by: Ch, Maj Elie Estrin, USAFR
“The Jewish people are masters of resilience.” This slim (just 92 pages!) but powerful book begins with this sentence, reflecting on something I’ve thought about often. How have the Jewish people managed to get through what we have? Thousands of years of persecution; persistent tragedies, both on a national scale as well as innumerable untold personal experiences. Yet, we as a people reach back to the wisdom of our forbears, and finding ever deeper and more powerful ways to live. Ultimately, we’re still here, despite everything, and the code to our resiliency has remained more or less hidden within the works of thousands of Jewish Sages and writers, transcribed over thousands of years, unavailable to the average layman. Until now.
In the remarkable book “The Road to Resilience”, author Sherri Mandell isn’t approaching the subject from a dry academic viewpoint, but rather from an intensely personal one. Her eldest son, 13 year old Koby, was abducted by terrorists while on a hike with a friend, and their bodies were later found pulverized by rocks. Rather than be swallowed by the unbearable grief, Mrs. Mandell herself became a trained pastoral counselor, and with her husband, founded a camp for bereaved children. (See www.kobymandell.org for information on Camp Koby and more of their outstanding work helping people through tragedy.) There is a special place where the wisdom of experience meets up with the acquisition of knowledge, and Mrs. Mandell welcomes you into that space to carefully map out the uniquely Jewish resilience experience with grace and ease. She warmly mixes positive directives with quotes from Jewish sages across the millennia, weaving grounded sensibility with the deeply sensitive.
Mrs. Mandell divides her book and her advice into six non-linear chapters: chaos, community, choice, creativity, commemoration, consecration and celebration. Using these six C’s and her own experiences, she skillfully guides her reader from the depths of pain into a fresh world, all the while avoiding self-pity or pandering. In the Jewish weltanschauung of movement from tragedy that she presents, the pain is not lost, but has become constructive, even transformative; and elicits new levels of depth amid living alongside the new reality, from which a unique inner joy surprisingly arises. There is a recognition of simultaneous experiences which allows a person to allay fears, guilt and other such destructive emotions within the pain and ascend alongside it. One might call this a divinely human space, in that it allows the individual to transcend circumstance through it itself. The darkness itself becomes light, without losing perspective on what it was in reality.
Each short chapter has many valuable quotes, anecdotes and analogies that drive home its theme, and each chapter concludes with questions for the reader that will undoubtedly elicit thoughtful reflection.
Deeply poignant, spiritually alive and practical at the same time, “The Road to Resilience” is an important read to anyone, but particularly for those who are in the position to help themselves or others gather pieces of a shattered life and move forward with purpose.
Reprinted from the Passover 2020 issue of The Jewish American Warrior.