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Stop kvetching around the dinner table

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G-d created a perfect world. It’s called heaven, where we all go when we pass away from this imperfect world. Heaven is a place of no issues, grudges, sickness, hate, or human weakness. Heaven is a place of peace – one endless spiritual beach stay.

And yet, so many of us hold onto the unrealistic expectation that life on this earth should be heavenly and perfect. They expect it to be akin to an eternal vacation in our ideal spot, with everyone around us embodying their best selves and always feeling healthy and magnificent. However, life on earth is inherently imperfect, and this expectation can lead only to disappointment when our idealised vision is unmet.

It’s a simple truth that often eludes even the wisest among us. When we compare our lives to the perfection of heaven, we can easily fall into the perilous cycle of self-pity, leading to feelings of anxiety and apathy that can be detrimental to our well-being.

Consider the recent election. Before the election, I posed a simple question to a few friends: “Is there any outcome on 29 May that could make you genuinely positive about our country? Could anything alter your perception of our country’s trajectory?” The answers were disappointing. Few could dream of a better future. The narrative of doom had taken over, with no hope for redemption.

This article doesn’t deny the challenges that come as part-and-parcel of living on planet earth, especially in South Africa. At the same time, I wish to pose two questions to you, the reader. First, is the negativity and cynicism warranted? Second, is it worth it?

Let’s delve into the second question, which is more significant. The first is a matter of personal perspective, and we can spend endless time debating various facts or interpretations of facts. However, the second question is straightforward and demands our attention: has the cynicism and negativity many in the community have fostered over three generations been to our betterment or detriment?

Over the decades, tens of thousands of Shabbos and yomtov meals across the community have been sabotaged by so-called well-meaning conversations offering doomsday predictions about the future of this country.

First, this has cut our beautiful community by more than 50%, which itself has been a mixed blessing both for those who have left and those who chose to stay. However, the consequences for the mental health of our community has been, in my humble opinion, disastrous.

Why? Because most of us cannot live on the fence in constant self-doubt while maintaining our mental-health equilibrium. It’s like an amateur juggling crystal balls, which will inevitably come crashing down. Or, to borrow from another analogy, when I’m waiting for the other shoe to drop, I cannot sleep and make healthy decisions.

Let’s face the reality that we have a mental-health crisis in our community. Though there’s no single answer and explanation for something this complex, it’s fair and maybe even necessary to pose a simple question: is the tension in our homes and our collective decades-long conversation about South Africa contributing to the crisis in any way?

If the answer is even partially yes, then it leads to the next obvious question: can I do better in this department, and bring less anxiety-provoking feelings and conversations into my home?

Some things are outside my control, and there are those within my control. The wisdom is “to know the difference”. We choose what narratives we bring into our homes, which cliches we repeat repeatedly, and which discussion we allow around the dinner table.

May I suggest that bashing South Africa, coupled with fearmongering about getting into university – a pet peeve of mine – should be removed from our table discussions? If it needs to be spoken about, do it occasionally and not in front of the kids. These conversations usually lead nowhere good, and are mostly counterproductive.

I often quip to my community, “South Africans live in heaven, but think they’re in hell.”

Let’s take loadshedding as an example – a situation that has calmed down lately. How many of us have felt gratitude for this respite? Very few. Instead, we heard constant reminders to “wait until 30 May”. Nu? While this caution might have been warranted, it’s a miserable way to live. Can’t we find joy in the present without prophesising about an uncertain future?

Should I cry when a baby is born because one day – hopefully many years later – it will die? No. “At the time of joy, joy; at the time of mourning, mourning.” (Rashi, Breishit 6:6) It’s good now? Great! Dance! Might tomorrow be hard? We’ll cry then.

This isn’t about burying our heads in the sand. It’s about accepting that life is messy, but messy isn’t Armageddon. When we’re anxious, we tend to lose perspective on what’s a small issue, what’s a mild challenge, and what’s a fully-fledged crisis.

It all becomes a cholent pot of stress. Not every challenge in life is the equivalent of Gog and Magog. And yet, in many of our homes, our level of tension seems to imply that Armageddon is at our doorstep.

Always worrying about the future is the antithesis of faith. Yes, basic caution and staying abreast of events and trends is important. But the art of predicting the future – which is more South African than boerewors on a braai – is a horrible way of living. “I’m telling you, rabbi! Three years left to this country! Three years! Mark my words!” Gimme a break! Go play golf, you have a better chance of getting a hole-in-one than predicting accurately.

People have been giving the “three-year promise” for three generations. Its ring is hollow by now. It almost feels like a cult that keeps changing the date when the world is ending because it can never admit that the premise was false. South Africa doesn’t have to go the way of Zimbabwe just because your great-uncle, who moved to Canada 60 years ago, said it would.

Many of us choose to walk around feeling sorry for ourselves, our anxiety at maximum, and our relationships strained to the breaking point for the sake of being realists so that we can declare with absolute confidence, as if G-d had showed up and told us to share forth His prophecy of doom, “I’m telling you, South Africa has three years left. Get out while you can! So said the L-rd. And He also told me that university overseas – costing R2 million a year – is the only answer for your children. Move now!” And we’re supposed to nod and say, “Amen!”

How about joy? How about walking around with a jump in our step and a flicker in our eye? How about toning down our anxiety levels and regaining some inner peace? How about throwing away the fear that seems to corrode every fibre of serenity within our society? There’s a big difference between reasonable and unreasonable fear, and I pray that G-d gives us the wisdom to know the difference.

We have a crisis, and there’s something we can do about it. It might not solve it, but it will surely help – stop kvetching, start living. It’s a great life here, and we have lots to be grateful for. Choosing gratitude and living with more serenity is one of the best things we can do to combat our mental-health crisis. Do you agree?

  • Rabbi Levi Avtzon is the rabbi of the Linksfield Shul.

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1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Vacelia Goodman

    June 20, 2024 at 2:05 pm

    I Definitely Don’t believe what the Rabbi says because I’m One of the 10000 Jews Dependent on the Chevrah Kadisha Who DEFINITELY doesn’t believe in the Myalgic Encephalomyelitis and Fibromyalgia and Expressive Speech Dysphasia and other Chronic Physical Debilitating Disabling Illnesses which I suffer from. This caused Unemployment and Therefore Indigence!!! I’m continuously HARASSED AND NEGLECTED AND THREATENED AND ABUSED HERE because of it and currently due to MALFEASANCE and NEGLECT by Staff at the Chevrah Kadisha which has caused ADDITIONAL PHYSICAL HEALTH PROBLEMS I’M FORCED TO LIVE IN A SITUATION OF CONFLICT AND DEGRADATION BECAUSE OF MY HEALTH PROBLEMS AND FINANCIAL CIRCUMSTANCES PLUS ADDITIONAL SECURITY PROBLEMS FOR TRYING TO ACCESS ASSISTANCE FOR YOUNG AFRICAN CHILDREN WHO ARE ABUSED NEGLECTED SUBJECTED TO FALSE INFORMATION ETC AND HAS LED THROUGH THE POLICE AS WELL TO US BEING MADE A BIGGER TARGET FOR ABUSE ETC!!! SOUTH AFRICA IS A BARBARIC SAVAGE SCUM BEHAVIOUR XENOPHOBIC AREA AND WON’T CORRECT ITSELF. IT HASN’T THE WILLPOWER TO BE LIKE ISRAEL AND SOUTH AFRICA IS SUPPOSEDLY MINERAL RICH AREA BUT POVERTY STRICKEN AND DELIBERATELY VIOLENT LIKE THE ARABS ETC WHEREAS ISRAEL IS STABLE IN ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT DUE TO IT’S JEWISH PEOPLE WHO ONLY HAVE PEACEFUL HEALING INTENT!!! PLEASE LIVE IN THE REAL REAL REAL AFRICAN WORLD RABBI AT LINKSFIELD SHUL!!!

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