War is part of the fabric of life and a recurring theme in Jewish history. The books of Tanach are full of wars. There are so many!
War happens, just like illness, car accidents, and poverty.
I do not wish war upon anybody. The point is, here it is, in this moment, unavoidably, upon us. We have to respond strongly to Hamas' initiating the launching of thousands of rockets on our civilians and we have to assert control over the Israeli Arabs who have risen up to try to inflict pogroms on their Jewish neighbors.
1) Mental health experts teach that it is healthy, necessary, even relieving to confront and accept what it right here, instead of denying or suppressing it.
Here is war. Over our heads. On our phones. In our streets. Felt in our bodies. On our minds.
Where isn't it?
Acceptance here doesn't mean to be happy that people are dying, to be indifferent, cold hearted, or careless. Instead, acceptance here means: Take that which is being offered to you, because only that is being offered right now. It is what it is, as they say.
The famous "serenity prayer" made widespread by Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, states "God-grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference"
Sometimes life is like a restaurant, open late at night, with only one unappealing looking slice of pizza left. The smallish not-so-fresh slice of pizza is covered with olives, which you do not like. You are so hungry and weak and you must eat now, you don't like pizza with olives-but that is what there is for now. This parable reminds me of a Pizza restaurant in Chicago from my youth, appropriately named "Slice of Life". Currently, these are the cards that we have been dealt.
There are a lot of things in life that we cannot change, or at least not immediately change. War is one of them. There is no light switch to simply turn a war on or off. Here it is, until it isn't anymore, and until it is here again. Yet, we can change how we relate or react to war. Our reaction is up to us and in our control!
I heard a story recently about Rabbi Yitzchak Hutner, an American Rabbi whose plane was hijacked by terrorists on TWA flight 741. It was the year 1970. Reportedly, while being held hostage by ruthless PFLP terrorists, the Rabbi demanded from his captors a drink of coke!
If you can verify this story let me know!
The story's lesson is, we are sometimes taken captive by circumstances that are larger than life. Yet, we can still react to our situation with humor, resilience, and chutzpah!
Our reaction is in our control!
Our way of reacting can even dictate to a degree how we will feel, think, and behave in the days to come.
Some of us are currently restricted to our bomb shelters, day after day. No school, no work, chaos, fear.
Others reading this may be parents of an IDF soldier, a Police officer, or others on the front lines of this conflict. There is yet another group of concerned parents in the diaspora, whose kids are studying in Israel. These parents sit at home in the UK, USA, France, or South Africa watching it all on television, feeling powerless to protect their children. Helplessness sets in.
I have no magical words to make it all go away. It is scary. Unpleasant. Traumatic. Frightening for some. Agonizing. Maybe, however, we can show up to the painful reality of war in a manner that is a bit more effective for us if we try to aim for that, no pun intended. We can accept it for what it is, do what we can, learn coping skills, reach out to friends or a therapist for help, and ride the storm!
2) Buckle up, this conflict may continue for days or weeks. Nobody knows. A lot of times people experience unnecessary pain because of their somewhat unrealistic expectations or wishful thinking.
Here we are. We are here until we are not. Expecting things in a demanding, naïve, or needy sort of way is a recipe for disaster. Don't assume out of desperation that quick exodus-like miracles will happen. Still, discover faith, earnest prayer, and how to be positive. Be hopeful! Like the world says: Pray for the best, prepare for the worst, and expect the unexpected.
3) Reach out to friends. What or who do you need right now? Want a friend to share with who lives in Israel who can identify with you? Perhaps you intuit that right now you need a good old friend in Toronto to vent to? Dial away!
Darth Vader of the Star Wars trilogy emphatically said "do not underestimate the power of the dark side!" while I say, "do not underestimate the power of social support!"
When listening to music, we select the genre and type of artist or song that we perceive is good for us to hear right now. If we are sad we might sense that a sad song would be helpful to us, or maybe an inspirational one. If we're working out at the gym or busy at work we might put on an upbeat song that motivates us. Friends can be like this too.
Who do you want to connect with right now, or what do you need from your friend at this time? Notice the answer to these questions as they arise inside of your mind and then make your phone call.
4) Learn specific ways to cope that work for you. There is reliable published material on the internet about how to cope with traumatic stress or with the rocket attacks in particular. There is also material about how to help our children cope. If you don't know how to find this, ask a therapist, doctor, or reliable healthcare provider to recommend you some quality reading material for relevant coping tips.
I always like to empower people to be like scientists and experiment which coping techniques work for them.
Maybe focusing on spirituality, prayer, and faith is what will be your game changer. Sometimes it is a particular Rabbi or inspirational figure that manages to speak straight to your heart, so make sure to seek out those who inspire you and fill you with positive energies.
Some people might sense that they need some more humor right now including memes, old ridiculous comedies, or to text that old friend with a great sense of humor.
Perhaps meditation would do it for you. You can inject some calm into your mind, body, and the chaos.
Could it be that being proactive, like arranging a donation drive with friends for victims of the conflict would make you feel invigorated and powerful (the opposite of powerlessness)?
Just validating your fear, anxiety, anger, and whatever other feelings you have right now can be helpful. It is okay to feel whatever you do or do not feel at this time.
5) There is much more to say. This is just the tip of the iceberg. Learning to cope with hard times is a skill like any other. We can study this skill, practice it, learn from our mistakes, and continue learning new things. Some of our friends in Israel may be older than us, wiser, more resilient, and more experienced in enduring wars, intifadas, and days spent in bomb shelters. Feel comfortable asking for advice. They may be able to share with you some handy insight and know-how that they learned over the years.
I wish you and yours well. May we be safe and merit peace.
Avi Tenenbaum is an expert in Disaster Behavioral Health and Psychological First Aid. His experience includes providing aid for people coping in the wake of large-scale disasters and war including the Second Lebanon War, Hurricane Harvey, The Pittsburg Tree-of-Life massacre, the Haifa 2016 Fires, Operation Cast-Lead, Sorotzkin Arson Fires, Meron Civil DIsaster, and more. He can be reached at [email protected]