How to Support a Loved One Affected by Terror

Dear Josep,

You may have noticed that I have a strange impulse to reach out to you, in particular, when something especially horrible or scary happens in Israel. I did this even during a period where we were hardly in touch at all. It was when 5 members of the Fogel family–including a baby–were stabbed to death in their home by terrorists. You hadn’t heard about this incident, and seemed to be bewildered and alarmed to receive this desperate e-mail from me completely out of the blue.

I think the reason I have this impulse is that you are the one person in my life who is outside the “echo chambers” of the Israeli communities and the Jewish Diaspora communities I interact with on a regular basis. We all talk about it and try to support each other, but especially when it seems like the rest of the world is ignoring it at best or being actively hostile towards us at worst, getting support from outside those circles has so much value.

You are the only person I know who wouldn’t have heard of the Fogel murders.

You’re also the only person I know who probably didn’t hear about the terror attack on Thursday evening.

The one that killed an 18-year-old American Jewish volunteer, a Palestinian bystander, and a beloved Israeli schoolteacher, at that same junction where the three teens were kidnapped and a woman from my community was killed last year.

The one occurred a 20-minute drive from here.

It’s not that this is new. There have been terror attacks, every day or every couple of days, for the last two months. Two people were stabbed to death in Tel Aviv coming out of a synagogue earlier that day, and there have been three stabbing attacks since (one last night in Kiryat Gat and two this morning in Samaria–and the security forces have foiled several more attempts). [ETA: Ugh, and as soon as I posted this I discovered that a young woman was critically wounded in another stabbing attack very close to where the attack on Thursday occurred.] [ETA2: She died from her wounds. 🙁 ]

But when it happens so close to home, on a road I have driven many times, it’s very hard to maintain the rationalizations and denial that keep us going about our business as usual. And especially in juxtaposition with the Paris attacks, which everyone seemed to care about so much, and countries all over the world flew the French flag and lit up their buildings in red, white and blue… the silence and indifference were deafening and made me feel more alone than ever.

I have wondered sometimes what it must be like to be at the receiving end of this impulse I have to contact you in those moments. I picture you sitting there in the hospital that one time a year and a half ago, dealing with your own stuff, suddenly getting a message from me that reads something like “I just had to grab my kids from their beds and take cover from a rocket barrage.” Or being in between flights to God knows where, drowning in paperwork, glancing at your phone to see a note from me informing you that someone in my community was stabbed to death by a terrorist a few hours ago. Like, what do you even say?!

"Oh no. A message from Daniella. Somebody get me some wine."
“Oh no. A message from Daniella. Somebody bring me a glass of wine.”

So… this is a post about what you can say. I think a lot of people, especially within those circles of Diaspora Jews who care a lot about Israel and have friends and family here, find themselves at a loss in situations like these. Other people with friends in Paris may have experienced this last week, too. Unfortunately, I anticipate that it will not be the last time Europeans find themselves afraid to leave their homes. So this how to respond–and how not to respond–when a friend affected by terror tells you what he or she is going through.

DO…

  • express your relief that they are safe and indicate that you are glad to hear from them.
  • …ask how they are doing. (And if you can manage it–do this again from time to time on your own initiative. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: you have no idea how much of a difference it makes to get even a really brief e-mail, message or phone call just checking in on us.)
  • …let them know they are in your thoughts and prayers.
  • follow their lead. Remember how I mentioned that in the Jewish practice of comforting mourners, visitors may only speak to the mourners if the mourners address them first? People deal with tragedy and crisis in many different ways. Some people may want to talk about their experiences. Some people may want to vent their anger. Some people may not want to talk about it at all. The idea is to give the person the space to share what they want, and then show them that they are being heard.
  • …ask, “What do you need from me right now?” This is one of the most important questions you can ask in any relationship, under any circumstances–including with yourself. (I have learned to ask myself this from time to time.) Sometimes your loved one won’t know what they need and won’t be able to tell you, but the fact that you asked means that you care, and that is enough. Sometimes they will need something that you can’t give. In that case, you can always say, “I wish I could.” It’s the thought that counts.
  • express solidarity, in whatever way you can. I’m not sure you will ever understand how much it meant to me when you posted something in solidarity with or in defense of Israel on social media. Someone I know in Paris asked her friends to light a candle for France after the attacks. Organizing or attending rallies and vigils, collecting donations in support of the victims and their families, and writing articles and op-eds about the situation are all strong expressions of support. Best of all? Come visit. The hospitality industry in Paris is suffering a lot right now because people are afraid to visit Paris. As you know, my husband Eitan is a tour guide and the tourism industry here is the first to suffer during wars, intifadas, and “terror waves.” Nothing expresses solidarity like showing up in person and supporting our local businesses.

DON’T…

  • ignore the situation. Say something. Even if you have no idea what to say. (If that’s the case, “I don’t know what to say” works just fine.) When putting this post together I asked around for other people’s experiences, and “Silence” topped the list of unhelpful or hurtful responses.
  • offer solutions, especially the “Why don’t you move to [someplace I perceive as being safer]?” variety. It’s not nearly that simple, and especially for people who chose to live here for ideological reasons, that kind of questioning can feel threatening and delegitimizing. When we are scared, hurt, and grieving is the worst time to raise these voices of doubt.
  • imply that it’s their fault for living where they do. Israelis get this all the time. People don’t realize that this is exactly like telling a woman who was raped that it was her fault for being in a rough neighborhood. It’s called “victim-blaming.” Don’t do it.
  • point out that people on the “other side” are suffering too. I recently had a conversation where I shared my sense of fear and isolation, and someone thought it would be helpful to point out that the Palestinians are afraid too. Sorry, but more people suffering does not make me feel better. Especially when paired with the previous item, which this person did (inadvertently, I hope) by stating her view that Israel bears partial responsibility for the violence. Which brings me to the next item: don’t…
  • make a political statement criticizing their government and/or society for creating the conditions that allowed this incident to happen. There is a time and a place for those discussions. A personal conversation with someone who is afraid to leave his home because he might get stabbed or shot by a terrorist? Not the time and place. A conversation with someone who just witnessed an attack, was injured in one, or lost someone in one? Absolutely, 100%, not the time and place. (Unless he, himself, initiates that discussion. See “follow their lead” above.)
  • offer platitudes or rationalizations, like “It’s going to be okay” (you don’t actually know that, do you?) or “Statistically, you’re much more likely to die in a car accident” (statistics don’t help when you fall on the wrong side of them). Be willing to be present with your loved one in his or her fear, grief, or anger, without dismissing it or trying to make it go away.

 

Obviously, I am sharing from my own experience (and the experiences of my friends), so people may feel differently about the things I’ve listed above. At the end of the day, the main point is: be kind; be present; and listen.

Praying as always for better news soon.

Love,

Daniella

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