By Rosie Greenbaum
Last year, in the final year of my bachelor’s degree in psychology, I had the privilege of taking a seminar on the topic of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) from Professor Danny Horesh, a leading expert in the field. He discussed with us a phenomenon that he has observed throughout his years of treating PTSD patients in Israel, which he referred to as a “collective PTSD” experienced by all Israelis. This is a concept I have heard referenced before. In fact, I have heard this “collective PTSD” given as an explanation for the loud, sometimes abrasive, rough-around-the-edges reputation that Israelis are often given. And to me, this makes sense. It’s only natural that a childhood of running to shelter as the sirens sound; spending late adolescence as a soldier instead of at college parties; and a lifetime of quiet years that turn into war again and again and again, might put a person in a constant state of tension.
The flip side to this phenomenon, which Professor Horesh brought to our attention, is what he calls “collective resilience,” also experienced by all Israelis. In one particular lesson, he asked, by a show of hands, how many of us have run to a shelter after hearing a siren. Of course, everyone in the class raised their hand. He shared how when he travels overseas for professional conferences and shares this statistic with his colleagues, they are often astonished. The experience of taking cover as a rocket, shot with the intention of murdering you and your loved ones, explodes overhead, is one that would be cause for a lifetime of PTSD in most places around the world. The fact that most Israelis experience this not once in their lifetime but regularly and still manage to live normal, routine, fulfilling lives, is nothing short of a psychological wonder.
Sitting down to write this article is difficult. Trying to verbalize the experiences I have had is impossible. Attempting to clearly articulate my feelings at this moment is very challenging, especially considering I hardly understand them myself yet. I could write a whole article, maybe even a book, about the constant stress I feel waiting for my husband, Avi — a soldier — to call and let me know that he is alive. (I originally wrote “safe,” but he isn’t safe — he’s at war.) I could recount the gut-wrenching screams that echo in my ears from the funerals of friends I have attended. I could describe the way my eyes burn after a day of staring at the news and crying.
But none of these would fully encompass my experience of the past couple of weeks. I have had moments that are indescribably uplifting — from our car mechanic calling and telling me to please let him know if I need anything while Avi is away, to singing Kabbalat Shabbat on Friday night at shul, as the words take on a new meaning for every member of the congregation, to seeing how almost every billboard in the country has been replaced with giant Israeli flags and sentiments such as “We will win together” and “Am Yisrael Chai.”
One of my best friends got engaged this past Thursday. I shouted with glee the moment I received the message from her sharing the news, of course with selfies of her with her new ring. Later that evening, I attended a gathering to celebrate her engagement. We danced and sang, we toasted to my friend and her new fiancé and we giddily discussed wedding plans. It was a twilight zone, a bubble of joy that the darkness couldn’t penetrate. However, there were moments when I found myself vacillating between the two universes. I saw my friend’s brothers, soldiers themselves, who managed to get a few hours off to celebrate their sister’s engagement and found myself thinking about where they were just a few hours earlier. I put my phone down on the side to dance, only to find myself jolted moments later by the fear that maybe I had missed a call or a text from Avi. I gazed around the party, touched by how readily friends and family were able to switch gears for the special occasion, as a picture flashed in my mind of the same group of people just days earlier at the shiva of a young soldier from the community who was killed. I cherished those blissful moments in the twilight zone of normalcy and when I hugged my friend goodbye at the end of the night, I told her that creating a new Jewish family in Israel is nothing short of fighting Hamas. I thanked her for the ray of bright light that she shed not only on me and the rest of the people celebrating that night but on all of Am Yisrael.
My days since the war started cannot be characterized by any one thing. They have been filled with pain, fear, laughter, stress, anger, joy, gratitude, hopelessness, inspiration, faith, tears and hope. But more than anything, they have been filled with prayer. If my prayers could speak, they would echo the sentiment of my prayers from Oct. 7, when I said Hallel through tears of devastation. Hallel is a section of prayers we say to praise G-d on the most joyous of days, such as major holidays. I said Hallel just moments after hearing about the earliest events from that day, as I began to understand the gravity of the attack and the magnitude of the numbers. I felt troubled as I praised G-d, confused and pained as I grappled with how to say these words with conviction as unspeakable atrocities happened around me.
I have since begun to understand that as confusing and troubling as this dichotomy is, it’s exactly the secret to our Jewish strength. It is the nature of our country, the nature of our people. It is exactly our ability to unite, to mourn together, to help each other, to cry each other’s tears as if they’re our own, to celebrate together, to give each other strength and to be strengthened, that enables our “collective resilience” in the face of our collective trauma. It is the driving force behind our ability to proudly sing “Od lo avdah tikvateinu, we have not lost our hope,” in the “Hatikvah” and it ensures we will continue to sing those words — and believe them — for all of eternity.
May Hashem continue to watch over us and all of Israel and may we merit from our strength and our unity to see all of our soldiers returned home safely after they successfully take care of business.