Self-Care during Tumultuous Times: Israel at War

I have been shocked and distressed since the Hamas terrorist attacks on Israel on 7th October, the Jewish festival of Simchat Torah, traditionally a day for celebration. The ongoing war in Israel affects me on many levels: as a British Diaspora Jew and Zionist committed to the right of Israel to defend itself; an advocate of Interfaith Dialogue, and also as a Global Citizen, mother, friend and school leader.  

Whilst still experiencing the immediate shock of the brutal attacks, I had to put in place additional heightened security at school, gather an immediate trauma and counselling team for my community, many of whom are directly and indirectly affected, as well as thinking about how to educate our students to take care of their mental health and wellbeing, and my own at the same time.  

As antisemitism continues to rise exponentially around the world I am constantly weighed down by the heavy burden of war, my stomach is knotted with anxiety and a fear of the unknown. I am constantly asking myself: ‘what comes next and how does this end’?

Terrorism is meant to terrorise us as Dr Yuval Harari states in his recent article published in Times Magazine,: ‘terrorism is a form of psychological warfare that aims to terrify’. It is important that we find ways to rise above the fear, we need a way to navigate out of the fight or flight response, for many of us it feels that we are fighting an existential crisis.

In an attempt to steady myself, even partially, at a time when there is so much turmoil, fear and uncertainty, I have reminded myself of the rituals that have grounded and supported me in the past when faced with challenging times, and I turn to them again now. These provide me with some momentary solace, I hope you find at least one of them makes a dent for you:  

1. Routine

I think it is important to continue everyday life as best as you possibly can. Sometimes there is a temptation to self-isolate or stop doing what we usually do as we become more anxious due to world events. These events can have a profound impact on our sense of safety and a fear of increased antisemitism as a result, it is the simple everyday stuff that keeps us grounded.

2. Equip yourself with knowledge

Knowledge is empowerment. Ensure that you are equipped with accurate facts about what is happening. The cultural, theological, and geopolitical facts are also necessary background to this very complex situation. Without knowledge, people tend to oversimplify the situation, and repeat and share popular slogans.  

I would recommend that you are very selective about where you take your facts from, ensure that they are reputable sources of information and that they provide you with a broad and balanced point of view. Informational integrity is very important, as far as possible know the standpoint of the author you are reading and understand the prism through which they are writing. I am reading a variety of news reports, based in the UK, the US, Israel and here in Singapore.  

3. Limit your Social Media Feed

I think that the recent Washington Post Article says it perfectly: You might be seeing violent, abhorrent videos in your social media feeds from Israel and Gaza. Those online videos can feed a hunger for information for people in Israel and Gaza in the absence of official information about their loved ones. And they show the world the horrors of war. But you need to know that some of the videos, photos and posts you’re seeing on social media might be fake or misleading. They may also violate the dignity, privacy and human rights of people in those images and videos. Some of the graphic images also appear to break the policies of social media companies that typically prohibit graphic violence when it’s deployed for propaganda purposes...depending on the context. But those violent images in your feeds are unlikely to stop and they aren’t easy to avoid if you’re on social media.

Apps like YouTube, TikTok, Facebook, Instagram and X, (formerly known as Twitter), are often designed to play one video after another as you scroll or show you posts that are getting a lot of attention. Be selective in what you watch and be sure to limit your compulsion to binge watch.

There’s no better way to describe how I am feeling: my soul is in pain, and at times I feel that I am drowning. A parent of my school, Dr Mordy Miller (Ben-Gurion University, The Department of Jewish Thought, a Kreitman Fellow and an Open-University Fellow), cautions: ‘Instead of consuming content that harms our soul, there's plenty of content that lifts our spirits. Soldiers' weddings, Israeli people volunteering, stories of survivors' bravery, and a lot of humour. Jews survive, among other things, because of their excellent humour, try not to read the feeds shared by Hamas and many other Israel haters’.

You might be surprised to hear that my Instagram feed is full of beautiful marriage proposal stories, and exquisitely decorated wedding venues, I should add, that I have been happily married for more than 13 years, but they always make me smile.  

4. Community is Everything

It is really important that we continue to stay connected as this will help us feel more confident as individuals and as a community. Simple actions can help us in these difficult times, such as ensuring we keep talking to our family, friends, communities and by making time for the groups or clubs we attend. Invite people over for a meal or enjoy a meal out, don’t ever feel alone. Plan activities together, community is everything, don’t feel shy about telling people you need them.

When gathering in community it is important to set boundaries when discussing the situation. Dr Mordy reminded me that ‘Sometimes people in a group share horrifying things they've read or engage intensively in speculations about the future, which can increase anxiety and distress. So, I'd recommend that everyone finds a community format that suits them, whether it's in-person meetings, one-on-one, or group discussions, setting boundaries on what is discussed, and what isn't, and so on. Personally, I asked people several times to stop overly graphic descriptions’.

5. Self-Care and Exercise

Exercise is really important at times of high stress, and it is those times when it is probably most difficult to prioritize. As well as continuing with your regular exercise regime, find other ways to take care of yourself: therapy, meditation, yoga, a walk-in nature, hang out with a friend, watch some mindless humorous tv or film, go dancing. Try to find some laughter and light in these dark days. We all need to build our resilience and take care of ourselves, and please don’t judge others for doing things that help them cope – dancing might give someone who is deeply distressed some momentary relief, and who can blame them for needing that. We have no idea how people are feeling, but I hope we can all agree that we want each other ‘to be as ok as we can be right now’, many of us feel constantly weighed down by what is happening, even if we are physically far away. I am repeatedly drawn to the words of the poem by Yehuda Ha’Levi: ‘My heart is in the East but I am at the edge of the west’.

6. Prayer, Meditation and Mindfulness

Take some time to take a deep breath, our minds can be very active, and it is difficult to still the mind during tumultuous times. Communal and personal prayer can strengthen our souls, whether in a community or alone, use prayer to communicate with God. I find reciting Psalms a profound way for me to check in with myself and to appeal to God for help.  

When it comes to mindfulness and meditation, there are many techniques that you can try, and many apps out there designed to assist. I use the Calm App daily which I find very effective. In Singapore there are many meditation groups, drumming circles and mindfulness groups that you can join. Try something completely different to help keep you centered, for example Will Kolen at Soul Oasis offers private and group classes that uses reiki and sound healing for the soul. If you want something even more powerful tap into all of your 6 senses to help calm your mind, and try Sonic Therapy, for myself I’m looking to lose myself in a Bollywood Dance class.  

7. Healing the World: that is what we do best

We are all trying to create a better world for ourselves and future generations. We must spread light in this darkness and find ways to make a positive impact in the world.  

It is important to find ways for interfaith conversations to continue. There is so much raw pain, grief and anger on all sides of this conflict, and maybe it is too soon, but it is something to be able to return to, I believe that it is important to promote peace. Our school is a perfect example of multi-faith dialogue and social harmony, it might be too early for many of us, but let’s find meaningful ways to hear and understand each other during these difficult days.  

The Ambassador of Israel to Singapore, Mr Eli Hazan reminded our students recently to always be humane when talking to others about the situation. The core values that we hold close at Sir Manasseh Meyer International School are that of kindness and promoting peace, and I am encouraging our students to find ways to act in a way that promotes these values.  

Write letters to children who are sleeping in bomb shelters unable to attend school as they are closed due to the war; raise money to send care packages to soldiers fighting on the frontlines; donate money to charities who are providing essentials to families whose fathers and brothers are fighting in the war, leaving families without a regular income. There are so many initiatives out there, choose one that resonates with you.  

Pick up the phone and call a friend who you know is having a hard time, if they don’t feel like chatting leave a voicemail, it can make all the difference.      

8. This too shall pass

I have to find ways to cope with this situation, to keep hopeful and optimistic, which of course is incredibly challenging at this time. Sadly, we have all seen war before, the Nazi Holocaust was only a generation ago, when we said ‘Never Again’. We are all desperate to see an end to this conflict, I am heartbroken by the loss of innocent life, but I understand that this is sadly inevitable in a war. I dream to see a peaceful resolution for the future of the region. We must believe that good will prevail over evil, and we will see the light again.  

I am encouraging myself and others to hold on to our deep comitment to, and belief in, humanity, and by finding ways to empower ourselves and to ‘sow seeds of peace’,  that good will prevail. I am reminded of the words of Philosopher and Holocaust survivor, Viktor Frankl who said in his book: Man’s Search for Meaning: ‘Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one's own way’.

I hope and pray that we see an end to this horrendous situation, that Hamas is fully defeated, that the brutally captured hostages are returned safely to their homes, and that we can all start the long road to healing and recovery and that we can continue to sow the seeds of peace and create a new reality.  

The team at The Other Clinic will be happy to offer support to our community at this time.