Rabbis Without Borders
Rabbis Without Borders is a dynamic forum for exploring contemporary issues in the Jewish world and beyond. Written by rabbis of different denominations, viewpoints, and parts of the country, Rabbis Without Borders is a project of Clal – The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership.
A congregant called me the other day, just to catch up. In the course of a conversation about what was going on with each other and with the congregation, she commented that it’s hard to know what to think about all the terrible things happening in our world. The political climate is so discouraging and stressful with an unpredictable, incompetent bully and sexual predator as president. Mass shootings continue to happen, and we seem helpless to stop them. There have been multiple, very serious natural disasters in the past couple of months — so many that it’s hard to pay attention to them all, and we know that not everyone affected is getting the help they need. Every day another celebrity is accused of sexual assault or harassment, and nearly every woman we know can say it has happened to her too.
All of this is so stressful, troubling, and sad, she said. What do we do with it? I’m looking to my rabbi for an answer, she said.
There are times when people are having a hard time, and I, as a rabbi, am not in it with them; for example when someone loses a loved one. I can empathize and support them, but it’s not my loss, so I can bring emotional strength to that situation. This is not one of those times.
There are other times when trauma strikes a community, and then I, as a rabbi, am another one of the people experiencing that situation. This is one of those times. I, too, am troubled, fearful, sad, and feel helpless in the face of all that is happening. I don’t have the answer. I’m struggling too.
The best that I can offer is what gets me through the day, and that’s a combination of perspective, gratitude and looking for the good. The three of them overlap.
Perspective: I am incredibly privileged in many different ways. I have not yet been truly, personally hurt by all of the frightening stuff happening in the world. I have resources to contribute to help those who are being hurt already: resources of time, energy, and money. I can’t fix everything, but I can help a little, and I try to. I try, also, to recognize that I and my family are still okay, even fine. It’s still scary, the world, but it’s a fear of something that hasn’t actually happened yet. I know this isn’t true for everyone, but for many of us, it is.
Gratitude: I try not to take for granted what is good in my life. I want to appreciate the tasty and plentiful food I have to eat. My husband and children and I are reasonably healthy. There is still so much beauty in the natural world. We have a place to live that I love, friends, family, and a wonderful community. My second daughter had her bat mitzvah this past weekend. Our sanctuary was filled with love. She was incredible, and she had an amazing day. I am so grateful for everything that made that day possible.
Looking for the good: I see people mobilizing for change who didn’t act before this president. As upsetting as the #metoo campaign is, women are getting angry and speaking out in ways that they haven’t before, and this is good. When Nazis march in this country or anti-Semites strike, good people turn out in far greater numbers to oppose them.
This is one way to get through these days. Look for the bright spots. Notice and appreciate them. And then add to the good in the world with our own resources.