My friend Brian, principal at the Hebrew Day School outside Boston, called with more questions students have about the ongoing trauma in the promised land.
“How do you deal with violence?” one of his junior high kids asked.
“What do you mean? There’s all kinds of violence.”
“If somebody were to punch you in the face?”
“I’d probably say, Ow!” I said. “But in the context of trauma, when there’s violence and aggression? I have worked with a lot of people who have punched a lot of other people in the face. The key is not the confrontation itself–I need to know how to de-escalate the situation, and trying to understand it in terms of the traumatic experience. Usually, by acknowledging that the person has a lot to be angry about. Validating the feeling. And that I understand the desire to hurt someone in order to feel like you have control. The impulse to destroy what’s in front of you, because in some way you have been destroyed, is a natural impulse. We recognize that, and have empathy for that, and then try to help them find a way to have control and have power without having to be destructive.”
The next student said, “I don’t want to ask my question now.”
“Well, I’m going to ask it for you,” said the principal. “Lisa, you are there in Eilat with evacuees who survived the October 7th terror attacks, giving support. What about the people in Gaza? How are they going to be supported in managing the situation? We realize you’re in the middle of one thing and it might not be fair to you to drag you into a whole ‘nothing thing…”
“It’s not two different things,” I said. “Recognizing the hurt here, the grief, the absurdity, the need to find hope somewhere–that’s about restoring our humanity. Recognizing ourselves as human beings in a shared universal predicament of wanting to live life and to thrive, love, take care of our families. Learn and rejoice. Those desires are universal. The suffering of hurt and trauma are universal. So my being here, doing what I’m doing, doesn’t mean I’m not there. I know many people in Israel who are doing everything they can to support peace. To help Palestinians, and Bedouins, and Druze, who are all part of this grief. Off the top of my head, I think of projects like, The Road to Recovery, who, in the midst of war, continue to bring Palestinians needing medical care from the West Bank to Israeli hospitals. There are brave folks trying to protect shepherds, or the Bedouin communities that don’t have the resilient infrastructures that Israeli cities have.”
I felt blessed to be able to converse with tween-agers who feel attention must be paid. Just by asking the questions they’ve helped me. They gave me hope–that even engulfed in fear and anxiety, they’re able to think about the so-called enemy’s experience. About the enemy human beings.