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Nothing Feels Normal

When we are confronted with this much change and the slashing away of norms, our psyches and our souls need compassion and nurturing.
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June 19, 2024
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As I drove down a side street near my home I noticed something akin to a robot or droid from Star Wars with flashing lights. I looked at this rather cute movable box as it stood waiting, as if watching carefully for passing traffic, to cross the road. It was a moment that felt surreal, but I smiled at the charming sight and drove on, only to find, a couple miles down Beverly Blvd, another vision that challenged my sense of reality once again. This time, stopped at a red light, I looked to my left and gasped, as the car beside me didn’t have a driver. I did a double take. I wasn’t hallucinating, it was truly a car without a driver waiting patiently, like myself, for the green light so it could move forward. How, I wondered, did it know when to stop, and even more miraculously when to go? 

In the midst of the insanity and absurdity we live with on a daily basis, I’m wondering where is the normal we once knew. Change is inevitable, yet on many levels it has been at the speed of light in every part of our lives — cultural, political, international, and technological. Technology evolves, demanding a kind of intelligence many of us in our elder years feel we lack. We watch our grandchildren consume and digest apps, memes and new gaming trends while they answer our questions that reflect how slow and dimwitted we may appear. I had to call my grandson when I saw yellow while my phone was charging. Red and green I know, but why yellow? Of course, he knew exactly why, teaching me something new.

The smartphone and computer are a necessity in our times. I can’t buy an article of clothing that doesn’t have a pocket where my phone can rest as I walk through the day. Every bit of information one needs, secular or Jewish, is at our fingertips. But this is only part of the picture. Everything that happens in the world can be seen on our newsfeed seconds within their occurrence. 

We all know this after the horrific events of Oct. 7. Every moment the excruciating information was available to us, along with the pain our brethren were going through, and each moment of the war that followed, is viscerally felt by all. The recent antisemitic events astonish and frighten even the most stoic and Jewishly committed American. The roller coaster ride of attempts at a potential ceasefire and bringing hostages home feeds the anxiety we hold living with the unimaginable in our country. A neighbor recently stopped me to check how we were doing asking, “Do you think we’re going to lose our democracy?” I cautiously answered, “I don’t know. I hope not.” Even the thought of this possibility feels ‘not normal.’

The roller coaster ride of attempts at a potential ceasefire and bringing hostages home feeds the anxiety we hold living with the unimaginable in our country. 

We see the collapse of so many norms creating the unthinkable: Open expression of America becoming a Christian country; states reflecting the limitation of teaching real history, whether Black history or Jewish history, specifically the Holocaust; banning books that parents or schools find discomforting; scores of mass shootings each year; taking away women’s rights and control over their bodies; gerrymandering so certain citizens are limited from voting and allowing a man who is a convicted felon, found guilty of sexual abuse, and verbally threatening judges and government officials along with their families to run for political office while promising to punish all his enemies and watching the highest court of the land function without ethics or any concern for even the visibility of conflict of interest. There is chutzpah all around and from all sides, diminishing much of what we count on and have, for much of our lives, seen as “normal.”

When we are confronted with this much change and the slashing away of norms, our psyches and our souls need compassion and nurturing. We feel exiled from ourselves. We need to accept and have empathy for the extraordinary demands on our nerves and find ways to soothe our inner selves. We need to have chesed, kindness, both for ourselves and for others, especially for those with whom we disagree, aware that we are not alone in this dissonance. We need moments of calm and quiet, surrounded by G-d’s creation, nature, that has a way of settling us in what is real and generative. In inconceivable times, ‘nachamu, nachamu, comfort, comfort’ is what we need.


Eva Robbins is a rabbi, cantor, artist and the author of “Spiritual Surgery: A Journey of Healing Mind, Body and Spirit.”

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