It is the eve of the Jewish New Year of 5775 and even from the bottom of Africa one can feel a sense of immense anticipation. One door is closing and a new door is opening. Rosh Hashanah provides us the opportunity to shift from old ways that no longer serve us into new paradigms.
In the background of this excitement our sense of vulnerability is still there. The South African Jewish community has been put on high alert for the duration of the High Holiday period. Concrete blocks line the periphery of the synagogues and we have been told not to congregate outside of places of worship. The heightened threat level is back, like it was during Operation Protective Edge.
Recently I was privileged to hear Rodger Kamenetz, author of the international bestselling book The Jew in the Lotus (1994), speak at the Limmud conference in Johannesburg at the end of August.
Only a few weeks had passed since the war had ended and I had not realised it, but what I needed was some kind of awakening.
I had become shut down. I had not checked the newspaper, social media or listened to the radio for a few days. I needed a break. However, I was still on edge and feeling weary about this new period of calm after the terrible storm.
While shutting down was necessary for my sanity, I had become the shell-shocked observer, still reeling from the sensory overload of constant news monitoring.
There I was, half asleep in my chair, in a packed room during a Limmud panel discussion when I abruptly sat up at Kamenetz’s words:
“There is a huge spiritual danger if we ever lose our capacity to mourn a dead child”.
The context of his statement was not in direct relationship to this latest incursion with Gaza, rather, Kamenetz was speaking on a more personal level. His words resonated with me deeply as I understood that I had not been emotionally present for most of the war.
I looked around the room. Perhaps we had all entered into a state of slumber, another form of communal PTSD. At a certain point, the awake human being is unable to contain the tremendous onslaught of pain and destruction. And as a nation, we had been under serious duress for some time.
It was clear that I had fallen asleep during Operation Protective Edge. What I heard in Kamenetz’s words was that I needed to awaken that part of myself that fell asleep. To learn how to feel deeply again, in order to avoid the spiritual danger, as he suggested, that comes from losing the capacity to mourn a dead child.
The spiritual dangers inherent in becoming comfortably numb.
Rediscovering my capacity to feel again, in this new year, would be a huge triumph over HAMAS, ISIS and all those whose hearts have seemingly turned to black unfeeling coal.
I believe that our challenge during these confronting times is to remain anchored to our humanity by staying emotionally awake. Our emotions are the most sacred part of our human experience as they are the engines propelling us into our lives and connecting us to each other. Our emotions are our lifeboats within this global pandemic of heartlessness.
The experience of becoming awakened to my state of numbness towards the end of 5774 has allowed me to reopen my heart. To enter into this new beginning of 5775 as a fully feeling person, who is capable of mourning for all of the children who are no longer with us, may their memories be a blessing.