YAD evening of community and conversation offers hope
“It is a hard time to be a human and a hard time to be a Jewish human now.”
With those words, Jenna Raimist, who is currently serving the dual role of JEWISHcolorado’s Young Adult Division (YAD) Director and Director of Annual Campaign, welcomed more than 50 guests, young adults between the ages of 21-45, to JEWISHcolorado for a night of community and conversation.
“More than anything, people want to come together and talk, ask questions, and be in community,” Raimist said. “Our goal is to meet people where they are.”
In two break-out sessions, attendees could choose among five different panel discussions, with leaders addressing some of the most challenging questions that have risen in the weeks since the October 7 attack on Israel.
Rabbi Caryn Aviv, PhD, Rabbinic and Program Director at Judaism Your Way called her presentation “Addressing Jewish Anxiety about Safety.” She began by asking how the participants in the room were doing. One confessed that she works in the Jewish community and said, “We have not stopped…it feels incredibly heavy.”
Aviv asked the group to try a breathing exercise. What happened next? People felt calmer.
“What happens when we start to feel anxious?” Aviv asked. “Our body tenses up and we clench and get tight. Our breathing gets shallow. Our heart rate accelerates. We go into the amygdala, the part of our brain that is responsible for fight, flight, freeze, or appease.
“These are human responses for someone trying to stay alive,” Aviv continued. “We have a Jewish pattern of going into survival mode, even when our safety is not threatened.”
JEWISHcolorado’s Shlicha, Nelly Ben Tal, took on the difficult task of discussing the history of Israel and the Gaza Strip in a group titled “A Brief History and Everything You Were Too Afraid to Ask.”
Ben Tal took on often misunderstood issues, answering questions like “What is the ‘Gaza Envelope?’” Answer: It refers to the Israeli towns and communities that border the Hamas-run Gaza Strip. On October 7, 2023, 22 of those communities were infiltrated by Hamas terrorists.
Wisely, Ben Tal offered a written document from the iCenter for Israel Education addressing questions like “Who runs Gaza?” “What was the Israeli ‘Disengagement Plan?’” How did Hamas come to control Gaza?” “Have Israel and Hamas been at war before October 2023?”
“In 1967 during the Six Day War, Israel took control of the Egyptian-occupied Gaza Strip,” Ben Tal said. “Was that an outcome of the war that Israel wanted? Even now, we have the same question.”
“Who are the people who make you feel calm and supported?” Rabbi Emily Hyatt, Associate Rabbi at Temple Emanuel, asked in her discussion. “Know who your people are because mirroring them will help you handle your anxiety.”
In her discussion, “Self-Care Through Jewish Ritual,” Rabbi Hyatt offered practical and spiritual suggestions for reducing anxiety during trying times. Get away from your phone and social media, she advised. Remove social media from your phone and move it to your browser so you must make an intentional decision to open it. Ask yourself, “Do I really want to read or see this?”
“We have amazing mechanisms built into Judaism for moments like these,” Rabbi Hyatt advised. “We start the day with a prayer of gratitude. As we walk through the day, we acknowledge our blessings, and that gives us strength. We have community to do things we cannot do alone. When we are mourning, we come together as a community.
“Shabbat is the day on which we rest. Give yourself a day off and take a rest from whatever you need to rest from.
“Remember the saying, ‘More than the Jewish people have kept Shabbat, Shabbat has kept the Jewish people.’”
Safety and Security
“October 7 was a seminal event in Israel in the same way 9/11 changed the United States forever.”
With that declaration, Secure Community Network Regional Director Phil Niedringhaus and Regional Security Advisor Kevin Farrington, both retired FBI agents, addressed their audience on the topic of “Mindful Jewish Safety & Security.”
“October 7 changed things in Israel and changed things about being Jewish in the U.S.,” Niedringhaus continued. “One thing we know. This will go on for a while. This will be a new normal. The question is, ‘How do we deal with that?’”
The two Safety Officers pointed out that we do not live in Israel, and Hamas will not be doing organized attacks in the U.S. The greatest threat, they said, is a lone wolf from either the radical right or radical left, perhaps a person with mental health issues who is upset about events in Gaza.
“There is an anxiety level that is understandable right now, but in the U.S. the threat is not the same as it is for friends and loved ones in Israel,” Niedringhaus said. “It is okay to be open for business and for children to go to school as long as we follow all safety procedures.”
“When there are protestors and counter-protestors, we don’t want to engage, we do not want to feed the fire,” added Farrington. “We really want the Jewish community to be the adults in the room, not buying into provocation.”
At “War of the Words: Understanding Media from an Israeli Perspective,” Dr. Dan Leshem, the director of JEWISHcolorado’s Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC), acknowledged that national and world media are handling events in Israel differently than they may have in the past.
“It is encouraging that the media and the audience understood that this was not just another round between Israel and Hamas,” Leshem said. “Hamas shared horrific content as the operation in Gaza was happening. Media are making it clear this is more than about land and history. This is something different.”
Leshem’s cousin, Chen Price, joined the group. He, his partner, and four-year-old son had left Tel Aviv to take a break from daily missiles and warning sirens and a new normal where their child’s school sent home photos of him sitting in a bomb shelter so the family would know he is safe.
“We have a safe room in our apartment, and I have put more supplies in it since October 7,” Price said. A few weeks ago, if you had told me I would have so much stuff in there, I would have laughed. Now, it is not unthinkable that we may have to stay in that room for a while.”
At the end of the evening, participants chose one word about how they were feeling to create a word cloud. The words chosen most often were “connected, hopeful, grateful, calmer, and reassured.”