Over the past few days, I’ve developed somewhat of a strange bedtime routine. After my kids are asleep, I go down to the couch in our living room intending to catch up on the news that I’ve missed over the past few hours. Inevitably, my mind wanders to Kfir Bibes, the 9-month-old baby kidnapped and held hostage by Hamas. With his squishy cheeks, soft red hair, and perfect innocence, Kfir reminds me of my one-year-old son. I picture Kfir hidden away with other hostages in Gaza’s maze of tunnels. I evoke the feeling of having my baby snuggled up next to me. I wonder if Kfir is alive. If he is fed. And if he is snuggled up to anyone as they sleep together on a cold dungeon floor. Then I cry. And I cry. And I cry.
Last month, I had dinner with a few friends I hadn’t seen in a while. “How are you?” they asked me. “I’m the happiest I’ve ever been,” I replied. Now, I am filled with a sadness I have never known. On Friday morning, as I was leaving the Tot Shabbat program I attend with my son, in the lobby of Holy Blossom Temple in Toronto, I came across a large piece of bristol board that had pinned to it prayers for loved ones in Israel. On a piece of paper shaped like a Magen David, I offered a prayer for my close friend, her husband who is serving in the IDF, and their children. On a second Magen David, my hand trembling, I wrote “Ariel and Kfir Bibes, hostages.” A congregant, who I recognized but did not know, inquired about who my prayers were for. I told her about my friend and her family. And then I said, pointing to the second Magen David, “Have you seen them in the posters? These red-haired brothers are two of the hostages. Ariel is 4, and Kfir is 9-months. I think he’s the youngest of the hostages,” tears streaming down my face. “I’m sorry,” she said. “I didn’t mean to -.” “No,” I jumped in. “I need to cry.”
As a Clinical Psychologist, I am well-versed in theories of emotion. I explain regularly to clients that emotions give us information. Sadness often signals that we have lost something we love, or that something we want desperately feels unobtainable. For example, in the book of Samuel, we read about Hannah crying because she yearns for a child and has been unable to conceive. In my clinical work, I explain that to reduce the intensity of emotion, we need to allow ourselves to experience it. Paradoxically, to feel better, we need to move toward our pain. Treatments for conditions such as depression and posttraumatic stress disorder often involve inviting painful emotions, rather than suppressing them or distracting from them.
I listened recently to a Hadar podcast where Rabbi Avital Hochstein shared that part of the way she deals with her despair is with silence. Reflecting on this, I realized that part of how I need to deal with my sadness is to cry. Scientists do not know why exactly we cry. When we cry, tears are released in response to pain or intense emotion. We can cry when we feel sad, happy, surprised, angry, helpless, or hopeful. Crying is an important mechanism for emotion regulation. Though we may interpret crying as a sign of weakness or a lack of resilience, we often feel better after we cry. It can be an effective way of reducing stress and soothing ourselves. Crying is often helpful in resolving feelings of grief. And, it can be an important tool for building resilience in times of adversity. We often feel tired after we cry, which can prompt us to care for ourselves, leaving us better prepared to move forward.
On Friday evening, I attended a Kabbalat Shabbat service. My son gave the friend sitting next to me an enormous smile. In response, she said to him, “You have a special role to play right now. Babies do.” I understood exactly what she meant. In my nights on the couch, I had thought about how, in the most backward, twisted way, Kfir might be playing an important role with regard to helping the other hostages endure their infernal reality. Babies are uplifting inherently. They give hope to those around them. There is incredible power in the bonds that are created between babies and those who care for them. In my fantasies, I have considered that, in his utter oblivion to the horror of his circumstances, Kfir might be playing with the other children, offering physical comfort to the parents missing their own children, or smiling at the elders.
When I cry, I connect with the pain in the stories I have read. I connect with the pain in the stories I have not read, but I know exist. When I cry, I feel the devastation of the losses that are yet to come. I experience waves of nausea and numbness when I think about the loss of life. When I cry, I rail against my utter helplessness. When I cry, I am reminded of the biblical Daniel in the lions’ den who was close to death and yet was saved. I don’t know what the future holds. So in this time of desperation, I am choosing to hold hope that maybe one day, against all odds, I will cry tears of joy when Kfir and the other hostages are finally brought home.