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How to build resilience during this war

Yes, even at this devastating time, we can take steps to help us withstand the pain and emerge stronger and more united
Civilians in the southern city of Sderot, October 15, 2023. (Chaim Goldberg/Flash90)
Civilians in the southern city of Sderot, October 15, 2023. (Chaim Goldberg/Flash90)

We are facing carnage, massacres, dead bodies, dead soldiers, pain the likes of which most of us have not endured before as Israelis. The grief and fear and anger feel overwhelming. But we have a strong military, and we are a free people in our land. We will be victorious, though the price for our people is unbearable. Yet even in these devastating times, we can find resilience.

I know about the need for resilience. My 13-year-old son Koby and his friend Yosef-Ish Ran were murdered near our home in Tekoa by terrorists in 2001. I’m not a naturally resilient person, but through the years, my family and I have learned a lot about recovery and resilience. I’ve also learned about resilience from the bereaved families and children we work with in the Koby Mandell Foundation.

Some of us are naturally resilient, but those of us born without resilience can work on building it. Even, now, in the midst of this horrific war, there are ways of building resilience. Here are some steps from my book, “The Road to Resilience”:

  1. Chaos: We’re now in the midst of the chaos, the confusion, the lack of control. The whole country is reeling. It is hard to feel safe or secure. Accept your fear, pain, and anxiety. These are normal reactions to an abnormal world. On the other hand, do whatever you can to limit the chaos. Don’t watch any images from the massacres. Don’t listen to the news over and over. You don’t need images of slaughter engraved in your brain.
  2. Community: In Jewish thought, creating resilience rests not only on the individual but on the community. Community is a profound feeling of responsibility for others, a compassion that allows us to share a sense of mission and destiny in healing our world.

Find people to talk to. Become a helper yourself. Practice kindness and compassion – both for yourself and for others. Do something to make yourself and others feel better. Babysit, collect supplies and money for the soldiers. Call a friend. Connect with people and the community. Go to funerals and shivas. Appreciate all the goodness that volunteers are doing, the feeling of unity it brings. This war makes us feel fractured and shattered. The best antidote to that is connection. Know that you are part of a community – and part of Israel, part of this struggle.

  1. Choice: One of the main tenets of Jewish philosophy is choice. Choose to believe that we will be victorious. Choose those things that ground you and make you feel safe. Make sure you know where a shelter is. Make sure it is stocked with water and food. Make sure that you know how to get to the shelter. Choose activities that structure you and give you a sense of control. Choose to go for a walk, to do yoga or deep breathing. Chose to know that we will prevail.
  2. Creativity: The root of the word for creation in Hebrew (bria) is also the root of the word for health (briut). God is a master of creativity, the creator of the world. Our own creativity can be a means of giving coherence to the chaos. Find a way to be creative. Bake a cake. Play with children. Write. Paint. Draw. Bang a pot. Take photos. Do something to channel your anxiety. Invite others to create with you. Transform your pain into creativity.
  3. Consecration: Whenever we take something that is filled with pain and find a way to transform it into something positive and life-affirming, we participate in an act of holiness, consecration.

Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik writes that every suffering is a summons – we are called upon to change, to grow, to become bigger than we would have, to overcome the limits of our former selves.

But this is a national summons as well: Our nation also has to change – to become more united, not only in fighting our real enemy but also in working together. Our different opinions cannot be allowed to fracture our country.

In “The Ethics of the Fathers,” we learn: Who is the wise man. He who learns from everybody. Even this trauma can become a teacher. It has shown us our unity. But it has also taught many people around the world about the nature of the enemies that we face. It has taught people like President Joe Biden and Mayor Eric Adams of New York that Hamas must be destroyed. It has taught us that, at least for the moment, we are not alone.

May we all stay safe and may we see victory soon.

Sherri will be facilitating a Zoom workshop on resilience Thursday, October 19th at 12:00pm Israel time. To register please send an email to sherrimandell.org
About the Author
Sherri Mandell is co-director of the Koby Mandell Foundation which runs programs for bereaved families in Israel. She is the author of the book "The Road to Resilience: From Chaos to Celebration." Her book, "The Blessing of a Broken Heart," won a National Jewish Book Award in 2004. She can be reached at sherri@kobymandell.org
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