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How To Live in Times Like These

I feel like I am swimming through a thick fog as I go through each day. Despite my best efforts to sleep well, I wake up weary each morning. I know I am not alone. Even as we grieve the unimaginable horror unleashed by Hamas and even as we pray and worry about the future, somehow we keep living. Am Yisrael Chai, the Jewish nation lives. This statement doesn’t just describe our miraculous survival throughout the generations despite near constant enmity and persecution. It describes our people’s unwavering commitment to life and living. After the holocaust of World War II, broken but surviving skeletons made it to DP camps where they immediately began to rebuild a world. In the first year after the war there were six to seven weddings taking place in DP camps a day! In the years 1946-1948 the birth rate in Europe’s DP camps was the highest in the world. And in our times, even as the future seems uncertain, weddings in Israel are being celebrated at army bases, through rocket sirens, and even when the bride and groom are both serving at the front. Our commitment to life is unwavering, “And you shall choose life” is as real to us today as it was when Moshe Rabeinu (Moses) first said it over three thousand years ago.

Yet the question remains, how can any of us live up to this ideal? How does one continue living fully, mindfully, and joyfully when our world has been upended? And the truth is, though I am writing from my personal perspective today, every human being is faced at times with this question. How do we cling to life when it hurts so much? For parents, the question becomes even larger. How do we help our children choose life? How can we help them persevere through horrible situations, overcome tragedy and emerge with a greater commitment to living fully, spiritually, emotionally, and physically?

I want to offer three suggestions to help every person in difficult times and for parents who strive to help their children through challenges.

1. Severely limit and delay exposure to news
We could spend all day every day reading about and watching the personal tragedies that are unfolding. We could spend all day obsessively checking the news for developments. Unless we plan to take immediate positive action based on the news, (pray for a specific person, attend a funeral, comfort a mourner..), it will only drag us down. Set specific times to check the news. Don’t look at other times and at all times avoid graphic images or videos.

My father, Rabbi Daniel Lapin, taught me a second coping strategy based on Jewish wisdom and that is to delay the time you hear or impart difficult news. The closer we are to an event in space and time, the more acutely we feel its impact. Yet when we are more distanced in space or time, we decrease the intensity of our reaction. For many of us, the news is hitting way too close to home. Each loss is personal and intense. If we’re struggling with that intensity, we can selectively limit our exposure to yesterday’s tragedies instead of those that occurred minutes ago. Despite the tragedy being the same, it will feel slightly more manageable if it isn’t immediate. Don’t click on a headline to read today’s news. It will still be there in several hours or tomorrow yet it will feel easier to process when it isn’t as recent.

When sharing news with our children, this is doubly important. They are young and sensitive. Even though in today’s world we can have constant updates, it is better for our children to hear where yesterday’s rockets landed, not where they are falling right now. Additionally, please consider completely blocking your children’s independent access to news. Far better that you, their trusted and safe parent, tells them each day the occurrences of the day before, than that they stumble upon traumatic and disturbing information on their own.

2. Act constructively
Feeling helpless is depressive while constructive activity soothes the soul. Each one of us can combat oppressive feelings by taking action. There is so much we can do to make a difference. Whether it’s prayer , charity, extending a kindness to another, reaching out to show support and friendship, emailing a consolatory letter to a grieving family, or simply being a beacon of light and love for our family and friends, we needn't be passive spectators in challenging times. Acting with love and positivity has an impact and as we make a difference in the world we find that we too are changed. Our children can and should also use their strengths and energies to bring more light into tough situations. This week, one of my younger children organized several groups of young girls who got together to recite Psalms and pray and another held a bake sale with all proceeds going to purchase equipment for Israeli soldiers. One child brought his own headlamp (surreptitiously used to read in bed after lights out of course!) to a neighbor before she voluntarily left to rejoin her unit so that a soldier could use it instead of him. My husband and I encouraged each act of charity and generosity. While we believe these gifts will benefit the recipients, it is even more beneficial for our children to be contributors and givers at a difficult time.

3. Choose words of faith and optimism
Words are powerful. Whether or not we feel faith and hope, it is important for our ears to hear words from our mouths of faith and hope. When we choose to recount the many uplifting stories of heroism, faith, and Divine providence instead of tales of horror and depravity, we affect our mood and that of our listeners. We can choose what to focus on and what to share with our children and our choices make a difference. Tell your children one uplifting story a day. They are sensitive to your tension already so make it a point to convey the greatness and goodness in the world too. Don’t only share the horrors you encounter with your friends, also share the miracles and kindnesses.

The first human to witness global tragedy was Noach (Noah) in this week’s Torah portion. (Parshas Noach - Genesis 6:9-11:32) Despite his righteousness, he was unable to recover from the trauma. Jewish tradition criticizes him for planting a vineyard as his first crop after the flood. A person focused on rebuilding the world and choosing life would opt to initially plant wheat. A person who wants to hide in his hole and drown his sorrows chooses wine. Noach’s response is understandable and human, but it isn’t our only option. At the end of Parshas Noach we are introduced to Avraham (Abraham) who bounced back after each significant trial stronger and even more ready to build, accomplish, and spread goodness in the world. We are the children of Avraham. We choose life, we pursue life, and we will devote our lives to life. L’chaim! To life!



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shawn ross
shawn ross
Oct 20, 2023
Rated 5 out of 5 stars.

Cant tell you what was with Noah but its a wee bit more complicated for me. Although I do enjoy a good chastising.

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Thank you Shawn! Yes, life is super-complicated and a constant balancing act... 😉

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Guest
Oct 19, 2023
Rated 4 out of 5 stars.

Thank you for your perspective.

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Guest
Oct 19, 2023
Rated 5 out of 5 stars.

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Rated 5 out of 5 stars.

as always , spot on.

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