I was planning to write about gratitude during this month of Thanksgiving. Then on October 7, Hamas attacked Israel.
The brutality and inhumanity of the terrorist attack is well documented and stomach-churning. At least 1,400 Israelis have been slaughtered, including 260 people gunned down, raped, and tortured at a music festival. Many of the rape victims being identified in the morgue had their pelvis broken. Terrorists surrounded the festival and indiscriminately fired on those attempting to flee. They mercilessly executed people hiding in bushes and trapped in traffic. Hamas broke into homes, where they tortured and murdered entire families, from infants to grandparents. The victims are still being identified — some only through dental records because their bodies were so desecrated by blades, beheadings, bullets, or burnings. Even babies had their heads cut off. One mom was found beheaded, her fetus cut out of her uterus and also beheaded.
This isn’t normal war, where soldiers’ lives are tragically cut short by enemy bullets or rocket fire. This is ISIS-level depravity on civilians. It is unspeakable, yet we must speak it — the world must know! It is the largest and most grotesque terrorist attack in Israel’s history, with over 3,500 Hamas terrorists involved that gruesome day.
Instead of the Arab world rising up and chanting “Not in my name,” there are demonstrations around the world calling for a Free Palestine. Free Palestine is celebrating the slaughter of the Jewish people. Anyone who can celebrate this depravity is aligned with Hamas. They are not chanting “It’s time for a two state solution, with a sane and healthy democracy living next to Israel’s democracy!” I guess that’s too many words, and too complex an idea for mass group demonstrations. But that is what needs to happen. How about “Two State Solution Now!”
The Gaza Strip has been run by the Hamas terrorist organization since 2007, when they grabbed control away from the Palestinian Authority. They have used the humanitarian aid they have received from the international community these past decades in the service of building up their underground terror machine, instead of building the infrastructure for their people. You might have a strong negative point of view about Israel. I don’t agree with many things going on in that democracy. But none of that excuses this. Israel is a democracy where Jews, Christians, Muslims, and Druze participate in the government, and vote, live, and work together.
Israel declared war on Hamas on October 8, after the brutal surprise attack, and began airstrikes that at the time of this writing have killed at least 5,000 people and displaced about one million Palestinians in Gaza. Hamas uses their Palestinian subjects as human shields. They have a system of terror tunnels under civilian buildings — apartment buildings, schools, places of worship, etc. Hamas is telling their people to stay put as Israel notifies them that their building is going to be bombed, so they should move south to get to safety. Israel operates by the international rules of law in war, so they are trying to minimize civilian casualties, while they try to recover the hostages and wipe out the Hamas organization. The reality is there are too many people and not enough safety in this war zone. Weeks later, more than 200 Israelis and 10 American hostages still remain missing. No one knows how or when the bloodshed and suffering will end.
With the daily horrors from Israel and Gaza adding to the inhumanity and suffering in Ukraine and other war-torn areas, how can we feel peace? As I walk through the golden Aspen groves here in the mountains of Idaho, I feel the peace and beauty of creation surround me. I breathe in the crisp air and revel in the beauty around me. Then the world comes crashing back in, and I am left trying to reconcile the peace I feel in the moment with the suffering of the people of Israel and Gaza.
What can we do in the face of feeling helpless, hopeless, alarmed, and desolate? Should we even try to find peace when people are suffering so much pain and loss?
The answer is yes. Breathe in beauty and peace wherever you can find it in your day. When you feel worry, fear, and unease, pray out a cry for mercy for those who suffer. And always hold on to hope.
The Washington Post interviewed the daughter of an Israeli hostage released October 23. Her dad, a peace activist who drives Palestinians into Israel for medical procedures, remains in captivity.
“It’s the tragedy that so many of the people killed were the immediate neighbors of Gaza who truly believed in working toward peace and who thought that was very much possible,” she said. “It’s a twist of history that these peace-loving communities were the ones that sustained such a horrendous massacre.”
Asked whether this was the end of her parents’ dream of living in peace with neighbors, she said, “No, no, no, no … I don’t think so at all, we have to find ways because there is no alternative. If anything it makes me more resolved.”
I have been praying not only for my brothers and sisters in Israel who have suffered so much pain and loss, but also for the innocent Palestinian citizens who have no place to flee. Just because I support Israel’s right to remove the terror organization that is Hamas, whose mandate is the death of all Jews in the land of Israel, does not mean my heart isn’t breaking for the civilians who are not terrorists and are expendable to Hamas. I mourn every innocent life lost, of every religion and no religion.
These days I am leaning into my practice just as did during my recent health problems. I rely on the cycle of mindfulness and prayer to stay grounded, not with my head stuck in the sand, but also refusing to live in a constant state of alarm.
I designed SNAP to help people get through difficult times and the emotions they bring.
Managing your nervous system while your heart is crushed over the war in Israel and Gaza is a difficult practice. You might set specific times throughout the day to check on the news to prevent yourself from constantly doom scrolling. Although you may feel drawn to constantly check your news feed, try to take breaks and focus on your work, your family, your pets or nature. Focus on whatever activities distract you and bring you a sense of calm — petting an animal, listening to music, watching fun TV, taking a walk and paying attention to what you see and feel, taking a bath — anything to bring you back into a state of calm in your body.
When you do read about the horrors of war, remember to name the emotions that come up inside you. Allow fear and grief to move through you, pray your heart out, and then take another break, doing whatever brings you peace. If you find yourself shaking inside, try exhaling longer than you inhale. Place your hand on your heart, and know that millions of people the world over are with you right now.
Finally, do whatever you can to practice peace in your life and the lives of those around you. As one of my wise students (in her 100th year!) said, “pay and pray.” Donating what you can to the humanitarian crisis can help assuage any feelings of guilt you might have (a natural response when we hear about others suffering while we are in a place of safety), and move you into a feeling of gratitude and the upward spiral it brings.
We are in this together, my friends, so let’s be the light.