Piny Hackenbroch
Senior Rabbi Woodside Park Synagogue, London

The ‘R’ factor — have you got it?

As the Covid battle rages on with no end in sight, there has become a focus on the R factor, I am referring of course not to the R number but the R of resilience which in this battle that we are waging is seen as crucial to empowering us to have the inner strength to stay the course and ensure our mental wellbeing.

Sir John Bell, who is at the center of Britain’s Covid vaccination program, spent a year in hospital with polio as a child. Reflecting last week, he said that it was that setback that enabled him to become successful. “if stuff comes at you, you just have to get on and do what’s best”. Easier said than done I hear you say, how does one acquire the stardust or allusive of resilience in dealing with the hardships of life in general which some seem to be able to cope with better than others.

A recent survey by the Prince’s Trust warned of the lockdown’s “devastating toll” on the wellbeing of young people, especially those not in education, employment, or training. Half of those surveyed said their mental health had deteriorated since the start of the pandemic.

So can the adverse experiences and ordeals of life in a young person’s formative years test their fortitude to such a degree that today’s young generation bounce back strengthened, or will they continue to withdraw into their screens and virtual worlds?

Is resilience a virtue that can be learned and nurtured or is it in one’s genes some have it and others simply do not?

Growing up in the 70s and 80s many of us recall hearing time and again stories from our grandparents and their contemporaries relating to the struggles and hardships experienced during the war. In the 1940s, resilience was viewed as a gift of genes, a mix of birthright and youthful bravado. It was Professor Ann Masten a brilliant clinical psychologist and her research team that concluded that in truth resilience was ordinary magic -it is potentially she argued in every child even those facing extreme adversity. It is though far from a given dependent on the support system around them — positive relationships with parents and teachers around them, having self-belief and those abilities being valued by others will empower a child to mature with the inner strength to deal with tremendous adversity.

It is this very issue that is a bone of contention between the Jewish people as the fledgling nation finds itself contending its first ordeal as a newborn nation. With the sea in front of them and the Egyptians in hot pursuit after them, they face the prospect of being decimated by the former Masters.  There were some says the Midrash that wanted to capitulate and return to being slaves in Egypt, yet others wanted to fight and yet others that were prepared to pray or some wanted to jump into the sea.

How could such different approaches emerge from a people that for the last 200 years had suffered the same persecution and trauma of Egyptian servitude? The answer it appears to me is quite simply, people can experience the same ordeals and yet find they have radically different perspectives and tools to be able to deal with it, the experiences were radically different from person to person from the family to family. For some, where they had been blessed with a strong positive support system from family and faith self-belief had been infused into their daily lives, they had the resilience and belief to confidently move forwards into the sea, for others that lacked the resilience quality they found themselves unable to cope with the unfolding ordeal and therefore they wished to return to the certainty of Egyptian servitude rather than face the adversity and challenges of the unknown

Empowering the “snowflake generation” to have resilience in the face of the raging seas of the pandemic could just be the greatest gift we give the next generation

About the Author
Rabbi Hackenbroch is Senior Rabbi of Woodside Park Synagogue, London, UK, as well as a commercial mediator, Holocaust Educator and sought after speaker.
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