By Rabbi Brad Greenstein, Senior Director of Jewish Learning
This past Monday night, my wife Sarah and I got a last-minute babysitter so we could show up for a vigil in response to the shooting at the Chabad of Poway synagogue. We usually only get sitters once in a while for date nights, but we were both pretty shook to our core and needed to be around other people and do something. When we got to the football field at Poway High School, we found some 4,000 other local San Diegans, many of them not Jewish, singing and chanting, “No place for hate.” In high school, I used to come here for sports tournaments; I never imagined back then I would be sitting in the bleachers years later because someone walked into a local synagogue and started shooting people.
There were soothing, inspiring speakers: rabbis, preachers, mayors, policeman. However, when the head of Jewish Family Service Michael Hopkins started giving practical ways to take care of yourself and mentioned that he was also a social worker, Sarah (who also happens to be an LCSW) rose to her feet and started clapping. I realized that the wisdom we all so desperately needed was not only from our sacred texts, but also from the best practices of modern self-care professionals. Here are five Jewish ways to take care of yourself:
- Don’t Go It Alone
We may not personally know those who die in the now too frequent shootings, but we’ve all suffered a loss, the loss of feeling safe doing our everyday routines. The number one Jewish response to loss is to embrace community. That’s why there is shiva (people coming over to the home), that’s why a minyan (10 people) is required to say the mourner’s prayer. When it feels like the rug is pulled out from under you, when your world seems out of control or turned upside down, it’s important to know that you’re not alone. Our friends, family or community can be a stabilizing factor in our life. This idea is as time tested as King David’s poetry: “I fear no harm, because you are with me”.
- Get Outside
The benefits of spending time in nature are well documented by the scientific community. Moving outside increases endorphins in the brain that elevate your mood, and studies conclude that being in nature for as little as 20 minutes a day makes people feel better. But we don’t need scientific studies to know that the feeling of spaciousness and the site of outdoor beauty can be healing. Reb Nachman of Breslov, perhaps one of the most quoted rabbis of all time, is famous for going out to the forest to process his deepest concerns. Walking amidst the redwoods or along the beach helps you realize that you’re part of something bigger than yourself, and it most often costs nothing. So, take just a little time to stare up at the sky or feel the wind kiss your face.
- Take a Break from the News
With all the flashing lights and dopamine hits, many of us are addicted to the news and social media on our phones, and it can become exhausting. Life will go on if you take a short break. Keeping our eyes constantly on the different crises of the moment inflates our sense of the world being out of our control. The truth is that while so much of the pain of the world is out of our control, far more of our lives is within our control. The world can be scary right now, but it is also still very bright and offers much more good than bad. And, if you really feel the need for those dopamine hits, try searching for gratitude instead. The latest neuroscience suggests that the simple act of searching for what you are grateful for (even if you can’t find it) releases dopamine in the brain.
Giving your time to others is a gift to everyone, including yourself. Hillel said, “Al tifrosh min hatzibur:” do not separate yourself from the community. This statement is most often read prescriptively, as in “don’t isolate yourself!” However, it’s actually a descriptive statement—don’t separate yourself from the community…because you can’t. Even your absence is felt deeply, you don’t have a choice but to effect your community one way or the other. The world needs YOU, with all your faults and idiosyncrasies. Find something to give your time to.
- Do You
You know what makes you tick. Run, meditate, play an instrument, take deep breathes, get the sleep you need—whatever that thing is that you do to re-center yourself, you probably could use it this week. It’s a mitzvah to take care of your body (shmirat ha guf) and it leads to taking care of your soul (shmirat ha nefesh).
None of these recommendations are meant to give you an escape from reality or the task at hand. The world needs you engaged now more than ever, ready to create change in a healthy, sustainable, and focused way. Let this coming Shabbat be a time of peace, and let’s take care of ourselves and each other.