To grieve and to live

When we are surrounded by so much grief and instability, how do we continue to live?
Rabbi Sharon Brous, through her Tablet Magazine article “Grieving and Living – how to hold one another in light of the ever-present reality of loss,” gives us direction. Brous is the senior and founding rabbi of IKAR, a Southern California Jewish community created in 2004 to reinvigorate Jewish practice and inspire people of faith to reclaim a soulful voice, driven by justice.
She begins by noting that the purpose of the High Holidays is to remind us that life is a precious and precarious gift. Every year, those days awaken us to a reality that we are sleepwalking through our lives. 
That being said, many of us do not need the High Holidays to learn these lessons. Through painful experience, we are aware that random tragedy and pain are everywhere, whether on a personal level, close to home, or on a global level, halfway across the world.
Brous turns to the word “anastrophe” to capture the nature of the tragedies that have afflicted us. “Anastrophe” comes from the Greek word meaning “turning upside down.” It represents the inversion of the usual order. 
Anastrophe can confront us as a cancer diagnosis, a stroke or early onset dementia. It can also afflict us as terrorist attack or as proof that humanity is destroying our environment.
Brous writes that anastrophe “rouses the observer to pay close attention to a particular truth or reality, especially one we might otherwise have wanted to ignore.”
In the aftermath of anastrophe, how can we respond?
Brous looks to lessons Judaism teaches whose context is the aftermath of the destruction of 2nd Temple by the Romans in 70 CE. After that catastrophe, how did the Jewish people maintain any sense of hope? The center of our Jewish world had been obliterated. The locale where God and humanity met had been destroyed. The Romans slaughtered men, women and children and carried many others away into slavery.
In response, some in the Jewish community became ascetics. They placed heavy restrictions on what they could eat or drink. One prominent rabbi even proclaimed it was forbidden to marry, in order to prevent children being brought into a broken world.
But this ascetic practice was quickly rebuked.
Rabbi Yehoshua responded to these ascetics by saying that in addition to not eating or drinking wine, we had to stop eating bread, because bread was included in the daily sacrificial meal offering. But don’t stop there. We also cannot not eat fruits or vegetables, because the firsts of these harvests were also offered up. And we also cannot drink water because that was included in the libation offering.
This clearly got the attention of those who wanted to deny life in the aftermath of tragedy. Yehoshua continued by saying that although we must learn to mourn, we also must find ways to live and find joy.
How? Brous writes that Yehoshua offers tangible guidelines: “When we paint our homes … leave a little patch bare. When we prepare a feast … leave out one delicacy. When we get dressed up … leave off one piece of jewelry.” 
At the same time, we can recognize what we have lost and celebrate life. These celebrations can be as simple as gathering with friends for coffee or as extravagant as multi-generational family milestones.
Will there be tension? Of course. But that is to be expected. At birthday parties, graduations and weddings, we express laughter with those who are present and shed tears for those who are absent.
Together, even in the aftermath of anastrophe, we can recognize the blessings that still exist in our lives and express gratitude and joy for each one of them.


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