Build Bridges, Not Tunnels

Through the horrors of October 7th and the incredibly painful explosion of antisemitism that has followed, I am more aware of my allies. While the abysmal tunnels of terrorists have been dug deeply from ignorance and hate, I am focusing on those who glimmer above ground. The concept of bridges appeals to me- connecting to people who align with the beauty of Judaism and Israel- built on a foundation of morality, freedom, and peace. I am holding onto these bridges of rationality at a time when the world has turned delusional and chaotic in so many ways. There is so much nuance in this current conflict, and we need to focus on our humanity as Jews and as people, so that we can build bonds, grow stronger, and shine light for others, especially those who are still underground.

Some people have really touched my heart during this poignant time, and have served as bridges to my sense of self and community.

Surfi, my son’s chess teacher a devout Muslim, and someone we have grown to see as a guru for our family. From the first time we met in Washington Square Park during the pandemic, he made it clear that he not only respected us as Jews but felt a kinship to us as “cousins” of Abraham. We used to joke about starting a nonprofit organization called “Kosher Halal.” And in our darkest hour, even at the risk of estranging himself from his own family and friends in Bangladesh, he spoke out against terrorists and stood by Israel with a devotion I have not seen from even some of my Jewish peers. He has been such a loyal friend and reminds us that we are “semitic” together by history.

Emilie, the mom of our daughter’s friend, who is Christian and raised in France. At a play date this Fall, I was telling her what a frightening time it was for us, and how it seemed reminiscent of pre-World War II life in Europe. She half-jokingly said that if we ever needed to hide, she would find space for us in her cozy apartment. It might have sounded paranoid at another time, but when student mobs and tenured professors are publicly denouncing Jews and Israel on elite college campuses, society has clearly regressed.

Kate, a 30-year-old nurse anesthesia resident and dear new friend, who is Catholic, from the Midwest and occasionally spends her free time taking care of our children. She always felt that she has Jewish blood in her lineage, due to a strong connection she feels to Jews and Israel. Just after 10/7, she sent me a photo of her hand with a star-of-David ring. It meant so much at a time when we felt so shaken, alone, and vulnerable. She has since attended a talk with me on how to parent in a time of antisemitism. While she is neither a parent nor a Jew, her ability to empathize with us during this transformational time is not only refreshing, but inspiring.

Dave, a former football player from Michigan, Catholic, and married to a longtime college friend, who is Filipino-American. We reunited at a recent dinner downtown, and between courses, he huddled us in to say, “Guys, I’m so sorry for everything that you and your community is going through. I’m here for you.” I knew then that we could be free to speak to them about anything; it feels comforting at this precarious time when it has become increasingly difficult to know who is really on our side.

Kathryn, a Catholic mom of a friend from my son’s school, who gave my son a calendar of synagogues from all over the world to show her solidarity with Jews. She texted me to explain her deep identification with the Jews at this time, as her grandfather was chastised for his religion growing up in Ireland during an age of great contention. She believes in the freedom of faith and wants for us what her grandfather did not have.

Mickie, my mindfulness instructor, a rock in my life, raised Catholic in a large family in Canada (and happens to now have grandchildren who are Jewish). She rose to the occasion when an Israeli colleague and I needed to calm our nerves as therapists after 10/7. She quickly mobilized a mindfulness group for us to settle our souls and thereby help us attend to others in need. She also accompanied me at a talk given by Israeli therapists practicing on the front line of trauma in Israel and she wants to help by providing her soothing skills to them as well.

My Jewish friends in the community who have united with me in profound ways. They have given me strength and validation at a time of such great disconnect. We have joined for a challah-making class, incredible talks, fundraisers, rallies, signing petitions for our rights, sending meaningful articles, and even just texting. All of this provides me with the solace of connection and helps me know that I am not alone in my reality. I have felt a closeness to them that was not as present prior to October 7th.

And a bridge to myself- this time has deepened my sense of identity and united me back to my ancestors and homeland. I am feeling both the generational trauma and resilience of my Jewish genes with a force I did not realize was in me. At this inflection point of history, I have never felt prouder to wear my Jewish star nor more connected to my homeland of Israel.

As a psychiatrist, I strive to make sense of the human mind. I am aware of the extreme places our neural networks can take us. In my practice, I focus on understanding how the brain can be capable of both empathy and atrocity. I am comforted by the concept of neuroplasticity, meaning that we have control to shape and reshape our brains’ pathways through intention, motivation, and practice. The work of mindfulness teaches us that we have a choice in where we focus our minds, and we thereby have the power to build and solidify healthier mental pathways if we choose to do so. We all have the potential for lightness and darkness, though I teach my patients that the world is not always so black-and-white, and we also need to learn to tolerate the gray. I am humbled to find every day in my work that I can help my patients build bridges through words alone, even from tunnels of despair. I know that this can be done out of the office as well. The more connections we achieve, the stronger we are as people.

From my personal and professional perspectives, I hope to continue to focus on building strong ties during this extremely vulnerable chapter of history as a Jew. It is with a deep sense of gratitude to the connections in my life that have blossomed in the wake of 10/7, that I hope to inspire more bridges to come.

About the Author
Emily Steinberg Fadem MD is a board-certified psychiatrist in private practice in the Upper East Side of NYC. She completed her undergraduate work at Cornell University, earned her medical school degree at the George Washington University School of Medicine, and did her residency training in psychiatry at Mount Sinai's ICahn School of Medicine. She has done additional training at the New York Psychoanalytic Society and Institute and has remained on as a voluntary faculty member at Mount Sinai. She works specifically with adults, focusing on mood and anxiety disorders.
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