Processing the Emotions of War

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We’re merely a week into a war, and I feel like my world will forever be a different place.

I wake up daily not knowing how to process what’s happening. In general, I think of myself as emotionally confused. For example, I never cry during Holocaust movies or at memorials. I appreciate them and I recognize their power and importance. And I feel tremendous empathy for those I see having these emotional reactions.

And I question myself every time.

Am I Normal?


Is this normal? The events are so unfathomably horrific, how could I not break down in tears after just a few moments of contemplation?

But I don’t.

Usually my thoughts are dominated by one emotion. Anger. Pure, unadulterated anger.

And I’m well read enough to know that this anger should be pointed in multiple directions. Of course it’s directed at Nazi Germany, and the grotesque behavior of the Polish people and tons of other countries that either participated or looked the other way. But there’s plenty of anger to go around.

Yes, I feel grateful toward the Allied Powers for liberating concentration camps and ending the war. But they are not without massive anger-inducing faults. The United States turned away the St. Louis and there were citizens who wouldn’t send supplies to Jews in Germany because it was a “war zone” in enemy territory. The British prevented post-Holocaust emigration to Israel and locked Jews into camps in Cyprus.

And Russia just found itself on the right side of history, but was just as bad as Germany otherwise. Plenty of Jewish blood was spilled at their hands, more than enough to never entertain the possibility of a free pass.

But I still don’t cry.

Rage, Nothing But Rage


I don’t want to sit back and contemplate the tragic loss of lives. The generations of families lost from this world forever. The pain and suffering and hardships my ancestors endured. I don’t sit in a corner with tears streaming down my face. I often want to. It feels right and appropriate.

But it just never happens.

All I feel is rage. Violent anger.

I want to go back in time, swoop into enemy territory, and take out every aggression I’ve ever felt on the enemies of my people. Mercilessly. Relentlessly.

And as much as I want to feel pure sympathy, all I’ve got is red-faced, painful rage.

And here we go again.

Feelings during the Current War


The actions of Hamas possessed levels of brutality we pretend no longer exist in this world.

I can watch TV shows day and night with violent depictions of mass murder. Torture. Rape. People’s lives being permanently destroyed by violence and aggression. At best I feel entertained. At worst, I feel nothing.

I’ve always been really good at differentiating between reality and fantasy. I don’t wince when they are hit in the face, because my mind knows completely that it’s an actor and he’s not suffering in the slightest.

And I falsely believe that what I’m witnessing on the screen are fake concepts. These things don’t happen. Societies aren’t facing existential crises. Jack Bauer isn’t really needed to save an entire nation from impending doom.

And then I wake up to a day like this.

And nothing will ever be the same again.

Woefully Unprepared


Every day during the Second Intifada was a small nightmare. Everyone was on edge. You never knew what the next day would bring.

I remember walking in Jerusalem the day after a terrorist attack. A tire on a bus burst, making an incredibly loud noise. And a street full of hundreds of people collectively thought there had been yet another attack.

For a brief moment we all thought we might need to run and take cover. We thought the street would soon be filled with police and soldiers. Fire and rescue teams. Others who’ve dedicated their lives to helping with the respectful cleanup of the remains of desecrated human bodies.

And later we’d be checking the news to find out details. To look for names. We’d feel joy when we didn’t know the victims, and a small hint of guilt for knowing that someone else out there will be wailing on the floor after their terrible loss.

This was what life felt like for me for years.

And yes, I was hardened. I would never want to live through another Intifada. But at the very least I think I have the tools to handle one. I’ve already built my defense mechanisms. I’ve already learned how to live in a world where terrorism is ever-present, and if something terrible didn’t happen today, we should be overjoyed.

Yet I’m cautiously awaiting tomorrow.

And despite what I’ve lived through, and all the emotions no one should ever feel permanently changing who I am and how I view the world around me, nothing I’ve experienced in the past 46 years has prepared me one iota for what happened last week.

As unprepared as it felt the country was for an attack like this, that’s how I felt I was mentally and emotionally.

Preparing for a Different Future


And to be honest, I still don’t know how to process this, or any of its long-term implications.

This war will come to an end. I have no doubt Israel will come out on top. But what will the country look like and who will we be by the time all the smoke clears? This I cannot tell you. I have no idea. I already feel changes happening within me. I see the personalities of my children changing before my eyes.

Massive change with minimal understanding.

Because despite the fact that a few seconds of contemplation should have me lying on the ground, a blubbering mess who cannot possibly be consoled, despite how I should be feeling, all I feel is anger.

Anger that a human being has it within their heart to murder babies.

Anger that in these times of global normalization, war, death, and destruction are still quite common, and are impacting our lives.

And instead of working toward peace and understanding, I just want to burn and destroy.

I want problems removed, not worked with.

I’m tired.

The cycle is exhausting. Life is exhausting.

Why are we still doing this garbage?

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