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My name is Dr. Shalhavit-Simcha and I am honored to be the author of the first GJ Connections written by a member of the Global Jewry advisory board. I want to begin by sharing a poignant moment from the funeral of Dan Videnbaum.

A few weeks ago, Dan, a brave soul at just 24 years old, served in Gaza with the IDF and made the ultimate sacrifice. He moved his friend away from harm as a grenade hit, saving his friend’s life while losing his own. During Dan’s funeral, his mother, Aviva, made a heartfelt request of us all, as a nation: “Please hug each other, just like Dan would have done. Let us be all one big hug.”

Aviva’s powerful request underscores the essence, not only of what has kept us going as Jews — surviving and lighting up the world — but simply of being human. We are socially oriented, and we need each other, especially in this very difficult time.

When we experience compassion or behave kindly, our Vagal nerve is stimulated. The Vagal nerve serves as a superhighway between the brain, heart, and gut, triggering a cascade of vital positive effects throughout our bodies. It also plays a role in modulating inflammation, maintaining intestinal balance, regulating food intake, providing a sensation of fullness, and ensuring energy balance. And, when we exhale, our vagal nerve signals our heart to slow down, promoting relaxation and fostering kind behavior.

In my role as a consultant to the Israeli government on online digital communities, we differentiate between “Kahal” (a one-sided term meaning “audience”) and “Kehila” (a term meaning “community”, where everyone is involved). As it is written, “Moses commanded us the Torah as an inheritance of the Kehilla (community) of Jacob.” (Deuteronomy 33:4:1) We learn from this passage that Jewish life is about community, and not about being a passive audience, but rather a vibrant network that lives and breathes – even in the digital realm.

My experience with communities elucidates their direct impact on our well-being. I am also the founder and director of PosiFest, an award-winning festival exploring positive psychology. With an international audience of over 200K, I recently finished my studies at Harvard and moved back home. I was just about to launch our Israeli chapter right before the war broke out. My passion and commitment, as embodied in PosiFest’s mission, is to make our world a more positive place. I feel privileged to be a partner in the pursuit of Global Jewry’s mission to strengthen the bonds that unite the Jewish people. The goal of Jews being kinder to each other resonates deeply with me.

Lastly, I want to share a note of hope given all the disagreements that exist in the Jewish community. Psychologically, this is not a problem but simply our nature. Research by Frans de Waal revealed that humans respond much differently to conflict than one would imagine. Instead of dispersing, we try to reconcile and grow closer. We generally seek to repair relationships and strengthen bonds after disagreements, not run away from them.

This innate drive for reconciliation highlights our deep-rooted need for connection and harmony within social groups. Let us keep that in mind given that our togetherness has never been more important.

Echoing Dan’s mother Aviva’s request, I am sending us all prayers for peace, kindness, and connection.

Shabbat Shalom,

Shalhavit-Simcha

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