Finding Strength Amid Hardship: A Conversation with Chaya Lester


This month, we watched as hurricanes wrecked cities, islands, homes, and people’s lives. Some of us were personally affected by the environmental tragedies and many of us were heartbroken by the images we saw in the media. How can we process hardships in healthy ways and how can we stay optimistic? In our conversation with JWRP Trip Leader Chaya Lester, she shares the enormous power of gratitude, as well as her advice for helping our children during difficult times.

What are some tips for dealing with world tragedies?

When we experience too much negativity, we may feel overwhelmed. Pay attention to how you feel and do things to maintain a balance. If you’re not sleeping or eating, or if you’re overeating, take the time to focus on your self-care. This may mean going for a walk, taking a bath, or doing something else that grounds you. Once you feel stronger, you will have the opportunity to grow. The fastest route to empowerment is helping someone else. Express your gratitude for the blessings in your life and try to focus on the positives. Avoid feeling like a victim and choose empowerment instead. The long-term benefits are so much greater.

What are some positive lessons that we can gain from hardships?

When we take a vaccine, a little bit of bad protects us from much worse. Similarly, hardships — as long as they are not overwhelming — can make us stronger, more grateful for the good in our lives, and more connected to our loved ones. Hard times help us clarify what is important to us, stand up for what we believe in, and take meaningful action. The key is to find our way through the challenging times and the trauma. If we do, we can experience a new sense of depth, heroism, and authenticity.

What are some strategies for staying optimistic?

In Hebrew, the word for world is Olam, and it is connected to the Hebrew word, Ne’elam, which means hidden. The good in the world may not always be obvious, but when we choose to look for it, we can uncover hidden treasures. One way to stay optimistic is to create a gratitude list. Before you go to bed, think about the gifts that you experienced that day. This is a very simple and beneficial strategy to creating a positive mindset. Also, if you have a tough experience, first share your story in a way that highlights the hardships and gives space to the pain. But then try retelling your story, only focusing on the positives. You will be amazed to hear a totally different tale filled with hidden gems.

How can our belief in G-d help us in difficult times?

When you believe in G-d, you can “let go and let G-d.” When we find ourselves in difficult circumstances, sometimes we need to open the hatch and say, “G-d, you can take over today.” Knowing that there’s a great power in the world can be so comforting. G-d made an imperfect world filled with all sorts of hardships so that we could create a connection with something higher. When we pray, we bring heaven to earth and ultimately, become much stronger.

How can we help our children deal with world tragedies?

Living in Israel, I certainly grapple with this issue. During wars, I consider how much to share and how much to shelter my children. If you see that your children appear scared or anxious, you may want to shelter them more. If you do decide to talk to them about what’s going on in the world, be sure to focus on the positives. When we share positive messages with our children about the world, we will enrich our own worldview, too.

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