Keshet Starr

Your Reaction Matters

New York’s Museum of Ice Cream is an Instragrammable wonderland, with rooms full of experiences, activities and photo-ops (plus kosher ice cream!). In one area, there’s a series of funhouse-style mirrors–look into them and you’re suddenly eight feet tall, cloned three times, distorted into funky shapes.

Ever since October 7th, the world around us has become that funhouse mirror. Up is down, and down is up. Hamas, according to many, is good! And woke! And supporting them puts you on the right side of history! Scrolling social media, I often wonder how reality can be so different to so many people. Even when I can accept that social media is going to feature many–ahem–”interesting” characters, what has been far more painful is to see people who I otherwise respect and value supporting the same concepts in more sophisticated words. The other day, I stumbled upon a blog post by an author whose content I have been happily consuming for years. Following a cheerful “Chag Sameach!” to her Jewish followers (Okay, okay, I’m a little behind) she offers “Five ways to demand a ceasefire now!” Falling down the rabbit hole of the comments thread (do not recommend), I was struck, again, by how so many of us can see the same things and interpret those events so differently.

For Jews around the world, October 7th was a traumatic event. For many of us, this day is layered upon years of intergenerational trauma, only furthering our sense of alienation and uncertainty. But what these last few months have taught me, more than anything, is how much reactions matter. Experiencing pain, trauma, and fear are one thing. But seeing the world respond to our suffering with indifference, apathy– even, sometimes, satisfaction–has been another thing altogether. And that response is the piece that has been most painful of all.

There are many types and layers of trauma–the trauma of unexpected disasters, the trauma of being harmed by others, the trauma of navigating broken systems and corrupt institutions. As a longtime advocate for agunot, women struggling to obtain a Jewish divorce, I have seen the impact of these traumas up close.

What is clear, though, is that trauma is not only about what happens to us. It is also deeply connected to how our pain is responded to. Going through something terrible, followed by extensive support and justice against offenders is one thing, albeit still incredibly difficult. Going through something terrible only to feel that the world has turned its back on us, and that the baseline expectations we had of the systems around us were wrong–that’s something else entirely.

We have all felt this, collectively, in the past months. I have personally found that even reading the horrific accounts of October 7th is not the very worst thing. The worst thing of all, for me, is  watching the protests, the tweets, the posts and the TikToks rewriting the story and justifying these actions. Trauma is one thing–the reaction to it is something else.

So what do we do with this? For most of us, there are limited options to create change on the global geo-political scale. But it’s critical to realize that beyond the war in Israel, there are moments where our own reaction to another’s trauma can make an impact. We know that abuse is part of Jewish communal life, whether we want to face it or not. From get refusal to marital abuse, child sexual abuse and broken court systems, there are significant challenges in our midst, and many members of our own community who are struggling with trauma.

For the many agunot I have worked with, the community’s response–beyond the get refuser’s actions–is a game-changer. When agunot know that their community supports them, and receive that support in tangible ways–meal deliveries, carpool help, financial support–their experience is profoundly improved, even as they struggle to obtain their freedom. On the contrary, when women feel abandoned by the Jewish community and its spiritual leadership, the pain and trauma is compounded, and much harder to overcome.

We, the Jewish community, have learned a bitter lesson these past many months–that trauma is not only rooted in an event, but the layers and reactions that come after it. We have learned firsthand how vital the response to trauma is in making us feel heard and valued, and that we belong. Let us not allow this lesson to go to waste, and make sure we are looking out for our own community, too.

We cannot control all the bad behavior in the world, or at our doorstep, but we can choose how to react. And oh, how that matters.

Image Source: Jewish Life Photobank 


About the Author
Keshet Starr is the Executive Director of the Organization for the Resolution of Agunot (ORA), the only nonprofit organization addressing the agunah (Jewish divorce refusal) crisis on a case-by-case basis worldwide. At ORA, Keshet oversees advocacy, early intervention, and educational initiatives designed to assist individuals seeking a Jewish divorce, and advocates for the elimination of abuse in the Jewish divorce process. Keshet has written for outlets such as the Times of Israel, The Forward, Haaretz, and academic publications, and frequently presents on issues related to Jewish divorce, domestic abuse, and the intersection between civil and religious divorce processes. A graduate of the University of Michigan and the University of Pennsylvania Law School, Keshet lives in central New Jersey with her husband and three young children.