We’ve had some promising spring weather this week which made me think of the budding trees and beautiful blossoms to follow. It is really quite a miracle that after the harsh winter season, nature thrives. This ability to thrive reminds me of the Jewish people who have survived and thrived despite a history of exile, genocide and involuntary immigration.
The American Psychological Association defines resilience as “the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats and even significant sources of stress.” Rabbi Deborah Waxman states that “resilience has been woven into the fabric of Judaism over thousands of years. Judaism’s focus, both spiritual and practical, on helping people get on with living in the face of challenges, pain and tragedy has helped the Jewish people to survive.”
This COVID experience has once again shown our resilience as a Jewish community. Each one of our agencies and synagogues stepped up to do their part. The J continued to have pre-school for families of first responders, JFS increased their food bank to accommodate four times the need of individuals, synagogues transitioned to Zoom for holiday celebrations and services, HBHA held classes for its students in a socially-distanced, hybrid learning environment, and KU Hillel went on with its services for college-aged students while providing extra support through their mental health program.
MCHE continued its programming and education on the Holocaust as well as supporting the survivors, Village Shalom provided a safe environment for its residents and staff, and JVS served the immigrant population by supplying food and clothing for those most needy. And of course, Federation provided financial support and assistance to those people and programs that needed additional funds to meet the increased demand. Our partner funders, Jewish Community Foundation and Menorah Heritage Foundation, also provided assistance to those organizations in need through additional funding and accommodating their funding schedules to meet the needs.
All of us pulled together to help heal, support and re-vision a new normal post-pandemic. We will come through this more united and stronger than ever. However, we are not there yet. Only 10% of the population is fully vaccinated, so we must remain vigilant in our safety precautions. Like the winter with its precarious weather, we must continue to protect ourselves and others, take care of those most needy and reach out to the elderly, vulnerable and lonely.
The Torah tells us in Deuteronomy 20:19, “For man is a tree of the field." There are many insights about lessons learned from a tree. A tree needs to be attached to its life source, the soil, in order to grow. In the human tree, roots represent our faith. It has been said that the trunk branches and leaves symbolize our intellectual and emotional faculties and the fruit is our ability to create new life and to affect others. A tree is resilient and thrives through all four seasons.
We too, have thrived through four seasons. We are coming up on a year since our institutions, and life as we knew it, shut down. We needed to stay safe and ensure that our community stayed strong and met the needs of each individual as well as the collective. We did it and continue to do it.
I believe it is our long history and faith that sustains us. It helps us during times of vulnerability or trauma as we need to connect to something greater than ourselves. We need to connect to others and to G-d. One of the wonders of Jewish life is the strength and power of the community. It ironic that the word for community in Hebrew includes the word “other” as the community is responsible for the person who suffers.
Leonard Carr, in an article discussing the Beresheet lunar mission, stated that a simple way to define resilience in layman’s terms is, “the ability to at all times and under all circumstances retain one’s basic humanity.” Embedded in this idea to remain human is retaining a “sense of humility and showing your capacity for empathy and compassion toward yourself as well as for the people around you as well as maintain an expansive state, an open mind, an open heart and flexibility in your approach.”
Resilience is not about being hard, strong, powerful, or invincible. It is not determined by the stress one is under, but rather by one’s relationship to stress. It is about self-awareness and the story one tells oneself in the face of changes, setbacks, challenges and adversity.
I am proud to be part of this Jewish community. I continue to feel grateful for the humanity and resilience shown by individuals and the organizations they serve during this traumatizing and painful time in our lives. Thanks to each and every one of you who not only took care of yourself, but also each other. Thanks for living our tradition of “Kol Yisrael Arevim Zeh Bazeh”- All of Israel are responsible for one another.
Wishing you all continued resilience to see this through to the end. Like spring is coming, so will we see life moving forward to a new normal.