Anticipating heightened emotions during the High Holidays this year — the first High Holidays since the Oct. 27, 2018, massacre at the Tree of Life building that targeted congregations Dor Hadash, New Light and Tree of Life*Or L’Simcha — counseling professionals shared tips for coping during a Sept. 23 webinar organized by the Greater Pittsburgh Jewish Council.
The half-hour webinar, titled “Responding to Heightened Emotion and Triggering that Can Happen This Year at the High Holidays,” featured Maggie Feinstein, director of the 10.27 Healing Partnership; Cindy Snyder, clinical director of the Center for Victims; and Angelica Miskanin, a trauma therapist at Jewish Family and Community Services.
The experts offered practical advice on self-care as well as caring for others during the holidays. The webinar was recorded and can be accessed at jewishpgh.org/gpjc.
It is essential, Feinstein said, that people take care of their own mental and physical health needs to be fully present for others.
“We can’t be there for other people until we start with the person we bring to the table,” she said.
Snyder encouraged all those feeling affected by the massacre to “think about and have conversations with others regarding your own response,” particularly in preparation for taking on the role as a “helper” during the High Holidays.
People should check in with themselves to see if they are sleeping and eating well, for example. They should also reflect on whether they are able to have conversations about what they expect the holidays to feel like for them this year.
“It’s about engaging in a process of self-reflection and relationship with others as you talk about your own reactions and your own thoughts and feelings as we look forward to the upcoming Jewish High Holidays,” Snyder said.
Many people in the Jewish community have particular roles they play within their congregations during the High Holidays. This year may be different, the experts said, and a person may not feel up to assuming their traditional role, or, on the other hand, may want to take on a larger role. Others may need to prepare themselves for difficult feelings that will arise when a person who traditionally assumed a particular synagogue role is not present because they were murdered on Oct. 27.
“The same people oftentimes fulfill the same function in the context of life in your congregation, and particularly around the traditions of the High Holidays,” said Snyder. “And that may be something you want to specifically think about. What’s it going to be like if some of the people who have filled those functions happen to be one of those who were killed last year, or who were injured? What’s it going to be like for you as you become aware of those differences, and have to sit in the presence of those differences?”
It is important to notice physical reactions that may be linked to emotional responses, said Miskanin.
Symptoms such as tightening in the chest, increased heart rate and nausea can often be addressed with breathing techniques, she said, and it may be helpful to learn those techniques prior to attending services.
Environmental grounding, using all five senses, can also be helpful, the experts agreed.
“Breathing and having sense awareness are two really simple ways that if we, as helpers or as givers that day, start to notice things with ourselves, that is a really good first step. Both of those are easy to do,” said Feinstein.
Ensuring that one makes times for “calming moments” is also important, said Snyder.
“There’s going to be a lot of emotional heavy lifting through these upcoming holidays just because it is so poignant that these are the first Jewish High Holidays since 10-27-2018, and as much as we talk about that — and sometimes people are going to say, ‘Oh, you’re making too big a deal of it, it’s been 10 months now going on 11 months’ — it’s a big deal,” she said. “It’s a big deal for many people.” pjc
Toby Tabachnick can be reached at