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Can We Turn Curses into Blessings in 2024?

Since Oct. 7, I don’t know who is more cursed and who is more blessed anymore. The only clarity I have is a certain realization that behind some curses are hidden blessings.
[additional-authors]
January 3, 2024
Members of the Jewish community light candles during a vigil for Israel at Downing Street on October 9, 2023 in London, England. (Photo by Peter Nicholls/Getty Images)

At a doctor’s visit last week, I met an elderly Jewish woman and we discussed affairs in Israel. Halfway through our conversation, she made an observation that I still can’t shake. “You are very lucky that you are young, that you know what’s going on in the world and that so many people send you messages and videos,” she said to me, right before asking my age and whether I was married.

I drew a deep breath and wondered if she knew how many of those people either send me well-intentioned videos from Israel that are so tragic that they often leave me inconsolable for days, or post one anti-Israel comment after another for me and others to see on social media. 

Case in point: When my column from Thanksgiving 2022, titled, “If the Pilgrims Had Been Jewish,” was reposted this November, the only comments accused Israel of genocide and showed photos of wounded Palestinians. I don’t know what a bunch of imaginary Jewish pilgrims have to do with Hamas, but perhaps that’s my problem. 

I was moved by the elderly woman’s admission that she felt disconnected from the world, and her belief that I was so blessed to have unprecedented information at my fingertips. Before we said goodbye, she made a request: “Will you take down my number and send me some videos every day?” she asked. “No one sends me anything and I want to see good videos from Israel. You can also send me bad ones. I just want to see what everyone else is seeing.”

I took her name and number and reassured her I would do my best to send her some updates and uplifting videos — content she would not be able to find easily by merely Googling news about Israel.

A few hours later, I received a call from a Jewish friend who, with her husband and young children, recently left California as a result of an uptick in crime, homelessness and soaring rent prices, and moved to Florida. Her voice sounded distressed. “I can’t take all of these messages and videos anymore, Tabby,” she said. “I got off Facebook and Instagram. I told people to stop sending me anything about Oct. 7 for now. I can’t have a broken heart every hour of every day. It’s too much. My kids see me crying almost every day.”

I thought about my friend, who felt cursed by knowing and seeing too much, and about that old woman, who felt cursed and isolated by knowing and seeing too little. 

The older woman taught me to reframe my own sense of feeling held hostage to doomscrolling, grim news and a never-ending barrage of depressing antisemitism on social media. I realized that I could hold space for feeling both overwhelmed by the constant content I receive (or look up myself), but also grateful that I have access to information. 

Her lament reminded me of the stories my late grandparents used to share about gathering around the family radio in Iran and hearing sporadic news related to the Holocaust — after the Holocaust occurred. They did not have access to honest reporting about the Holocaust in the early 1940s because the Nazis had flooded Iran with propaganda, especially radio programs. Only after the war did my grandparents have some access to the truth, and even then, they only heard news related to worldwide Jewry if a radio station or local newspaper happened to cover the subject. 

A few years later, in May 1948, my grandparents heard news again via radio that the modern state of Israel was born. They saw few images of the joyful event, but treated every photo they viewed in newspapers as precious. And when the War of Independence was at its peak, there were even fewer images to see, and there was no one to telephone in the nascent Jewish state because all of our family was still living in Iran. 

Seventy-five years later, some of their grandchildren and great-grandchildren watched the worst single-day massacre in Israeli history unfold in real time from horrifying updates and videos on their smartphones in America, and others lived through it directly, because so many of those grandchildren and great-grandchildren now live in Israel. 

Whereas a radio once connected my grandparents to the joys and pains of their ancestral homeland, today, their descendants are a short drive away from the spaces in the south where Jews made homes and thriving, beautiful communities, and the scorched earth and unrelenting stench of annihilation that now remains of those communities. 

My family in Israel feels under attack. Some of them are depressed and feel hopeless. But unlike me and so many others, whether staunchly secular or religious, they are nevertheless able to declare that they live in “Eretz,” with all the beauty and heartbreak that comes along with fulfilling a 3,000-year-old dream. 

In America, I drive my car from one superstore to another and drag one Amazon box into my home after another. I love this country with all my heart, but here, my car is almost always full, and my soul often feels empty. 

Since Oct. 7, I don’t know who is more cursed and who is more blessed anymore. The only clarity I have is a certain realization that behind some curses are hidden blessings. It took an isolated, elderly woman to help me realize that access to the greater world, and yes, even the evil liars and racists in it, are still a blessing. She also does not have many close friends left, unlike my younger friend who moved to Florida, who, after Oct. 7, has felt abandoned and disillusioned with those she thought were her friends, who now seem to sympathize more with Hamas than with Jews. 

My friend in Florida views those ex-friends as curses; she has since “purged” many of them from her life. But as I think about that old woman, I realize that in order to purge friends, you first need a few friends.

We’ve all been offered an enormous blessing this year in finally knowing who sees us as human beings, deserving of love, self-defense and healing, and who sees us as irredeemable oppressors. 

The pain of Jews worldwide, especially in America, in experiencing utter emotional abandonment from their friends is real and unprecedented. But it’s not a curse. We’ve all been offered an enormous blessing this year in finally knowing who sees us as human beings, deserving of love, self-defense and healing, and who sees us as irredeemable oppressors. I know many Jews who, for years, enjoyed happy hours with former friends and colleagues who now seem incapable of recognizing the humanity of Jews.

Personally, I would rather drink alone than enjoy cocktails with half a dozen people who laugh at my jokes, but demand that Jews and Israel stop trying so hard to defend themselves and well, live. 

The Torah is replete with warnings that blessings may turn into curses, and that’s understandable, because it is much easier to turn something very good into something very wretched. But to turn certain seemingly wretched problems into possible blessings, even if they are still painful blessings, often requires the wisdom and clarity of those who are much older. 

More than that, it also requires the patience, wonder and compassion of those young enough to put away their phones in a doctor’s waiting room, smile and dare to connect with another. Like many others, I (and my friend in Florida) may be inundated, but that also means that others find us relevant. And now that I have the phone number of an elderly woman who would do anything to simply receive an endearing video from Israel, I truly look forward to inundating her with anything and everything that will help her feel relevant and more importantly, connected with more Jews.


Tabby Refael is an award-winning writer, speaker and weekly columnist for The Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles. Follow her on X/Twitter and Instagram @TabbyRefael

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