If you’re a Jewish person on the internet, you’ve probably felt a lot of things over the last few weeks — fear, anxiety, horror, exhaustion. The list goes on.
It’s not just you.
The sudden surge of antisemitism since the start of Israel’s latest conflict with Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip has been terrifying. Perhaps most frightening has been the complicity of many on social media who have spent time justifying antisemitic behavior, gaslighting the Jewish experience, and endeavoring to erase our collective history of oppression, expulsion and genocide.
Regardless of your beliefs on the situation in Israel-Palestine, this has been an emotionally taxing time for all Jews, both individually and collectively. Our mental health is suffering.
How can we cope? Unpacked spoke with New York-based psychotherapist, writer and illustrator, Ashley Seruya (you might know her from Instagram) who specializes in complex trauma, Jewish identity, and intersectional social justice to share some strategies.
1) Stop the scroll… Or at least clean your feed
The same place we turn to for news, information or just out of plain boredom is often what also triggers our fear and anxiety: smartphones.
That’s why Seruya suggests some form of digital detox — that is, time strictly away from our phones or social media (um Shabbat anyone?!). She says mindlessly scrolling through social media can have a dehumanizing impact on our ability to empathize with others.
“On social media, we’re only showing a portion of ourselves, not our whole selves,” Seruya explains. “Yet people approach us as though it is our whole self which results in a lot of dehumanization.”
She also recommends taking a good look at who you virtually surround yourself with — AKA who you follow on social platforms.
“I would argue that what’s in your feed is just as important as how much time you spend engaging with it,” Seruya wrote in an Instagram post.
“You are on Instagram every day for hours on end, you need it to be a space that is safe and supportive, not something that can be used to reinforce shame and self-judgment.”
Her advice: don’t be afraid to unfollow or mute people that make you feel unsafe or uncomfortable.
“There’s a small part of me that feels badly or feels like I’m removing perspectives from my feed. But at the same time, in my space on my account, I get to decide what I expose myself to daily,” she says about unfollowing people. “I know where to find [differing perspectives] if I want to go looking for them, but I don’t need to be bombarded by them all day, every day.”
2) Find hope in community (It’s what we’re good at)
There’s a reason why Jews call themselves Am Israel (the people of Israel) rather than “Dat Yisrael,” or “the religion of Israel.” A sense of peoplehood has long been the defining characteristic of the Jews, writes Rabbi Jill Jacobs.
It’s true. We have always been stronger together.
When it comes to mental health when coping with antisemitism, Seruya says this principle still applies.
“People talking about being Jewish and what it means to be Jewish is one of the most supportive things,” she says.
Especially in times when a person feels gaslighted or invalidated, Seruya says, there’s something about being able to connect with other Jews.
“You can come together and be like, I’m confused about this or I feel weird about having this feeling, because we might have feelings that are a little irrational or a little intense,” she explains. “So being able to have people validate you can help you work through the emotion and come out more grounded.”
Being in community with other Jews is a simple, accessible, healing act of resistance against antisemitism.
Whether it’s Zooming with your Jewish friends, attending a synagogue or community event, or even just following more Jewish creators on social media can give us a sense of community, a reminder that we are not alone — even when it feels that way.
3) Understand Intergenerational Trauma
“They tried to kill us, we survived, let’s eat!”
It’s a Jewish dad joke with morbid undertones that can help us understand a great deal about our response to generations of trauma. As a matter of fact, our Jewish trauma is both culturally ingrained and genetically inherited.
“From birth most Jews are taught that this is what happens to us,” Seruya says. Trauma from millenia of persecution, genocide and expulsion is also literally carried in our genes.
“Our genetic code is impacted and adjusted by trauma that we experience and then those genetics are then passed down to our descendants,” she explains. “If you go through your personal Jewish history and look at: ‘when was my family expelled’ you’ll find multiple moments.”
When antisemitism surges so rapidly, it feels like our family history is repeating itself, or like the cautionary tale is coming true, Seruya tells me.
“It’s a feeling of: I guess mom was right.”
Although there has not been much research conducted on Jewish trauma throughout generations, Seruya says, it can be helpful to learn about and understand that your natural response to antisemitism might be some manifestation of intergenerational trauma.
4) Celebrate Jewish identity and history
One of the most powerful things Jewish people can do in response to antisemitism is to delve deeply into our Jewish history and culture, Seruya says.
After all, the antidote to antisemitism is to live proudly as a Jew.
“Connect with your Jewish culture, make some challah, attend a virtual service, whatever your Jewishness means to you. Just to remind yourself, who you are, your culture and to ground in that for a moment.”
“Learning more about your history, whether it’s your personal Jewish history, or Jewish history as a whole can also be really, really grounding,” she says. “Because when people tell you, you don’t know who you are, I find the most grounding thing is to remind yourself who the [expletive] you are.”
Knowing your history can also be a practical tool for activism and education, she adds.
“When stuff like this happens, we either want to run and hide, or we get loud… And I think in some ways, getting loud is the only way that I have found that doesn’t make me feel helpless.”
5) Sit with your emotions
In moments of high intensity and emotion, it can be helpful to honor and sit with your emotions in any way that works for you, Seruya says.
For those that like to journal as a way to expressing their emotions, here are some journaling tips from Seruya and prompts inspired by our conversation:
Tip: “One way to approach journaling is as a stream of consciousness, which is just a brain dump,” she explains. “You don’t necessarily have to go in with a purpose.”
- Brain-dump all of your feelings and emotions without any purpose, censoring, or constraint.
Journal (or conversation) prompts:
- What do I need to feel safe?
- How has my Jewishness changed my perspective on the world?
- Which virtue do I value most and why?
- What do I know about myself and my history?
- What sustains me?
To learn more about Ashley Seruya visit her website.
Originally Published May 26 2021 08:09AM EDT