Post-trauma from recurring anti-Semitic incidents, the Holocaust and the pogroms has permeated entire generations of Jews. In Israel, anxiety and traumatic events are part of the daily reality affecting children, adolescents and the population in general. The average Israeli has experienced or knows someone victim of terror or war. Drugs may numb symptoms of this phenomenon, but the real cure can only come from our unique capacity to build a safety net when we connect as a Jewish nation.
Israel has the strongest army in the world, yet it provides no immunity from the trauma of losing a friend in combat, or the constant gray cloud of threats from enemies inside and outside the country. Loads of combatants at various levels are exposed to anxiety, from adults and seniors who have participated in Israeli wars in the past, to young men who have completed combat service.
The phenomenon, however, is much broader than merely the Israeli army. It includes all of us. We are a nation living in trauma on a daily basis. It is not only due to the permanent threat that has engulfed the State of Israel since its establishment, and not just because of the hidden fear of occasional violence and terror. We are constantly traumatized for being Jewish.
The trauma that grips us—from the threatening future, the hostile present or the haunting past—permeates all avenues of the nation. Children attend kindergarten in areas attacked by rockets, breathe hidden panic in the atmosphere, quickly drop everything and run to shelters whenever warning sirens sound nearby, and shiver whenever the alarms sound on their phones that another rocket has penetrated a more remote part of the country. The trauma is already within us, whether or not we’re conscious of it.
We tend to take pride in our Israeli roughness, the outward toughness. But those who feel safe do not need such armor. They can afford to be outwardly sensitive as well. This is another symptom of Jewish trauma: the need to defend, fortify and play tough so as to not get hurt.
Why is this happening to us? Who are we Jews? Where did we come from and where are we headed? What is it all for? What is the purpose of this world? What is our role toward the world?
We must answer these questions distinctly, and reach the realization of our important role in humanity, even if it seems like a heavy weight on our shoulders. On the contrary, the implementation of our role will make our current difficult reality become lighter and more pleasant.
The prophet Jonah, whose story we read on Yom Kippur, also suffered from trauma. His story, which describes our experiences, began with the mission he received from God: to warn the people of Nineveh to turn away from their evil ways and begin to act as reality requires—with mutual affection.
Jonah tried to flee from his destiny. He boarded a ship that sailed far into the sea, and his escape caused a storm. The sailors on board realized that the cause of the storm, which created much hardship, was the “Jew” on their ship. Thus, they threw him out to sea. A whale swallowed Jonah. While in the whale’s stomach, Jonah underwent an arduous self-scrutiny until he agreed to carry out the role assigned to him. Afterward, the whale brought him to safety, to the city of Nineveh.
The story of Jonah is the story of the people of Israel.
We have a role that has always accompanied us: to establish unity among us, and serve as an example to the world. However, we try to avoid this role. Therefore, every time the world suffers from a given crisis, minor or major, it marks us Jews as guilty for the trouble. Also, every accusation we face becomes a trauma that accumulates over and over in our Jewish experience, whether or not we feel it.
Our destiny is inevitable. It is the result of rigorous laws of nature written in the Kabbalah books. We must learn them in order to understand what we have to do, otherwise we will continue experiencing amassing blows from the nations of the world.
It is correct to treat the entire Jewish nation as suffering from trauma. We should not blur the problem, but accelerate the understanding that healing such trauma depends on developing an upgraded, unified approach to each other and reality as a whole.
Yom Kippur is a time of introspection, both for individuals and for the Jewish nation as a whole. We can use the time for self-examination at Yom Kippur to positively affect our destiny if we also agree to realize our role, unite and become “a light unto the nations.”
By raising awareness and working on uniting among each other, we will satisfy humanity’s demands upon us and radiate a positive light to the world, as it is written, “for they are life to those who find them and health to all their flesh” (Proverbs 4:22).