By Elisheva Tzafon

I don’t know about you, but this week I suddenly really wish I were in Israel. Like yallah, let’s go, right now – oh wait that’s right we can’t.

Not exactly sure what it is all of a sudden…could just be me…but I’d bet it has something to do with the plummeting temperatures.

However, to make matters even more complicated, the other voice in me, which has always had some questionable opinions, is excited for the cold weather. She’s busy wearing sweaters, lighting candles, and baking apples and cinnamon into everything. It’s a lot to negotiate, the contradictions of life.

But if there’s one thing we should have learned over these last 8 months, it’s to live with contradictions, isn’t it? That’s what this year has been. One giant contradiction:

Time is flying (It’s October) but also dragging (When will this end?). We are suddenly so much more appreciative of life, but also restricted in our ability to express it and enjoy it. We’ve seen record rates of antisemitism, but also watched Israel make historic friendships with her cousins at an unprecedented rate!

On the one hand, we’ve had to live with an immense amount of fear and distress –for many of us, that distress has, thankfully, been a hypothetical unknown; what will happen? Will the virus hit me? Someone else? What about the future? When will it end? For others, the impacts of this pandemic have unfortunately been much more immediate and concrete.

But on the other hand, many of us simultaneously experienced an antonymous, quiet relief when things slowed down; when we no longer had to leave the house at 6am every day; no longer had to spend hours on a subway or in traffic; no longer had to…do almost anything. (I will admit that I am quietly really looking forward to not having to commute through the winter, for all the drawbacks the lockdown has).

And these are just a few examples; I’m sure you can all think of countless others, because, as I think we can agree: we are living one giant contradiction.

That said, there’s one contradiction I’d like to address that is probably starting to feel really pressing to many right now, as winter begins to show its face: Between the missing Israel and loving our hot chocolate, I think we’re also starting to feel the weight of balancing the need to stay on top of obligations and responsibilities, with the exhaustion and desire to just take care of yourself – and the apprehension that that won’t get easier over the next few months.

If you feel that way, you’re not alone.

I’m here to tell you that one of those needs is indisputably and objectively more immediate than the other. You cannot neglect yourself and stay on top of everything else. It’s just not possible.

I’m here to tell you that, throughout the winter, we will need to come together more than ever. Some of us will need extra support, others will be essential to supporting someone; probably, we’ll all experience a bit of both. One way or another, this support network is essential, and we’re going to make it work.

But wait. That just means more Zoom calls. I can’t do that. What about Zoom fatigue? How do we increase social calls, if we’re already Zoomed-out?

The answer is fully embracing mental health days, or mental health hours, or mental health moments, or whichever you need. I was blessed as a kid to have the normalcy of taking time off for mental health instilled in me by my mother. If I needed to stay home sometimes just because I needed to, that was okay. If we wanted to take a day off to spend together at the beach every now and again, that was okay.

And now, if you feel you need to take off a zoom meeting here and there to use that precious “Zoom brain energy” to call someone and stay grounded – then do it. You can catch up on meeting notes, but you can only catch up so much on your wellbeing. You are an essential worker for yourself.

This also means that if someone else needs you, and you can only be there if you miss a less-critical meeting sometimes, that’s okay. And also essential.

I’m not telling you your obligations aren’t important or necessary, or that you can drop everything all the time. We’d all love to do that, but we can’t.

I am telling you though that getting through, whichever way works for you, is essential. And we all hopefully have those understanding professors or bosses who will tell you the same thing – remember that our they have been explicitly instructed to be as accommodating as possible – but if they aren’t, I am.

The one thing we should have learned by now, besides living in a world of contradictions, is the importance of life. We’ve learned about it in Hebrew school, from our parents, from our communities, and now from the world at large: life and wellbeing are paramount and come before everything.

So, let’s be there for ourselves and for each other. As the days get darker, be a light – reach out to your friends, whether because you need them or they need you; in the end, it’s all the same.

Kol Israel arevim zeh ba’zeh. Every Jew – every person – is responsible one for the other.

If you need to reach out, I promise you here and now that I will find a way to be there. I hope you’ll all do the same.

In addition you can join Hillel York wellness group which will meet starting November 4th, and will run every other Wednesday at 3PM-4:30PM.

I’ll leave you with some wisdom from our official Self Care Ambassador, who also happens to be our Hillel President:

“COVID-19 is a crisis of both physical and mental health. We’re all taking measures to keep our bodies healthy, what measures are you taking for your mental well-being?” – Hilly

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