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December 2, 2008

I know we’re a little bit behind the times, but this is the first time I’ve felt that I can appropriately speak about what’s happened/happening in India. At first, it was difficult for me to udnerstand and follow, because when I first heard about it, I was drunk, and in the back of a cab, on my way home from a bar in New York. To separate what I was hearing from what one generally hears on the news about hostages and bombs was difficult. Not until the next day, when I was driving upstate and listening to the news did it really dawn on me that something was very different about this.

CC and I have talked a little about the situation, and about how we wanted to address it here. It is not appropriate to leave the topic untouched, no matter what we feel, and particularly because we both feel so moved and affected, we felt that we had to address it somehow.

Part of me wishes I’d been there- talking about things, no matter how tragic, is always easier when you were there. Commenting on something that is happening so far away is difficult for me. Also, because for the most part, the tragedy is now over, I don’t know that it would be right for me to recount events- you all know what happened, and I wasn’t there, so I can offer no insight. All I can say is that it scared me terribly. My parents will be in Mumbai in just two months, and I will be traveling throughout India not long after. Two months may seem like a long time, but injuries, both real and imagined, last much longer than that; whatever the motivation for these attacks, those people are bound to still feel their rage. Another reason I found it hard to look it head on is because I know a good number of Lubavitcher jews around the world. Some of my closest friends are members of that community, and I know how deeply the loss of Rabbi Gavriel Holtzberg and his wife Rivka must be affecting them. I can only imagine the pain, confusion, and loss they feel.

During times like this, I feel it’s important to make a distinction between sympathy and empathy. Sympathy is a feeling of pity or sorrow for someone else’s misfortune; empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. We have to know that no matter what we’ve been through, be it Katrina or 9/11, we have no understanding of what the people of Mumbai, nor the families of the ones who died, are going through- we cannot empathize, hard as we may try. We can only sympathize, and do our best to help those who need us right now. The truth is however, that few people ever truly want sympathy, and expressions of it are often demeaning, which also means that we must be careful in going about caring for and mourning the loss of others. If you know someone who was immediately affected by this tragedy, instead of offering your sympathy, why not ask if there is anything you can do, or any way in which you can help. Anyone who has experienced recent loss, be it emotional or physical, of a person or of property, is likely to need help to make preparations, or simply to get on their feet again. While they need words of condolence, they also need to know they have people around them who can help them, whatever that help may be.

I’ve been rambling a little I think, and so I will end here, but think hard about how you’re approaching people, and make sure not to offend in any way. The world is a tough place these days, and we need all the comfort we can get.

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