catharsis has begun, and one can move to the next stage of grieving which starts by leaving the security of the home and going outside and back to work. All the way through, the community is there for the person via services and recital of kaddish. While grieving is very personal, this method ensures that the mourner knows that he or she is not alone.
The same method or message is necessary for the person who is dealing with trauma. We can never force anybody to talk about what happened or say, “Snap out of it,” “Just move on,” or “Stop living in the past.” Rather, we only need to be there for them.
Whether we have been affected by recent events personally or on a national level, we must remember that we all have different ways to cope and move on. All I can ask and suggest is that we be there for each other. Please feel free to drop in or call me if you’d like to talk. I may not have the answers, but I can certainly listen and be present.
I pray that by the time you read this article that Israel will be at peace and living with security and have a real opportunity to properly heal and then grow to even greater heights. As the saying goes, “May we go from strength to strength.”
Rabbi Fred Nebel
Director of Jewish Family Services