Sunday, November 23, 2014


"Staying vulnerable is a risk we have to take if we want to experience connection."
--Brené Brown

Every morning, my wake-up routine is the same:  1) Modeh Ani;  2) hand washing and netilat yadayim; 3) turn on the light (whimper); 4) make the bed; and, 5) wake up my iPhone to see if there are any breaking news headlines from Israel on my lock screen.  This past Tuesday, November 18, I groggily went through the motions like I do every day, until I got to step 5, at which point I saw the following: "Jerusalem synagogue attacked, four killed."

All day at work--before school, in between lessons, at snack time, at lunch--I scoured the Israeli news sites for the latest information on the terrorist attack in Jerusalem.  By the end of the day it was clear that along with four rabbis--Rabbi Moshe Twersky, Rabbi Aryeh Kopinsky, Rabbi Avraham Shmuel Goldberg, and Rabbi Calman Levine--a Druze police officer, Officer Zidan Saif, was also dead, having been killed in the line of duty by the two terrorists.  

I have spent all week trying to come up with something to write that would capture the heartbreak, grief, and fear that I, along with the Jewish community at large, felt in the wake of this horrific event. I've tried to think of something I could write that would be a fitting tribute to the men who were cut down while davening Shacharit, and to the brave police officer who died trying to stop the slaughter.  After five days of thinking, I've come up empty, not because there isn't anything to say but because I can't find the words.  Who am I, after all, to write in honor of men I've never met; who am I to try to put words to pain large enough to engulf an entire nation?

In the end, all I can do is write about my own little corner of the experience--what it's like for me, an American Jewish woman, to watch tragedy unfold in the nation I consider my second home.  I can think of many words for that, but the one that comes up the most is: vulnerability.  This is ironic, because vulnerability is something that historically I've tried to avoid at all costs.  Back when my maladaptive protective strategies were at their apex, I used to watch other people get smacked in the face by vulnerability and think, "Ha.  Suckers."  At the time, it never occurred to me that you can't shut out vulnerability without sacrificing connection.  It's no coincidence that I only fell in love with Israel, and got reconnected to Judaism, once I was in recovery--once I was ready to open myself to connection and the vulnerability that inevitably follows.

For me, loving Israel wholeheartedly is one giant exercise in vulnerability.  It is emotionally risky to be so invested in a place where terror could strike at any moment and where war is always potentially around the corner.  Caring deeply about people who live in such a place means that I send a lot of emails and text messages that begin with, "Are you okay?"  It means being willing to remain engaged with the land and its politics, even when those politics frustrate or disappoint me.  And, as Tuesday's attack reminds me, it means that being an openly observant Jew in a world that often does not like openly observant Jews or Israel, can be (sadly) an inherently vulnerable position in itself.  


Although the price is vulnerability and vulnerability is often uncomfortable, the reward is connection that is some of the sweetest I've ever felt.  Although I've never liked discomfort or uncertainty (who does?), I can't imagine disengaging if it would also mean severing my connections to a land and to communities that bring me so much joy and light. 

Brené Brown, vulnerability researcher extraordinaire, teaches that we are hardwired for connection; in fact, we can't live healthy lives without it--and, as a result, we also can't escape vulnerability.  For me, living a life in recovery means that I am both connected and vulnerable, for good and for bad.  Sometimes, like this past Tuesday, being connected means taking part in collective grief as your team suffers.  But even in times like that, it is worth being vulnerable to hurt if it means also feeling the sweetness of being part of a whole.  I am grateful every day that I am finally in a position to start leaning into vulnerability without shrinking away, and I wish for all of us the courage to remain open, even when there are fresh wounds.  Stay connected; don't disengage.  You need your team, and your team needs you!