Response to Trauma in the Face of Hamas Attacks

By Miriam Arond

Trauma has been described as an overwhelming physiological response in which an individual experiences a loss of control, vulnerability, and immobilization.

The barbaric massacre that occurred on October 7 in Israel was a trauma that shook the Jewish world. While any attack is shocking, the unimaginably horrific brutality and savagery that was carried out within the Jewish state, the murder of 1,400 people in one day, the maiming of thousands more, and the kidnapping of 240 people, including babies, the elderly, and the disabled, have been devastating. It has triggered deep-seated fears and suffering related to years of persecution of Jews and intergenerational trauma.

At Westchester Jewish Community Services (WJCS), employees and board members came together online to share and process their sadness, grief, and anxiety about Hamas attacks against Israel. In gathering as a community, members of our WJCS staff focused on what experts say about responses to trauma and opened up about their own reactions to recent horrific news reports. 

Hanna Cohen, Psy.D., Assistant Chief Psychologist at the WJCS Trager Lemp Center for Treating Trauma & Promoting Resilience, noted that one of the challenges of trauma is that, as we are experiencing fear, anger, worry, helplessness, grief, and guilt, we also need to carry on with our daily responsibilities. We each have a “window of tolerance” in which we feel we can deal with whatever stresses or pressures are happening in our lives, she explained.

When the stress or trauma becomes overwhelming, however, we often respond, with either a Hyperarousal or Hypoarousal response. A Hyperarousal response is characterized by anxiety, anger, and feeling overwhelmed which can lead to agitation, blaming, insults, or running away from the situation. A Hypoarousal response, on the other hand, is a “frozen” response. People “zone out,” feel empty, and become numb. The body shuts down in avoidance of dealing with the trauma.

Stephan Spilkowitz, Director of Culture and Engagement at WJCS and the co-leader of our online discussion, encouraged participants to share what they have been experiencing, which many did. “Creating a safe space in which we come together as a community to talk about our feelings and challenges and offer support to each other is vitally important,” said Seth Diamond, CEO of WJCS. “It’s also essential for all of us to remember to care for ourselves so that we can be there for others.”

One of the best ways to manage trauma is to try to restore a sense of safety, predictability, and control. It is what we can also aim for, as parents, by creating a secure environment for our children in the face of frightening news. Building resilience is key to overcoming trauma. Here are seven suggestions that can help:

1. Seek social support from your personal, professional, spiritual, and neighborhood communities.

2. Tend to your mental health by practicing meditation, mindfulness, and journaling.

3. Exercise, eat well, and get adequate sleep to maintain your physical health.

4. Take breaks from the news and social media. Consider a daily limit or time away from all screens and notifications.

5. Focus on what you can control by donating to charities and helping in your community.

6. Process – don’t suppress. Allow yourself to experience challenging feelings and emotions, however difficult.

7. Be kind to yourself. Be patient with yourself and process your feelings of trauma in a way that works for you.

Miriam Arond is the Director of Communications at WJCS. Learn more about WJCS’s Trager Lemp Center for Treating Trauma & Promoting Resilience at www.wjcs.com/services/mental-health/trager-lemp-center/.