Choose life — mindfully

By Rabbi Karen Bodney-Halasz, Temple Israel
A pop-up notice scrolls across my news feed. September is National Preparedness Month, a time to promote planning for family and community disasters and emergencies.

I shake my head. First, because the timing feels laughable. And second, because I know there is no training that could have fully prepared us for what we already faced this summer in Dayton.

No matter how many times we might check the weather, train our children to “Run, Hide, Fight,” or identify emergency exits, it would be foolish to believe we would have been “prepared” for a tornado or a mass shooting.

Emotionally, this is a challenging time, especially for those who were most acutely affected. But for all of us, we too find that much of what we once believed to be steadfast and unyielding is ephemeral.

Things feel a bit more precarious now. We can no longer say “things like that don’t happen here.”

Instead, we look around and see that our buildings remain in shambles, checks still need to be cut, and families continue to pick up the pieces of their broken lives.

In the wake of the Memorial Day tornadoes and the Oregon District massacre, our city is in mourning — not just for the lives and homes that were destroyed, but for our own sense of security.

Rabbi Karen Bodney-Halasz, Temple Israel, Dayton, Ohio. Photo: Marshall Weiss.

In reality, we are no more or less secure today than we were in May.

Despite new fears and anxiety, little has actually changed. Life continues as uncertain and unpredictable as it ever was. We still don’t have the ability to control natural disasters or other people’s choices. We can only control ourselves.

In a few weeks, we will read from Parashat Nitzavim. In this well-known section of Torah, God places before us a choice: life and death, blessing and curse. “Choose life,” we are told, “so that you and your offspring may live….”

In other years, this may not have seemed to be such a daunting request. But my instincts tell me it may be different this year.

Whether directly or peripherally affected by the events this summer, we all are carrying around some trauma. How will the fear and insecurity on our shoulders affect our ability to choose life?

Fear is very powerful. It prevents us from reaching our goals and sometimes even our potential. Imagine the experiences we might never have again if we were only to focus on the inevitable “what ifs.”

No walks along the beach, roller coaster rides, or sold-out concerts. Is this what is meant by the words choose life? Can we and should we live like this? Doesn’t vulnerability provide us with opportunities for growth and development?

It is possible that some of us may never feel comfortable returning to regular life, or at least won’t for a long time.

Walking on Fifth Street may prove to be a trigger for painful memories. Others might find themselves avoiding large public areas. It is going to take a lot of work for each of us to return to living and to unburden ourselves from our fears. But we can do it — by mindfully choosing life over all else.

We alone can determine how the summer of 2019 will define who we are and who we may one day become.

Perhaps some of us may even observe this month of emergency preparation — to prepare to reemerge.

We are resilient. We are stronger than we ever thought we could be. Daytonians know how to come together to support one another. Though life may never return to exactly how it used to be, we will be able to feel whole once more.

May we continue to choose life in the months ahead and to be compassionate to ourselves along the way.

Wishing all of us a refuah shleimah, a complete recovery of body and spirit, in the days to come. May we forever be Dayton Strong.

To read the complete September 2019 Dayton Jewish Observer, click here.

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