Russell P. Subin

‘How are you and your family?’ What are they really asking?

How are you and your family? This is a question I have been asked numerous times since October 7th. Friends and extended family back in the United States and around the world want to know. They are concerned. I get it. The question comes through phone calls, email, texts, WhatsApp, LinkedIn, and Facebook. I really appreciate the inquiries. But how am I supposed to answer this question? I’m not even sure what the scope of the question is.

Before October 7th, I knew exactly what was being asked. It was obvious. How was I doing? How about my kids? Maybe they also meant extended family if they knew them. So clearly, the meaning of the question might be situational but the intention was clear.

Similarly, I knew how to answer the question, even if the answer might again be situational. If the question arose as a social greeting as I passed someone on the street, I would give the typical answer; good, everyone is doing fine, Baruch Hashem (thank G-d), etc. That is what would be expected when the question was just a typical social greeting. I think anyone would be shocked if I gave any more information to such a casual question. 

Maybe if I thought the question was a conversational opener, I would go on with more specifics about kids, job, vacation plans, etc. and then would likely turn the question back on the other person. The conversation would then come to its natural conclusion based on time and interest. So clearly the timing and place of the question would dictate the appropriateness and the type and length of the answer.  

Prior to October 7th, I can’t ever remember receiving such a question in writing without more to the message. Usually it was just meant to be an opener to something else the writer wanted. So I never had the need to consider the mode of the written response as being anything other than a greeting.

Then came October the 7th. Now, I’m not even sure what is being asked or how to respond. I parse the question and situation carefully before replying. So who is “you” and “your family”? Is “you” me or maybe my wife or perhaps my immediate family. Does “your family” mean my extended family or something else. Some people refer to all Israelis or all the Jewish people worldwide as their family. So maybe given the situation your family could be referring to all Jews?

Now does the platform by which the question is asked matter? This time the question is no longer a greeting as there is nothing else accompanying the text of the question. Am I supposed to glean something from the platform being used? Does a text message dictate a less formal question and answer then a Linkedin inquiry? Or are people just reaching out in whatever way they are comfortable? 

Then there is relativism. Am I supposed to answer the question after factoring in the horrific acts and the aftermath? After all, aren’t they asking because they all know what is happening? In other words, is it like the old joke: “other than that Mrs. Lincoln, how was the show?” Is that what they are asking? Maybe they are just concerned about how close I am to it all?

What about the person making the inquiry? Do they really understand the details of what is going on? I know some of my friends know the intricacies but others may not. Do I go into a lengthy discussion to make sure the uniformed are informed.     

I think all of us are affected by October 7th and its aftermath, some of which we still do not know. It will affect each of us differently depending on each person’s direct and indirect impact by the circumstances surrounding them personally and their psyche. So everyone’s interpretation of the question and how to respond will be different.  

However, I think to some extent the question is a statement as well as a question. The question is a statement to the extent that it is actually saying you should feel wanted, loved, cared about, and we are here for you. To this extent a simple, yet thoughtful, acknowledgment is sufficient. But it is also an open ended question for you to tell them whatever it is that you need to get off your chest. They will listen.  

So how do I personally respond to the question? I continue to struggle with all the factors mentioned above and answer accordingly. However, in light of all the horrific acts against Israelis and the Jewish people, I can only interpret “your family” broadly as including them too. This is why all my responses will now include: “Am Yisrael Chai (the Nation of Israel lives).” 

About the Author
Russell Subin is a retired US tax lawyer living in Ra'anana, Israel.
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