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Take a Deep Breath

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Anat Gopstein’s latest column in the Shabbat Weekly, Gilui Da’at:

Take a Deep Breath

After the war, we’re returning to routine. But it’s impossible to free ourselves of the terrible sights of the 5781 riots: Pogroms against Jews in the heart of the State of Israel. Those sights reminded us of pictures from the Exile: Synagogues burnt and Torah scrolls burnt, and more than anything else – The authorities are silent, and there is no law and order. Even now, the feeling we’re left with is that there is no one who will defend Jews in their land. Again, the government buys a little temporary quiet from the enemy. A deceptive quiet.

And we try to go back to life, and maybe even forget a little. But it’s truly impossible to forget. The body remembers the run to the protected space, the alerts, the stones and firebombs, the burning of the synagogues and the looting of Jewish homes, and mainly the feelings of fear and helplessness.

“Never again”, this slogan unfortunately sounds a bit hollow these days. Because in spite of having our own state, with a law enforcement system and an army, a citizen in a city located in the center of the country cannot call the police and get any protection. For now, the commercials about living together have also begun. But that won’t help them: Even if they tell us that there is peace and coexistence, and that the victim and the attacker “refuse to be enemies”, there are things that, even if we make the effort and want to believe in the brainwashing – we cannot ignore.

The State of Israel is being treated like a battered woman, and it tries to get it into our heads that the wolf is really a lamb, and the neighbor who tried to murder and burn the synagogue and the car belonging to his Jewish neighbor, did all of this because of “discrimination”. Maybe it’s only just Ramadan, he didn’t really mean it…

Next to the existential war of body and soul, there is the war of awareness and the existing discrimination against Jews in the police and the prosecution; two bodies, in which injustice, insensitivity and crooked moral perceptions are the most dominant characteristics.

After events of this magnitude, it’s reasonable to presume that many of us have not succeeded in getting back to normal life, and that we will experience trauma. A traumatic event leads a person to loss of control and lack of confidence in himself and his environment.

Trauma is a powerful event. It is an emotional or behavioral state that comes from an experience that causes serious emotional distress, that has the feeling of an immediate threat to physical and/or emotional health, accompanied by feelings of helplessness/fear/shock and horror.

The human body has the ability to recover naturally from a traumatic event. But when we have no resources, then we’re stuck with the trauma, it becomes frozen in the body and produces a chain of responses to stimuli that remind us of the traumatic event that’s registered in our body, and it becomes difficult to return to regular, balanced functioning.

As a mental therapist, I have been asked not a few times how it’s possible to cope with the mental state. I have given tools to calm the body and the mind, and recommended a short course in self-defense.

In the Lehava organization, we are involved in preventing assimilation and in bringing back girls who have fallen into such a relationship. For most of them, this is a harmful and violent connection, so I send the victims to learn self-defense, along with mental therapy, where we process the traumas they experienced.

The self-defense training increases the confidence of the individual in herself and the ability to go from ‘freeze’ to ‘fight’ (attack, warfare) and gives back control over the body and a person’s ability to defend him/herself. We aren’t in exile, and Jews need to know how to defend themselves.

Each of us has a different way of coping with stressful, urgent or uncertain situations. In these situations we look for support in family and in the society that surrounds us. These constitute an anchor for us.

If we aspire to peace of mind, we must pay attention to breathing; find the time and place, take a deep breath and pay attention to what is happening inside us; what are we thinking about; how we feel in our body – where there is stress and where there is ease. Breathing helps reduce stress and anxiety.

But above all, the main resource for mental resilience and peace, has one name: Faith in G-d. When we believe in G-d and trust in Him and believe that all is well, then it is easier to overcome any crisis and any difficult event that we experience.

“To express in the morning Your lovingkindness, and Your faith in the nights.”

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