Alan Abrams

I’ve stopped wishing people happy birthday

I’m not going back 

In the early days after the disaster of October 7, it just seemed perverse  to wish somebody happiness, especially a Jew. We were in mourning. It was a time to cry.

So I started wishing people, something I could honestly believe in. “Blessings on your birthday!”

We’re still in a war, of course, and some days certainly still feel like days of mourning. But that’s not why I am refusing to ever go back to “happy birthday”; I know, I hope, that one day this war will be over and we will return to more normal times.

But I’m not sure why we wish people happy birthday in the first place.  Maybe it seems stilted to you to wish blessings instead. But offering blessings fits every situation, and really, not every birthday comes at a time of happiness. There are times to weep, and times to mourn, even in peacetime. I want to stop being a part of making people feel that on one day of the year they have to be joyful. Of course, they’re allowed to be joyful, and they’re allowed to ask friends and family to help them feel joyful on that one day of the year. I just don’t want to participate in making people feel forced to be joyful.

This horrible war has permanently changed so many lives, in ways large and small. My change of my ‘birthday practice’ is just one very small one. But most of the ways war transforms us are small, or at least appear small. The horrors of war encourage us to engage in self-examination, to review our values and practices in ways that can make us better people. It may seem perverse to suggest that the experience of war can improve us in addition to all it takes from us. But I think we should not be afraid to embrace those transformations.

Blessings. To all.

About the Author
Alan Abrams is a spiritual care educator who made Aliyah in 2014. He and his wife live in Jerusalem with their two "sabra" children. Alan is the founder of HavLi and the HaKen Institute, spiritual care education and research centers based in Jerusalem. A rabbi, Alan received a PhD in May 2019 from NYU for his dissertation on the theology of pastoral care. He was a business journalist in his first career.
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