Resilience grows through gratitude

Right now, we’re all worried about our health, the health of our friends and families, the economics of the shutdown, and its effects on our Jewish agencies and programs.

We might even be reacting in ways we know are not productive or even not typical for ourselves. These feelings are not only understandable but to be expected.

One of my favorite books is “Man’s Search for Meaning,” a powerful story about author Victor Frankl’s experiences as a prisoner in a concentration camp during the Holocaust. He says: “An abnormal reaction to an abnormal situation is normal behavior.”

So, give yourself some slack. We’ve obviously never gone through a global pandemic – or collective grief like this before. And I purposely use the word grief here, because grief is not just about the emotions we experience when someone dies but refers to sadness over any significant loss – our loss of freedom to go wherever we want to go, or our sense of isolation at not being with our friends and family at special events like the Passover Seder.

And like grief, there is no one right way or wrong way to deal with the confusing emotions. And some of us will be more resilient than others.

We all want to be resilient, but what exactly does that mean? There are two definitions. The first describes resilience as a substance that is able to spring back into shape after being stretched, like a rubber band. I’m not a fan of this definition because I don’t see how we could expect to be able to snap back to our former lives pre-coronavirus. How would that be possible?

I prefer another definition which says resilience is about the ability to withstand or adapt to difficult situations – and doing the best that we can under the circumstances. Resilience is not about toughing it out alone but about relying on each other as we move forward together. In the same way that we’re commanded to comfort the mourner, we need to show up for each other during this crisis – it’s not just an ideal but our Jewish responsibility.


Susan Angel Miller, a Milwaukee Jewish Federation board member, delivered these remarks at the April 1, 2020, board meeting.


There will be times in the next few months when we will feel stuck in our despair. And I believe the best way to get unstuck is through gratitude.

We’ve all heard the body of research that correlates gratitude with happiness. I am a big believer. No matter the situation, there’s always something to be grateful for.

Gratitude is turning what we have into enough. And we still have so much. We have our closely knit and generous Jewish community, our schools and our agencies, which will rebound in ways that I think will surprise us all. We have leaders in our community who are working around the clock to manage this human and economic crisis. And, we have the desire and capacity to make our world and Jewish community a better place. Dayenu. Several years ago, I learned about the term post-traumatic growth.

It’s a concept that I had never heard before, but I understood what it meant. Post-traumatic growth is based on research that finds that the majority of people gain positive psychological change as a result of trauma — whether that means becoming more compassionate, more appreciative of life, more open to new possibilities, or developing deeper relationships. The research says this growth occurs when people struggle with the meaning of an event and integrate it into their new reality. Victor Frankl, once again, says it better than I could: “Suffering ceases to be suffering at the moment it finds a meaning.”

I believe that our community will also experience meaning and growth as we climb this mountain together. Gam zeh ya’avor. This too shall pass, and when it does, I’m confident that as we navigate the upcoming weeks and months, we will emerge stronger and more resilient than before.

Susan Angel Miller is the author of a memoir, “Permission to Thrive: My Journey from Grief to Growth.”