Hate on the Rise
The scene is all too familiar: a religious Jew is walking down the street when someone in a passing car stops to scream antisemitic profanities. If that’s ever happened to you, then you’re well aware of how such an episode can leave you shaking. Unfortunately, many of the attacks are not just verbal; in some Jewish neighborhoods, people are being punched, shoved to the ground, or worse. The murders in Pittsburgh remind us that in rare cases, these encounters can be deadly.
The recent spike in such incidents, especially in heavily Jewish neighborhoods, has left us feeling that our safety has been shattered. Hearing or being a victim of these incidents can bring about feelings of uncertainty and helplessness. A person might even experience a “fight, flight, freeze trauma response” which is when our body is preparing to react to a threatening situation. Each person will have a unique response. The “fight” response is a tendency to combat the problem head-on, in a (usually unsuccessful) attempt to wipe away the problem. With antisemitism, this may mean anything from applying for a gun license, organizing community patrols or aggressive lobbying of lawmakers.
The “flight” response means having a desire to escape the situation. The escape can be literal, such as moving locations or running away from the source of the threat. Aside from a geographical flight, emotional “flight” responses can also occur. This is when one adopts an attitude of denial to block out the problem, or just to keep oneself distracted which accomplishes the same goal.
Others may encounter the “freeze” response, meaning they stop and don’t do anything. For example, if one experiences harassment one night when walking on an isolated street, he or she may stand there frozen, not able to defend themselves, call for help, or run away. The “freeze” response often leads to feelings of numbness, helplessness, or isolation.
How does an individual cope with such incidents?
It is always important to recognize there are things that are in our control and others that are not. Even one incident can have parts that are in our control, and others that aren’t. Back to the street example, you cannot control who else walks on the street while you are there. However, you can make it your business to not walk alone, or not go out late at night. Ultimately, we need to let go and accept that there will always be several aspects of our lives which are beyond our control, but that’s fine. Challenge your need for certainty, and you will find the peace of mind to live with life’s ups and downs.
Illusions of control
At times, some individuals may need to create an illusion of control for them to manage the uncertainty in their life. This means that after facing a certain persistent problem, a person may come up with a tactic that gives them the illusion of control whereas they may actually still be vulnerable to the uncertainty of life. To go back to the example of being harassed at night, a person can feel if they don’t wear the clothes they wore that night, then the situation won’t happen again. This is an attempt to convince themselves that have some control over the situation, and through isolating it being about what they wore, they feel like there is something they can do to combat it. However, like most illusions, this is not a helpful approach because it’s simply not realistic and has the potential to cause additional pain.
While it’s true that it’s unrealistic to think anyone can solve the problem of antisemitism, that does not mean that we have no role to play.
The fact that many things in life are beyond our control should actually be a source of relief. We cannot change a biased world opinion, but there are many opportunities to combat antisemitism in our daily lives. Whether it’s in the workplace or on the street, your actions can have an impact on those around you and blunt the dangerous hatred of antisemitism.
We all understand that life is not a cakewalk. We will face stressful moments, unwelcome news and even discrimination. Here are a few important pointers to help keep focus when faced with such difficulties:
- The greatest way to achieve peace of mind is with the knowledge that you are not in control, and that there is a Higher Power.
- Remember that we are made of tough stuff. Our ancestors withstood much greater dangers, yet they remained focused on raising their families in a positive way. Surely, we can do the same in a much freer society.
- Challenge your beliefs about certainty and practice being okay with things not always going as planned.