How I distract myself during times of tragedy

I wrote this post on October 13th, 6 days after the devastating Hamas attack on October 7th and before the full-scale impact of the war had taken shape. These words preceded some of the most identity-shaping weeks of my life. I share these words unedited, knowing that many people may not like some of what I have said.

This foreword was written on 23/01/2024 – it pains me that it’s still relevant. I pray for peace, dignity and relief for all who suffer.

This morning, at 09:58, a work meeting was cancelled. It’s now 10:12, and I find myself fighting back tears and writing the following article about how I – a proud British Jew – try to protect, distract and love myself during these times of tragedy. This is not written lightly. I need to do this.

I need to write this article because I know what will happen if I don’t. I’ll read the Guardian, the BBC and the cesspit that is Twitter under his Royal Shiteness and feel my heart crumple and my deep, heavy breaths pour out as I try to break the flow of panicked thoughts rushing around my head.

I need to write this article or I’ll find myself flicking agonisingly through Instagram to see aggression and whataboutery in its most aggressive form.

For a week, I have walked around with a sick, thumping weight in my stomach. I’ve been scared to tell people “I’m not doing great” because I don’t know how they’ll react when I say I am worried about my family in Israel or say I’m grieving the death of an old school friend who was killed at the tragic music festival incident last Saturday.

Will they get it? Will they get it when I say I’m nervous about my best friend’s brother who’s currently safe in Tel Aviv, but ultimately, isn’t?

Will they be gentle with me when I say I’m worried about my anxious mum who’s worried about her sister on Kibbutz, or about my dad when he goes to synagogue, or about my friends in the UK going to protest for peace in central London? Will they be kind? Or will they lash out?

This stuff is nestled in my brain, and no matter what I try to do to break his flow of anxiety, I can’t. These, I guess, are the emotions of war and they’re f*cking horrendous.

I don’t really have anything to add regarding the scenes happening right now in the Middle East. I can only grieve and hope and pray that it comes to an end and the agonising violence will open the human inside those making these decisions and maybe, finally, bring an end to this f*cking war.

This has been the most impacted I’ve ever felt by this conflict. I am far away from my Jewish community in London, surrounded by beautiful people who are looking after me, caring for me and trying to distract me, but I still feel alone.

I know this is my problem, I know this problem pales in comparison to the “true” suffering of others, but in my little head, this feels insurmountable.

I look at what is happening in my city, reading reports of antisemitic attacks skyrocketing in the last week and primary schools shutting down because it’s not safe for little Jewish children to play in a playground.

I look at the tummy-wrenching footage from the devastating counter-response in Gaza and find myself wondering how it would truly, actually feel to be put through such bombardment and horror. I question the Israeli government and curse them for their cowardly policies that ultimately, in my opinion, are just pathetic crumbling responses to fear and an inability to show love and compassion. It sickens me.

This is sick politics, and it should be called all the things that people are calling it on the news. But please understand that there is context. There is a granular nuance that should, must and often isn’t respected, and this compounds the cycle of violence we are seeing flare up today.

My heart has space for everyone. We are intelligent beings! Many terrible things can have space in one’s heart and I can feel true, immense pain for different things and rationalise them all together. The last week I’ve been holding my head in my hands trying to understand why this, to so many people, makes me morally empty and contradictory.

I maintain it doesn’t. I can love everyone involved in this conflict and feel pain for all loss. According to me, this isn’t a contradiction, it’s beautiful.

I love Israel. I have friends there. My aunt lives there. My cousins live there. My cousin has just had a beautiful baby girl and I intend on one day proudly going to meet this child, hugging her and being her uncle.

I also am a conscious, pacifist who understands that the occupation and governance of Palestine in its current format is violent, aggressive and painful.

My friends and family are torn apart by similar coexisting dualities. I view this as a strength, not a weakness and it is one of the things that makes me hope that one day, this will all come to an end.

Am Yisrael Chai. F*ck the occupation.

It’s now 10:35. I have 55 minutes until my next meeting and I have finished this. I guess I’ll go for a walk.

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