Paula Mack Drill
This Rabbi Loves Being a Rabbi!

When Asked How I Am, What Do I Say?

“What am I supposed to say when people ask how I am?” I complained to my Israeli friend, “I have no idea how to answer that question these days. Am I supposed to say I’m fine? Am I supposed to say I am not fine?”

“In Israel,” he said, “we are answering, ‘K’mo kulam’,” like everyone.

How are you? Like everyone.

I tried it on for size for a day. I wondered if it was fair for me to say that my feelings were like everyone’s feelings. Here in America, I am on the mezzanine, not even in the orchestra, and certainly not on the main stage.

My heart is broken regarding the massacres and kidnappings of October 7. I worry about the IDF soldiers in Gaza. I feel hopeless about the mounting number of casualties and deaths of Palestinians in Gaza. My anxiety is high regarding the unleashing of virulent antisemitism here in America and around the world.

I don’t sleep well at night. I wake up from the middle of horrible dreams.

But my situation is not the same as my cousins’ whose four adult children are all serving on the front lines. I cannot compare myself to my son-in-law‘s mother whose entire community, her entire personal and professional world, was devastated on October 7. I am not my dear friend who had to move to safety from her home and whose son and son-in-law are both serving in the IDF at the same time.

And although I teach that there is no hierarchy of suffering, I know that my suffering is not the same, and can never be weighted as heavily, as those families whose loved ones have been murdered and abducted.

So I faltered for a couple of days when people asked me how I was.

Now, it is true that a rabbi in a community carries the weight of a congregation’s fear and concern. We are looked to for optimism and hope when we might feel quite lacking in those categories ourselves. We are asked questions for which there are no answers.

But still, I did not feel that I deserved to say, “K’mo kulam.”

And then one Friday evening at minyan, I led the community in the traditional words we say to a mourner. L’cha Dodi ended and we turned toward the man in shivah for his mother. We said, “HaMakom yinachem etchem b’toch sha’ar avalei Tzion v’Yerushalayim.” May God comfort you among all of the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.
We say these words so often, counting on them to offer comfort to those who are bereft. On this particular night, I paused and considered their intention. I did not say these words to tell this particular man that his sorrow was exactly like all other Jews who were mourning. I meant that he is not alone in his grief. As a Jew, he was one of a great number of people at any given time who are held by God in our grief. We are all connected. That very fact offers comfort.
And the next day I went back to answering the question, how are you with the answer “k’mo kulam”.
I am not alone in my grief. And neither are you.
About the Author
Paula Mack Drill is one of three rabbis of Orangetown Jewish Center, Orangeburg, New York. Prior to becoming a rabbi, she worked as a social worker at Daughters of Israel Geriatric Center and Golda Och Academy. She served as Assistant Director at Ramah Day Camp in Nyack for seven years. Rabbi Drill is dedicated to teaching her love of Torah to all ages and creating an inclusive, welcoming Jewish community.
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