When my friend sent me an email saying she was praying for everyone in Israel, I wondered what she was talking about. I Googled, I read, I watched, and I was horrified. I contacted my beloved niece, Rachel, to find out if her children who live there are safe. She said that they were in the north and yes, they were safe. I can’t help wondering, is anyone safe in that country? Is anyone safe anywhere?
The world has gone crazy. I don’t usually pay attention to the news – not in an active way. I am informed about it from some of my friends who have their eyes on the pulse and are actively involved. My sensitive nervous system keeps me traumatized after one newsreel. Yet today, I couldn’t seem to stop myself from clicking on the video of the Hamas terrorist attacks and now I can’t sleep. I can’t get the images out of my mind. Nor what I’ve been reading ever since.
Thank God I received Marianne Williamson’s and Maria Shriver’s Facebook posts – voices of sanity, acknowledging the despair, grief and horror I feel within my own soul. Their grief and horror is my grief and horror – it’s our collective grief for humanity. And it’s OK to weep beyond politics, beyond right and wrong, but instead for the hearts of every human being affected by the atrocities of war. As well as each and every human being who is walking around not knowing where to turn and asking, pleading to know what is going on with our planet, who can we trust, and where do we go from here. And how can those of us who have made it our life’s work to uphold the light, to be the eye in the storm, to find and spread peace in the chaos, do it? How do I do it when I am crumbling from the horror, shame, shock, and disgrace of it all?
I remember only too well the brutal surprise attack on Israel on Yom Kippur in 1973 and then, only a few weeks later, I was walking the streets of The Holy Land. For many years since then, I’ve questioned how far that country has moved from a holy land to where power and control are the gods some of the politicians worship. I was 24 years old when I agreed to volunteer on a kibbutz in whatever capacity they needed me. That was exactly 50 years ago!
I had been in Israel a few years prior to that. I travelled there because I wasn’t ready to come home from London where I had been living for six months. It was here that I experienced the demise of my friendship with my very best friend who I met in grade 2. When Suki and I had originally made our plans to travel Europe together, it was with great excitement and promise. We started dreaming about it when we were in our young teens. Our prime motivation was to get away from the dysfunction and turmoil in our homes. Well, that was my main motivation. The fact that I was, and still am, an adventurer at heart made it even more appealing.
We set out in mid-September of 1969 on a student ship to sail across the Atlantic Ocean from New York to Southampton, England. That was to be our first stop on our adventure throughout Europe. That didn’t happen. One month before leaving, I was brutally raped by a stranger who I met in Yorkville, Toronto. Just prior to that I ended my engagement to Freddy. And then it got even worse. My very best friend and I had our first and only fight since we met as children and still hadn’t resolved it by the time we stepped upon the ship that was going to take us far away from home. The tension grew and we never got beyond it. We parted ways in London seven months later.
It was all too much for me but there was no way I was going back to Toronto alone, depressed, and so very frightened. I went to Israel instead, hoping that having another focus while working on a kibbutz and honouring my Jewish faith would help me with the grief, shame and pain I was consumed with every day.
Instead, it turned to heightened anxiety which turned into clinical depression which turned into catatonia, and then, in my deep despair I made a suicide attempt and the people at the kibbutz sent me home.
My parents walked right past me at the airport. They didn’t recognize me. I had gained 60 pounds. I left Toronto weighing 110. I was now 170 pounds only a year later. I turned to food for instant comfort and as the pounds on my body escalated so did my depression and self-hatred. The people on the kibbutz were wonderful to me. They could see how unhappy I was and tried their best to comfort me…until it was too late. I left the kerosene heater on in my room during a thunderstorm while my roommates were away, completely aware of the danger. When they found me unconscious, they put me on a plane home the next day.
I always knew I’d come back to Israel to return the kindness and to explore the land, and so when the Yom Kippur war broke out, I attended a meeting at the Zionist Centre in Toronto where they were adamantly asking for volunteers to go and work on the kibbutzim because all the men and women in the military were fighting the war – even those in reserves were deployed. I didn’t think twice. I signed up. It was the only time I ever saw my father cry. Now, four years after my first experience when I was hopelessly depressed and suicidal, now I was stable. I was at University and I felt like I had a promising future. I knew that the university would be there when I returned. Now I was going to go help where my heart was being called.
Fast forward to today. Israel is at war. I was with two friends tonight for Thanksgiving dinner. I was the informant about what happened this morning. Neither of them had heard the news. Mayim has many relatives who survived the holocaust living in Israel. I have friends and family living there too.
Recently I felt chastised by some people because I am not involved in politics the way they are. They are actively involved and I highly respect them. I am on the front lines in my own way. Trying to uphold the Light and offering my gifts of service and healing in my thirty year career as as psychologist and mental health advocate as well as in my personal life with whomever shows up in front of me. It doesn’t take much to know where to offer our compassionate hearts.
One thing that has had me at war within my own soul for many years now has been the way the Israeli government has been treating the Palestinians. I simply cannot get behind it. An eye for an eye instead of recognizing that both sides are made up of human beings just trying to live their life in peace and harmony.
When I was living there during the Yom Kippur War, there was a terrorist attack on a children’s school in Kiryat Shmona. Eighteen people were killed, both children and teachers.
After that, in the wake of the current war, the country put out a referendum about the death penalty for any captured terrorists. There was an overriding NO – even though a majority of the settlers of the State of Israel were survivors of the Holocaust, even though thousands of deaths happened during the current war, the majority of the country denounced Capital Punishment. It is a very different climate today.
I have family and friends who live in Israel and I have a strong visceral love affair with that country and my people. I want Israel to survive and thrive with all my heart and soul and that includes all citizens of Israel. That means that I also want the innocent people of Palestine to not just survive but thrive in peace and harmony. To be free to come and go and for the two nations to live side-by-side in peace. Historically they did. No one wins in war. They never have and they never will. Never.
Decades ago as a young woman, had I been visiting an Arab country while I was clinically depressed and they were the ones who treated me with kindness and then later were reaching out for help, I wouldn’t have hesitated. I would have gone there. Dare I say that out loud? Will I be chastised, even ostracized by my Jewish friends, my family, and all Zionists worldwide? Dare I speak up? Trust me, I am doing it but I am also afraid of losing the love and respect from people I deeply love and care about. Yet, in being in integrity with myself, I am called to speak out and face any consequences that come as a result of it.
The thing is, I have always been someone who embraces all people. I am inclusive – if you are kind, decent and a good person, I want to know you. I do not discriminate by colour, religion, creed or nationality. I spent a good part of the 60’s and 70’s taking part in peace marches and rallies. I do not belong to a synagogue or any other organized religion, although I was a member of a non-denominational community for many years and it was like a home away from home. They had a leaderless service…where anyone in the community could be the speaker. I spoke there many times and appreciated the warmth, camaraderie, creativity, and companionship I felt. Then Covid happened and no one went anywhere. Soon, I moved out of that area and married a non-Jewish man just 13 months ago who is a steadfast believer in God. We had a banner, that we hung from the chuppah at our wedding that said, “Our Religion is Kindness.” Just for the record, I have also attended the Reform, Conservative and Orthadox synagoes where I live and the rabbis and the congregations are awesome, beautiful people. I stand in solidarity with Israel. I stand in solidarity for all humankind.
Tonight when I came home I was exhausted and fell asleep quickly. I woke up in the middle of the night only to find that David was not in bed beside me. I went into the living room where he was standing by the sofa and next to tears. He said “I can’t believe what’s happening in Israel.” I couldn’t answer. I had no words. We fell into each other’s arms. David was trying to hold back his tears. Me, I simply don’t cry. I wish I did. I wish I could.
In the last two weeks, David and I have been in deep grief because of the deaths of six people close to us who have died. It seemed like everyday someone else we knew died suddenly, either people who were not sick at all, or others who we knew were ill but didn’t think the end of their lives was imminent. Each death has been shocking and after a while I couldn’t rationalize it with the usual jargon, “We all are going to die – and we don’t really die. Our souls live on.” Even if I trust this to be true, it doesn’t mask the pain, grief, and sorrow that comes with the human experience when we lose people we love.
There were many times this past year when I wondered if I would live. The cancer had grown bigger, the pain excruciating, my bowels and digestive system were completely dysregulated and I had no energy to speak of. I got winded even trying to walk up one flight of stairs. I had trips 5 days a week to the cancer clinic for radiation, would come home and flop into bed. The treatments stopped only 2 months ago. I am losing my hair at a rapid rate and my energy levels are tentative at best. Yet, on a very positive note, the cancer is not detected anywhere in my body – what I am experiencing are side effects from the treatment that will eventually all dissapate. Although according to my oncologist – he said, “Junie, you are still not out of the woods. Even though the cancer was localized and the MRI report says ‘no cancer’, it is too soon to tell. There are lymph nodes of concern – even though they are smaller than they were. Don’t start celebrating yet.” He was also the one who told me I might want to consider MAID (Medical Aid in Dying) the very first time I ever met him. Luckily, I do not take his negative attitude as gospel and trust I am healing beautifully. I have also been blessed by the love and my husband, family and friends through this challening time and that goes a very long way!
Yet today, right now, I’m tired, I’m weary and even though I’m the Re-Write Your Life person (who just published my book, Re-Write Your Life II: Peace Awaits You, a week ago), it may be a while before I re-write the story of the despair and anguish that is coursing through my body because of the unprecedented madness in Israel, Ukraine and Russia, and in the wider world. I know it’s good to feel it. I have no intention of stuffing it. I just wish I could cry.
Today is October 10th. And three days after I wrote the above missive. The last three days have been Thanksgiving here in Canada. David and I acknowledge every day, not just this weekend, how much we have to be thankful for. We never take the beauty of where we live and to be alive, for granted. Nor all the support and friendship and love we both experience from friends and family. We both do our best to bring love and kindness to the world in whatever ways we can and we both stand up for justice for all.
I used to be a court reporter at City Hall for seven years when I lived in Toronto. I was not cut out for that job. It is not my nature to be in an adversarial environment day in and day out. Especially without any say in the matter…simply being told to record verbatim what is being said. I stayed because it paid my tuition at higher learning institutions to become a psychotherapist. Still, I often left the courtroom and wept because of some of the injustices I witnessed within the justice system.
Years before that, in the 70’s I lived in Montreal and wrote for a Horoscope magazine. I knew nothing about horoscopes or the zodiac but I could write. So I wrote day-by-day forecasts for each of the 12 signs for each month. I made them up. But I didn’t feel out of integrity because I also took home a pile of letters almost every day from people who were writing into this horoscope magazine. The owners of the publication would open the envelopes and see if there was any money in them (often people would put in a cheque or a twenty dollar bill) and then discard the letters because there were too many to answer. I took it upon myself to take the letters home and write to these people. Some were writing the most awful things that were happening to them and were looking to a fake horoscope magazine to get answers. I was saying, “I don’t care if your moon isn’t in conjunction with Pluto, get out of that abusive relationship.” I was fired about a year later when I refused to implant negativity into the forecasts. I knew about self-fulling prophecy and I wasn’t going to contribute to something potentially harmful even with the boss’s threats to let me go. It was my way of contributing to the right action even if it cost me my job, and it did.
Also, during that time in Montreal, I was living with my French-Canadian boyfriend. It was at the height of the Quebec referendum and my boyfriend and his friends were separatists. I quickly learned that speaking English and being Jewish was not in my favour. I went through a terrible time because I didn’t speak French and was also being discriminated against because I was a Jew. His friends were very political and at the time the PLO (Palestinian Liberation Organization) was the terrorist group who were trying to obliterate Israel. His friends were very knowledgeable about who was doing what to whom and they tried to have a debate with me every time we were together. They had me over a barrel. I didn’t keep track of the up-to-the-minute blow-by-blow disputes. I felt powerless to fight facts. Instead I relied on my heart. Even Michel’s mom gave us a wooden ashtray with a swastika carved on it from a pin or a nail. When I asked him if he thought she was aware of that, he replied that it was probably her who did it. I was experiencing anti-semitism in a big way.
I had already experienced anti-semitism as a child a number of times including seeing my brother come home with a bloody nose time and again from bullies calling him a dirty Jew. There was another incident when I was only a child of eight where I witnessed in horror from the back seat of my mom’s convertible, a French farmer running out of his field in Quebec and slug my mother on the back of her neck while she was getting into the car and scream in French, “Dirty Jew”. We had been parked on his property to go and get an ice cream cone at the variety store up the street. And now I was 27, living in Montreal, and experiencing that kind of prejudice all over again.
So, what did I do in the wake of living with a boyfriend who I truly loved but his friends and family were so against me? I did what my heart encouraged me to do. It wasn’t easy, but I did it anyway. I spoke with every one of Michel’s separatist friends in a way that connected us to our personal humanity. I listened to their stories – of how they felt discriminated against. I listened to how they felt their language and culture were being threatened. I shared that as a Jewish person, I understood very well what discrimination and persecution felt like and I told them I was so sorry about what they were experiencing. Apparently I was the first Jewish person they had ever known on a one-on-one basis. They had prejudice because of what they were taught. When it came down to who we were as people, we began to enjoy camaraderie and true friendship ensued.
It is only when we can remove all the outer masks that hide our true identities that we can come together as One people – all looking for the same things. Underneath our colour, religion, nationalities, occupations etc., each of us wants to be safe, have food in our bellies with food to feed the children, live harmoniously with our neighbours and feel what we do in the world and who we are is beautiful, just because of our birthright.
We are not living that way. We are living in a world filled with conflict, outrageous aggression, fear, racism, discrimination and confusion from the mixed messages delivered by the politicians and the media every day. We learn to distrust seemingly everyone who doesn’t live, think or worship like we do. We are split apart by other people’s values without examining our own. Yet I believe that each of us at our core wants to feel loved and extend love back yet vulnerability makes us feel unsafe…so we make choices that come from ego and not the higher truth of our heart. Our fear often paralyzes us as to what to believe or how to act, so we often do nothing or join forces with people whose messages resonate with our unhealed wounds so we wish to fight back.
So what do people who do not want to fight do? Who do not want war? Who realize that there is no justification for cruelty to another, ever?
I believe that we need to get beneath the noise of the external world to connect with our internal light. Within each and every one of us is a Light. It may feel minuscule under the chaos, almost imperceptible but it is still there, I assure you. Peace is an inside job and it is up to you and me to take the time, especially now, to be still. To meditate. To pray. To write. To be in nature. To gather with like-minded others to have discussions on how we can make a difference, even to just one other person who is suffering. And to fill our souls with what makes us feel good again. Dance, play with a child, sing at the top of our lungs, can fruit, paint on a canvas and forgive ourselves for whatever we are blaming ourselves for, and then extend forgiveness to others. We need to nourish our souls with that which will sustain us and bring us back to our centres so we can make inspired choices that come from our highest wisdom and be guided to our next steps.
We may not all be out here on the front lines…but we can all speak the truth from our hearts. And none of what I said above is to replace how we feel. It is essential that we feel our feelings all the way. Feel them in a way we can heal them. Don’t repress what you feel. Hug your cat, your partner, your friends. Cry when the tears well up. And say a prayer for humanity. We need each other. The time of the lone wolf is over. May Peace and Truth Prevail. Amen. Pay attention to the peacemakers of the world. Remember that whatever we focus on grows. And we can choose to be traumatized by the newsreels (and I’m not saying we shouldn’t be informed – just make informed choices of where we gather our information and how often in order to honour our own sensitivities) OR we can focus on peace, love, harmony, kindness, compassion, prayer, beauty and God.