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Holding Joy and Sadness

In recent conversations with members of our Aviv (20s + 30s) community, a repeated refrain I’ve heard is how upsetting and scary our social media feeds have become since the October 7th attacks on Israel. What might otherwise be a place of connection and lighthearted fun for downtime quickly filled with heartbreaking graphic footage and a lot of yelling at one another, particularly with painful opinions about what happened in Israel from friends and community partners. For me, and I know for many of you, joy feels hard to come these days and is particularly diminished by our social media feeds, which seem to make it impossible. 

In his famous parable about simhah (joy), Rebbe Nachman of Breslav recognizes the assumption that we need to push aside suffering in order to find joy. He illustrates this by describing a circle of people dancing and singing, who notice a sad person on the side. The people dancing often think they need to pull him into the circle in order to cheer him up—that he should be rallied into finding joy by excluding his sadness. However, Rebbe Nachman teaches, the higher form of simhah is instead to find the courage to sit with sadness and to gently introduce it to joy, allowing both of them to coexist. Not only is this a way of achieving true joy, he says, but it’s also a way to bring kedushah (holiness) to our lives. 

For me, this teaching gives me permission to let my current sadness around Israel just be, even as I try to live my regular life and experience happy moments along the way. So what is the circle’s role in helping us hold joy and sadness right now? Or, if we think of the circle as a representation of community, how do we all help each other move forward in this duality?

Even though it feels contradictory, I think we can find the answer to this in social media. Last week, I was scrolling on Tik Tok when its algorithm offered me videos of dancing and singing that I wasn’t ready for. But I felt a pull to watch them, so soon my feed became full of videos of Israeli soldiers, in uniform, making music videos—which was the last thing I expected to see from them. They were smiling, lip syncing, and just being silly young adults. There was the mustache trend, where male soldiers shave their faces to have giant, almost comical mustaches. There were the dance trends. And there were the music videos, in particular those created to the song אין לך מה לדאוג (“Ein lah ma lidog,” or “You don’t have anything to worry about”). Sung to a boppy tune, the remake of this song (originally sung by Uzi Fox around the time of the Yom Kippur War) is a sarcastic song that tells those back home that all is okay. The lyrics exclaim that the army is like a summer camp, and “Yesterday there was even time to take a shower!” There are hundreds of music videos of troops acting out this song, many tagging the video with their unit name. The song is silly, clearly making light of a situation that I am assuming none of the soldiers wish they were in.

And yet, this trend helped me understand Rebbe Nachman’s teaching in a deeper way. By forming a virtual circle through their singing and dancing on Tik Tok, Israelis can hold both joy and sadness. Those who participated in the videos as well as those who viewed them were not being asked to push aside their sadness, but rather to lock arms with Jews around the world, to try to allow pain to meet joy, together. The connection created by these videos brought a sense of kedushah I never imagined seeing on social media and reminded me that our circle can provide us with support in all kinds of ways we can’t predict. The videos renewed my hope that the bonds of Jewish peoplehood will hold us all through the emotions of this scary time. 

As we enter Shabbat reading Hayei Sarah, a parashah (Torah portion) filled with both the loss and grief of Abraham and Sarah and the love and marriage of Isaac and Rebecca, how can we strive to hold our grief and joy together? To me, the answer is clear: We must lock arms, physically or virtually, with our BJ community and with Jews around the world. May this Shabbat be one where we hold it all, together, and may the embrace of peoplehood bring us the holiness we desperately need right now. 

Shabbat Shalom.