Caring for Ourselves and One Another at This Difficult Time

I just got the news that two of the hostages who are from Evanston, Judith and Natalie Raanan, have just been released. It’s amazing to have this good news in the midst of such horror and tragedy. We continue to pray for the speedy release of the rest of the captives, including Hersh Goldberg-Polin who is the nephew of Abby Polin and Simon Anolick. We also pray they are safe and well.

The last two weeks have been filled with such anguish and sorrow for all of us. I find myself crying every day and not knowing how to respond to the simple question, “How are you?” Friends and community members will often just look at me and ask me if they can give me a hug. I always nod yes. Many of us are in touch with loved ones in the affected areas, trying to support them in their time of need, and, at the same time, feeling emotionally overwrought ourselves. I have been finding it hard to function and put one foot in front of the other. I have spoken with many people in our community who are experiencing distress and looking for ways to cope. I’ve reached out to psychotherapists and otherwise spiritual leaders to help support us at this time.

I’d like to share with you some sage advice I’ve received in the hopes that it will help you as well. A psychotherapist friend sent me a list of symptoms associated with acute stress that may be helpful in recognizing and acknowledging what all of us are experiencing. The list includes dissociative thoughts (slowing of time, feeling dazed, out of it, not really understanding the physical impact of the emotional state), avoidance (steering clear of all things related to the events happening), negative mood (general irritability, sadness, feeling flooded, overwhelmed, angry), not knowing who to talk to for support, intensified startle response, and being easily triggered.

How should we respond to our feelings in this incredibly difficult time? Here are some strategies to consider:

1.  We need to recognize and acknowledge them. The fact that others are experiencing far worse doesn’t diminish or invalidate our own struggles. We need to acknowledge and honor our feelings rather than compare them to those of others.

2.  There are grounding techniques that we can employ to help us cope. Here is a related guide that I hope will be helpful.

3.  We need to make Beth Emet a place where we can safely process our feelings. Our Director of Lifelong Learning, Marci Dickman, has been working with the teachers to help them support our students. Marci and our Director of Young Family Engagement, Kathy Kaberon, have scheduled a session for parents on Monday evening to discuss strategies for talking with their children at this time. Read more.

4.  We need to seek out supportive environments. I know that last Friday night’s service provided a healing space for many of our congregants. Tonight, we will have an opportunity for prayer and communal support in our contemplative and musical Soul Spark Shabbat service. Please be in touch if you are in need of support. To set up an appointment with me, click here to schedule a time.

5.  It can be helpful to feel that we are doing something to make a positive difference. Last week, we sent a list of organizations to which you may wish to donate. That list is included here as well.

We also need to acknowledge when do we not feel supported by the community around us. On October 8, the interfaith community gathered at the annual dinner sponsored by Interfaith Action of Evanston to celebrate the wonderful people in our community who are working to bring greater justice and healing to our world. However, many in the Jewish community felt hurt that the event included no mention of the massacre that occurred in Israel on the previous day. Rabbi Rachel Weiss from JRC and I had a heart-to-heart conversation with our clergy colleagues and shared those feelings. They have acknowledged this grievous error and have now issued this statement in support of our community. I am fortunate to have such wonderful clergy colleagues and friends who take their values seriously and who care about our community.

The Klei Kodesh, lay leadership at the congregation, and I commit to doing our best in the coming days, weeks, and months to provide support, education, and actions we can take. If there are ideas you have, we welcome them.

With prayers for peace and well-being,

Rabbi Andrea London