For Jews everywhere, including here in British Columbia, recent weeks have been among the most painful in most of our living memories. Not only are we in deep grief from the events of Oct. 7 and in fear for the well-being of the 240 hostages and those we know who are serving in the Israeli army, many feel abandoned by some of our erstwhile friends, whose silence has been deafening, or whose confident utterances, lacking compassion or knowledge, have been galling.
We have been stunned at not just the moral equivocation between Israeli military actions and the deliberate atrocities perpetrated by Hamas, but by the implicit and explicit celebration of those atrocities by people locally and worldwide. Many of us are struggling to reconcile the critical need to end the reign of Hamas, whose main mission is to kill all Jews, with the losses of thousands of innocent lives in Gaza. We have few safe spaces to share our grief, frustration, confusion, to discuss what possibilities might exist for a better future not only for Israelis and Palestinians, but for all of us who are facing the incredible amount of antisemitism that has, apparently, been waiting for an excuse to be unleashed.
Every day, there is news coverage or social media comments that jerk us into another paroxysm of shock and disgust, be it the insensitive, lopsided remarks by a political leader or the online rantings of antisemites and terror supporters. Faced with this deluge, it is understandable to want to commiserate with like-minded people. In our experience, there has been a vast amount of sharing on email, social media and WhatsApp groups of the most atrocious and often grisly imagery, posts and ideas. For our own sake, and the well-being of those we care about, let’s stop doing this.
It’s time to recognize and correct habits that harm our mental wellness and that of those around us. Avoiding the darkness of feeling alone at times like these is one of the most important pieces of advice, as each of us struggles individually with assimilating the new world we inhabit.
The Vancouver community came together on Nov. 7 to mark 30 days since the brutal murder of more than 1,200 Israelis, mostly Jews, including a local young man and other Canadians, and the kidnapping of 240 others. Weekly vigils are continuing – and attendance is not waning, presumably because hundreds of people feel the necessity to unite in shared pain and for the inherent strength of community. Attending a rally or vigil is one way to harness the social support that is so important in times of struggle.
There are other steps that many of us could take to heart.
It’s important, of course, to remain aware, to be engaged citizens and activists, to be informed of current events. But there is a line between being informed and being unable to look away. We need to recognize the limitations and consequences of consuming endless amounts of information. It is neither necessary nor healthy to ensure that we – and everyone around us – are aware of every single outrage each and every day. Set aside time to review the news, but do not hit “refresh” repeatedly. Set a timer, if you think it would be useful. Stay accountable to yourself or ask someone who cares about you to remind you to set down the phone or remote. And be that person for your loved ones, when asked to assist them in being less fixated on the news. A crucial antidote to hopelessness is action. Be involved, for sure, but forwarding distressing emails to people who share your views (or not) is likely not constructive involvement.
Likewise, social media. Contesting and correcting false and hateful information on social media can feel important, but we need to put our abilities in perspective. The impacts that an individual can have on social media are a tiny ripple in the ocean, while the impact that social media can have on an individual is like a tsunami. Being bombarded by messages that remind us that there are many in the world who hold despicable views or are gleeful at the destruction of Israel and/or the Jewish people predictably impacts our emotional, psychological and spiritual wellness. If you are tempted to share horrendous posts with family and friends, consider what is to be gained by doing so.
Also, let’s pick our fights. We have plenty to be concerned about close to home. We do not need an incessant barrage of calls to sign petitions against things that are happening at universities in another country, or in response to offensive comments by never-before-heard-of activist groups or D-list celebrities. If we want to have an impact and have the internal resources for the fight, devote those resources to where they are going to have the most impact. Get involved with organizations doing work you believe in, join the many events taking place, both addressing the issues at hand, but also just finding comfort and strength in such things as the social and cultural events offered by our community, which allow us to come together without being completely gripped by fear and despair.
On an individual level, take time for quiet contemplation. Take a walk around the neighbourhood or in the park without headphones. Consider what your deeply held values are and find strength in that foundation. Stay open to hope, to possibilities not yet discovered and to finding paths to more compassion for yourself, for your loved ones, for your community and for those who are different from you or hold views that challenge your own. Do not exclusively dwell on the tragedies of the past and present, but spend time and effort to envision a future that is better for Israelis, Palestinians and all peoples – and how your values and actions today can hasten that better world. This, at root, is the heart of what it means to be Jewish. It is, perhaps, the only path through this pain.