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Fear, Division, and Healing in America

By Foothills’ member Ariana Friedlander 

Since moving to Fort Collins I’ve joked with friends that the only people here who know I’m of Jewish decent are either Jewish, anti-semitic or from New York…to most people here, I’m just another white person.

While I wasn’t raised going to Synagogue, studying the Torah or celebrating the Jewish high holidays, I’ve always been proud of my Jewish heritage. Although I’ve known about the struggles and antisemitism my family has experienced, I myself never really feared for my own safety…not until 2016.

After the 2016 election I experienced a new level of fear. Upon reading headline after headline about Anti-Semites in the White House I became severely triggered. I would lie in bed at night shaking like a leaf as images of my family being round up and hauled off by Nazi’s flooded my mind.

I honestly can’t tell if the bulk of the isms I’ve experienced in my life have been sexism, ageism or antisemitism. But generally, those moments have been subtle, not life threatening, more just that feeling of not being welcomed, accepted or respected because of one or all of the things people can hold against me. Or those off-handed comments that perpetuate stereotypes you write-off as someone meaning well and not knowing better (something I now know I need to speak up about instead of write off).

So, I myself was shocked by the intensely fearful reaction I had in 2016. My Great Grandparents had left Europe before World War II. So it’s not like I am the descendant of Holocaust survivors. And yet, this fear response to anti-semitism is ingrained in my DNA, literally through transcription genes that were awakened in 2016.

The shooting in Pittsburgh not only breaks my heart, it reawakens the fear. And I scratch my head feeling dumbfounded that there’s so much hate brewing. That other’s fears are so great they feel justified to take innocent lives, without investigating the source of their own pain. It feels absurd to me that beliefs about superiority, especially of certain races, nationalities and religions are becoming more common in the age of the global economy.

The real challenge I face is to NOT fight fear with more fear, but to be more discerning than that. After the 2016 election when my body convulsed with fear I had to keep reminding myself that my family was not in imminent danger. I had to repeat that to myself over and over again while I took deep breaths to calm my nervous system down for over an hour at a time.

And as I laid there I wondered, is this how “they” felt after Obama was elected? Were “they” too shaking with fear, seeing horrible images of their family being attacked in their minds? Did their images of fear feel as real, as visceral as mine?

As I considered that, I felt for the proverbial them. I felt an understanding for the strong, visceral reactions of people that have vehemently opposed our last president. Even though I don’t understand their logic, I can relate to feeling so afraid.
And then I felt sadder.

If only we all knew how to understand our physiological responses. If everyone possessed awareness of their triggers and that their strong fear responses aren’t typically signs of impending danger but indicators of unhealed trauma and pain. To understand that our neurochemical reactions cause each of us weave a story that only captures a sliver of our shared realities. And to allow such moments to be an invitation to step back, open up and explore a deeper understanding of different perspectives before reacting out of fear. If we would all do that (which we innately can), then we could begin to cope, heal, and ultimately co-create a better world together.

And so, I continue walking this path of discernment. Seeking justice, using my voice and living my principles. I will not give into the fear by abandoning my Jewish last name or provoking other’s by calling them names. Nor will I pretend that there isn’t a problem. Perhaps the single most common thread across our divided land is that there is a great pain and a great suffering we are all shouldering. And all I want is simple, to heal it!

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