Existential Angst, Misunderstandings, and the Middle East

Photo by Julie Skolnick

Emergency Message from With Understanding Comes Calm.

Existential Angst, Misunderstandings, and the Middle East

For days I’ve been trying to write a blog. Typically, my thoughts and commentaries roll off my
fingertips and onto the keyboard. But right now, my brain has been hijacked by terrorists. My
feelings of overwhelming rage, grief, and fear keep me from concentrating – first by the
massacre that occurred in Israel, next by the world’s disregard, then by global condemnation of
victims, and now by relentless hate and antisemitism.

I’ve been walking around as though underwater. My senses are dulled and sharpened at the
same time. My nerves are frayed, I jump at the slightest unexpected noise. I see my friends’
hearts crumpling, witness my children’s confusion, hear the deafening silence from colleagues
and friends who have not reached out or commented on the situation, and I am simply
overwhelmed deep in my soul by the faces, screams, and feelings of more than two hundred
thirty of my Israeli brothers and sisters who were abducted by Hamas terrorists. In my work,
when we talk about crisis and how it affects twice exceptional humans, we refer to all-
encompassing distress as existential angst.

Not for a moment am I comparing the situation in Israel and Gaza to theoretical or practical
discussions in the gifted or twice exceptional field. Yet some of the frustration I experience
within our field regarding deep misunderstandings of the gifted and 2e profile, and
inappropriate assumptions about 2e children, their parents, and 2e adults are reminiscent and
slivers of the radical frustration and immense confusion I feel about the world’s response to
what is happening in the Middle East right now. I ask myself similar questions like: how can I
help people UNLEARN so they can REFRAME their incorrect assumptions and conclusions?

With misunderstanding comes chaos. And there is SO. MUCH. MISUNDERSTANDING. Fighting
this battle is exhausting, as it is whenever a situation requires a fundamental shift in thinking.
Part of my weariness is because those I’ve called allies, friends, colleagues in one arena – have
seemingly shed their critical thinking and traded their deep research skills for judgments
based on unsubstantiated claims provided by a terrorist propaganda machine.

I am shocked and dismayed that the very people I look to for clarity and collaboration, those
I’ve respected and admired, those who teach critical and nuanced thinking – are blinded by lies
and fallacies about what is happening in the Middle East. Or maybe I’m witnessing implicit
antisemitism that’s always been there but hidden by circumstances.

Unfortunately, I predicted this. Perhaps it was the stint in my twenties as a research specialist
on right wing extremist groups for the Anti Defamation League, or maybe it was my years
interviewing female survivors of the Holocaust for my master’s thesis. For whatever reason, on
October 8, the day after the Hamas massacre and abduction of civilians, I wondered aloud
how many days it would be before massive antisemitism reared its ugly head. Who could ever
think that in response to murder and torture the victims would be blamed? How can that even
be real? I’m not sure there were twenty-four hours between the unimaginable atrocities, and
the amplification of antisemitic tropes.

I’ve had to sever ties with “friends” and colleagues over this existential angst we find ourselves
in because in less than a week I heard responses like, “It’s a complex situation,” and “What
about the other side?” How have people not learned from history? How do people not see the
pattern of evil that seeks out the Jew and leaves unimaginable destruction in its wake? Time
and again, Jews are left standing alone to rid the world of inconceivable evil. Is this what Jews
are chosen for? Is this how we are meant to be אור לגויים , a light unto the nations?

How are my brilliant and thoughtful colleagues, and institutions of higher (the highest) learning,
duped by Hamas’ lascivious desires to destroy Jews and Israel by any means, including using
their own Palestinian children as human shields and cannon fodder? I realize now why I feel so
paralyzed. A person of many spoken and written words, I am having a hard time amplifying my
voice – and that scares me.

And then I saw an interview with Mosab Hassan Yousef, the son of a Hamas founding member.
His message took my breath away. I wept. He expressed exactly what I hope for, a global
realization of the true Palestinian plight, being used as pawns for antisemitic criminals whose
only goal is to destroy Israel and Jews no matter the cost. Yousef talks about the need to
separate the Hamas cause and the Palestinian cause. He talks about people from around the
world taking up the “so-called Palestinian cause” and states that the Palestinian cause has been
“hijacked.” He predicts that when Israel destroys Hamas, Palestinians “will take to the streets to
thank Israel” for finally setting them free to rebuild and educate their children. Can we imagine
a world where Palestinian children attend school free from hateful teaching, free from
encouraged and forced martyrdom, free from fear? Yousef has seen and lived both sides –
within Hamas, within Gaza, and within Israel as a free man. He realizes the possibilities for his
people once violence is not the sole approach toward peace. He recognizes the need for Israel
to defend itself amid such animalistic hatred.

And yet…

Educated people; professionals, students, educators, are taking to the streets to march and
cause madness surrounding this conflict and somehow think that because they are waving
Palestinian flags and chanting for a Palestinian state that they are advocating for a solution.
Instead, what they are doing is aligning themselves with terrorists and endorsing the
destruction of the only true Democracy in the region while sanctioning rabid antisemitism
Throughout time Jews have stood by “the underdog.” Seeking to lift up those who are trodden
upon. Jews walked arm in arm during the Civil Rights Movement as activists and allies. When
Soviet refusniks were not allowed to leave Russia, Jews fought for their freedom through
educational and political campaigns. Jewish leaders have led the way for women’s rights and
LGBTQ rights. Jews staff non-profits and philanthropic causes in disproportionate numbers.
When the world experiences a natural disaster Israelis are always within the first group of
emergency responders.

So how can people think that we don’t cry over innocent Palestinian civilians? How can people
ignore the complex tactical efforts Israel makes to avoid civilian casualties? Leafleting and
pleading for civilians to leave targeted areas within Gaza – only to have Hamas blockade their
escape. So, if you are trying to understand this global humanitarian crisis from the outside,
please watch this interview of Yousef who from the inside looked the devil in the eye and found
truth in his heart and in his mind. If he can, you can too.

Click to watch.

I am trying to hang on to faith; faith in humanity, faith in justice, faith in right persevering over
wrong, hope in you spreading truth. Just like the meaning of the Israeli national anthem,
Hatikvah, I have hope. May peace descend upon us so we can continue (or in some cases,
begin) to teach our children how to coexist in this world with love and the ability to discuss with words, rather than swords, when disagreements occur.

Julie F. Skolnick M.A., J.D.
Author: Julie F. Skolnick M.A., J.D.

Julie Skolnick, M.A., J.D., is the Founder of With Understanding Comes Calm, LLC, through which she passionately guides parents of gifted and distractible children, mentors 2e adults, and collaborates with and advises educators and professionals on bringing out the best and raising self-confidence in their students and clients.

Picture of Julie F. Skolnick M.A., J.D.

Julie F. Skolnick M.A., J.D.

Julie Skolnick, M.A., J.D., is the Founder of With Understanding Comes Calm, LLC, through which she passionately guides parents of gifted and distractible children, mentors 2e adults, and collaborates with and advises educators and professionals on bringing out the best and raising self-confidence in their students and clients.

8 Responses

  1. “Right now, my brain has been hijacked by terrorists” – this is exactly how I feel, too. Thank you for putting this into words. All the rest is also true. I wish I knew how to handle what is happening. I am beginning to understand why so many Jews were quiet during the runup to the Holocaust – their brains were hijacked, and when they tried to fight back, they were bullied into silence.

  2. Julie,
    you are right on the mark with putting this horrible situation in perspective. Thank you for adding the video of Mossab Hassan Yousaf and thank you for your blog as a whole. I will be sharing this.

  3. Thank you for choosing to share these reflections. When the silence from our friends & colleagues is deafening, it is vital that those with a platform take a deep breath and then take a leap of faith to speak up. As a clinician, a community activist, and a parent, I am numb with overwhelm at the antisemitic swells that had seemingly (somewhat) settled down from the toxic trumpism (I won’t dignify that “leadership” with a capital t) that swept the nation. My heart hurts for friends & colleagues in Israel, & I push away thoughts of “what if history repeats itself” for fear that I’ll be completely overwhelmed. Am Yisrael Chai.

  4. You have said it so well. Sadly, so many of us are feeling the same. How has free thought been so hijacked to the point where they really think they are still the free thinkers? And thank you for raising your voice. I know it was not easy.

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