A Shabbat Message from Rabbi Ilana

by Rabbi Ilana Zietman / October 20, 2023

To watch or listen to Rabbi Ilana’s message, visit our Instagram page here!

Hi everyone, Rabbi Ilana here. 

I know there’s a lot of content bombarding our news feeds, emails, and text chains regarding what is going on in Israel and Gaza, so if seeing this already feels like too much, feel free to scroll past this video or save it for later. Your mental energy comes first. 

I know I’ve needed some time to gather my thoughts before sharing something. So, what I want to say now is: as we end the second week of this war and continue to see it unfold, I want you to know that wherever you are in this moment, it’s okay. There is no right way to immediately respond to devastation and trauma, except to honor your emotions and do what you can to find others who can hold you and whom you can hold. 

Trying to navigate loss, fear, shock, or anger alone is too much for any one person. The Book of Genesis tells us, “It is not good for a human to be alone,” which is why God immediately created a second person, Eve, to accompany and navigate the world with Adam. 

At the same time, I know from speaking with many of you and from my own experience so far, being Jewish right now, no matter where you fall on the political spectrum, is isolating either when it comes to internal dynamics within the Jewish community or society or the world at large. Some of us have felt this for years now and others are experiencing it for the first time. Either way, it’s unnerving, heartbreaking even, especially amidst our grief at the immense loss of life we’re seeing in the region and increasing fears of safety at home, and that is something we shouldn’t have to accept. 

I don’t have THE solution to this because there isn’t just one, but I do have some thoughts I hope can be helpful right now. 

First, although it seems like we (wherever you fall within that ‘we’) are alone, if you look around, we can find evidence that we’re not. There are others, both individuals and groups, who are tenderly checking in, supporting us, speaking up with us and working to promote healing in ways we seek. Please hold on to these examples just as strongly, if not more, than those of abandonment and disappointment. To maintain our own sense of humanity, it’s essential to see it in others. 

Second, when we’re ready, turning our hurt into good can be immensely empowering when we’re feeling helpless. There are so many ways one can do this  – whether it’s through checking in on others, sending aid to those in need, joining in community for processing or political action, doing mitzvot or good deeds wherever we can, reading, studying, making art or music, maintaining our sense of how to be a kind and grounded person in the world, whatever it is you’re capable of and interested in doing now or in a few days or weeks from now. The Book of Psalms wisely says, “Olam Chesed Yibaneh,” “The world can only be built on loving kindness.” We shouldn’t think of any other way to exist.

Last, allow your heart to expand and contract as it needs. In various tough moments in my life, including the past two weeks, I’ve experienced days of needing to care for myself, my immediate loved ones, and my own people, no matter how much I wanted to think about those outside my inner circles. But, with time and patience, I also have had days of greater expansiveness, of being able to feel and care for those I don’t have as much in common with or whom I don’t even know, and those days restore my sense of who I am and how I want to be in the world. Our hearts are incredibly wise and flexible, and this is a moment to trust them. 

As we go into Shabbat and another weekend, I wish us all moments of rest, calm, and shared humanity. If you feel like reaching out to talk, we at GatherDC are here. Shabbat Shalom.

October 20th, 2023

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