The terrorist event that occurred on October 22 in Jerusalem, that has now raised the number of deaths to 2; a 3 month old baby and a 22 year old young woman just starting her new life in Israel having come from Ecuador and converting to Judaism, is raising the head of an ugly strain of guilt called survivors guilt.
Survivor’s guilt is defined as a deep sense of guilt felt by those who have survived some catastrophe.
As witnesses, either directly or indirectly involved, we too can suffer survivor’s guilt.
The phenomenon of being a Jew, and a Jew living in Israel, is that survival is something that is embedded in our consciousness. Alongside with this lies guilt. Survival and guilt live side by side and are experienced in our day to day lives.
We have just passed through the month of Tishrei where most Jews, wherever they place themselves along the religious spectrum, spent Yom Kippur differently than any other day of the calendar. The day has been declared by some as “National Bicycle Day” because in a country of approximately 8 million people, even major highways are empty of cars and are filled with children and adults on their bicycles.
You can hear everyone wishing each other “Gmar Chatima Tova”, to be signed in the book of life, to survive and live for another year.
Most Jews link Yom Kippur with the Jewish concept of repentance or Teshuva. This concept is associated with self-reflection or taking an inventory of the wrongful acts committed in the past year. From this perspective Teshuva is considered to be a form of positive guilt; the individual is aware of committing a wrongful act, accepts responsibility and wishes to make atonement for this act.
Although both forms of guilt, survivor’s guilt and the positive guilt related to Teshuva, are personal and unique to the individual, both involve the community. During Yom Kippur services, the list of wrongdoings is proclaimed in a communal voice and during the aftermath of terrorist acts, it is the community’s “responsibility to transcend the circumstances of the incident and cherish the memory of the deceased.” – Viktor Frankl
Frankl states: Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.
This reflects the uniqueness of the Jewish spirit; while we have two sides of a coin, survival and quilt, Jews go for the third option, the freedom to choose. And in spite of survivor’s guilt, we choose to live.