March 20, 2019
Be strong. It’s all right to cry.
You can’t live in the past. You can’t walk away from who you are.
Blot out the memory of Amalek. Never forget. (Deuteronomy 25:17-19)
No wonder so many of us are struggling with our mental health – listen to all the conflicting advice we get about how to relate to our trauma. Remember while trying to erase the memory. Be strong while crying. Be true to yourself while trying to distance yourself from what made you who you are.
I’ve never known what it was like to be “triggered” before this week, to relive a trauma so heavily that a fog settled over everything else I attempt to attend to. Hearing my co-worker stand at the door of my office last Friday to tell me of the shootings in Christchurch felt identical to hearing the first person to walk into my synagogue on October 27th to say, “We passed Tree of Life on the way here – there’s shooting going on.” Today’s funerals are like the funerals I attended in October for my colleagues Jerry Rabinowitz and Rich Gottfried. Tuesday morning’s shooting on the tram in Utrecht revived memories of being awakened one morning in Jerusalem to the sound of an explosion that later turned out to have been a city bus full of passengers.
Amalek, that tormentor of stragglers and persecutor of the innocent, the defenseless, lives on. Not in any one ethnic group or country but on the extremes of all nations and all religions. Those that Amalek doesn’t kill, they leave with deep, never-healing scars.
How am I supposed to heal that which never heals? How am I supposed to blot out the memory of that which will not go away? How am I supposed to heal your hurt, dry your tears, if when you say, “I can’t handle hearing this news,” all I can say is, “Me, either?”
I have this recurring vision of myself, in the face of the endless wave of tragedy in the world, the inescapable hurt of the 24-hour news cycle, choosing to smile, and laugh, and celebrate like I am going to celebrate tonight, reading from the book of Esther about the undoing and destruction of Haman, the quintessential descendant of Amalek. Of dancing like I danced and sang the week after the Tree of Life shootings to celebrate the marriage of my friends Rabbi Jeremy Markiz and Dr. Elana Neshkes. Of being defiant – defiant of pain, defiant of tears, defiant of desperation.
Defiant like a woman I know who survived a brutal attack meant to disfigure and demoralize her and responded by starting a foundation to protect others from the same horror. Defiant like my community which has turned out to pray, to celebrate and to support not only each other, but now our neighbors in need as well. Defiant like my patients who, despite their own suffering and remembered trauma, poured out their sympathies in cards, hugs, gifts of food and kind words of support after Rich was killed and everyone knew our work family was grieving.
Defiant like Esther. One of my top ten favorite lines in the Bible is, “Who knows if you came to the throne for just such a time as this?” It is what Mordechai tells Esther when she hesitates to go before the king to plead for the Jews, fearing for her own life. Hearing that, she realizes that she has no choice. She prepares herself by three days of fasting and then approaches the king, uninvited, to make her case.
Who knows if I came to be a healer for just such a time as this, when your tears threaten to be my undoing? It’s my turn to hang on and be defiant. Someday, in a role reversal typical of Purim, you may do the same for me.