Choosing Joy – A Great Resistance

The world is a mess right now. Hamas, the terrorist organization whose charter openly states and promotes Jew hatred, waged a war on Israel. I cannot believe anyone would justify Hamas’ barbaric acts, but here we are.

Some pro-Palestinian rallies around the world are devolving into chants to kill Jews. This is unique to Israel and Jews. There is a war between Russia and Ukraine. You don’t hear people chanting for death to all Russians or all Ukrainians. These chants have me on edge. The ADL (the Anti-Defamation League) says antisemitic incidents have increased 400% in the U.S. and 1200% in the U.K. in the first two weeks since the war began on October 7th.

When the going gets rough, I sing the blues. Try it. Sing. Take a deep sigh. You’ll feel better if you express in some way. You don’t want that sadness or anger to get stuck in your body.

There is a monthly meeting of Jewish leaders in New Mexico that I’ve been attending. We created a CRC (Community Relations Committee) as a subset of that group and are working on presenting a united front as a community to respond to questions about Israel and antisemitism. I’ve been collecting resources online and will receive media training. This is one way I am doing my part.

I admit I fell into sadness and despair for a while since the war began. I came up for air, contemplated, and asked myself, “What can I do to counter this longstanding hatred towards our people?” Jews have been kicked out of or forced to flee most countries at one time or another. My ancestors had to leave Spain. More recently, there have been Jews living in Middle Eastern countries who were expelled, sometimes with only the shirts on their backs, after having lived in those countries for centuries. 1-2 million Jews were displaced from Arab countries, plus Iran, since 1947. Many went to Israel. And of course, there was the Holocaust. I’m only talking about Jews here and yes, I am well aware that there have been plenty of other genocides around the world. But who stands up for us besides us? Some, but not as many as I’d like.

An old friend recently called. We hadn’t spoken in two years, but we are close when we speak, as if we never had a break. She must have known what was on my mind because she said, without any prompting, “Elisheva, you always have a place here. Me and my community will keep you safe.” It brought a tear to my eye. I felt seen and supported. Then I had a dream that all my non-Jewish friends had gathered around me in protection. It was reassuring.

There is no reasoning with blind hatred. Hatred of the “other” at the present level we are seeing exists because people don’t recognize and cannot face their own self-loathing. They project it outwards to alleviate the heavy burden of it. There is no way I can love the hatred out of someone. It’s like an abusive partner. No amount of love I give that person is going to change them unless they want to change. I’m a powerful peacenik, but I can’t love an abusive person enough for them to love themselves. There is nothing I can do to change anyone else. I can only take care of myself.

What to do? Rav Kook (the Chief Rabbi in Palestine, 1920-31) said the second temple was destroyed because of hatred for no reason (sinat chinam), and the only way to restore it is love for no reason (ahavat chinam). Choose love. I believe self-love is the ahavat chinam of which Rav Kook spoke. Choose joy. Simchat Torah, the day the attack occurred on Israel, is the most joyful Jewish holiday of the year. There are videos of Israelis defiantly singing and dancing knowing their country was under attack. These are powerful images that have stuck with me. They serve as an antidote to the terrible media sound bytes.

These people are an inspiration. They show resilience and keep going during impossibly tough times. Their resolve to be happy in the face of the horrific unknown is a beautiful act of resistance. These dancing fools aren’t going to let anything stop them.

While I may be wondering who would hide me, I’ll also be over here singing and dancing. The haters want us to be afraid, to shrink, to cower away, to go away so they don’t have to face within themselves that which they detest. I could stoop to their level, go to the dark side, and hate back, but what good would that do? It would only poison my own heart, and that would mean the haters have won. Don’t let anyone stop you from living your best life. Sing. Dance. Do whatever makes your heart come alive. I’ll meet you there.

“If everything around you seems dark, it’s Hashem’s way of telling you to become the light.”—Rabbi Shmuel Reichman.

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