(May Hashem bless us that this article no longer be relevant. Either way the activities are great.)
Just because the code red siren starts, doesn’t mean life has to stop. If you find yourself in a bomb shelter, there is a good chance there might be a lot of fear and anxiety in the room. I invite you to volunteer to become a change-maker. To shift the vibe from fear to positivity. It says in Pirkei Avot “Where there is no man, strive to become a man.” This applies to women too. I understand this passage to mean, that when there is darkness, step up and become a light. Look at yourself as part of a spontaneous group gathering. Here are seven group activities (four of them have scientific studies backing up their effectiveness) that can keep you and your shelter-mates in a positive frame of mind while protecting your body.
1. Sing Together
There is a good chance if you are in a bomb shelter there is probably really good acoustics. Singing is a great way for people to unify. In fact, Time magazine recently published an article reporting that “Group singing has been scientifically proven to lower stress, relieve anxiety, and elevate endorphins.” If you have time, grab your guitar or drum and take it with you. Start a niggun! ‘Am Yisrael Chai!’ might be good to begin with!
2. Have a Gratitude Round
There is a teaching that there are two types of people, flies and bees. Flies look for garbage, and bees look for nectar and they always find what they are looking for. In stressful situations our minds can be our worst enemies but can also be our best friends. Make sure to focus your mind some positive nectar and stay away from the garbage. One of the best ways to do this is to ask yourself: What are you sincerely grateful for? Web MD recommends cultivating gratitude as a successful coping strategy in dealing with stress and trauma and increasing the immune system. And yes, a bomb shelter is in fact one of the best places to do such a thing. Invite your shelter circle to share something they are grateful for from their week.
3. Tell Meaningful Stories
If everyone is already gathered round, it’s the perfect time to tell a story. A personal story that you find meaningful to the situation. We often take for granted the richness of our own lives, and the value it can bring to others and we are missing out on the real connection it can bring. In 2011, the NY Times published an article citing a medical study showing that storytelling about our personal experience has the power to lower blood pressure as effectively as hypertension medication. There is a Hasidic teaching that God made man because He loves stories. Get to know your neighbors, tell a story or invite someone in your shelter circle to gift the room with a meaningful story.
4. Make a Blessing Circle
A lot of people don’t realize that besides giving physically like tzedakah, a person can also give spiritually. Giving someone a blessing is a way to strengthen and give with our words. Blessing others allows us to tune into our innate generosity and our desire to bestow goodness upon our fellow human beings. All of us have a spark of the divine inside of us, let’s use it! Truly look at the person whom you are blessing, and remember that you are a channel for God’s blessing, ask yourself: What goodness would you like God to bestow upon this person? It is protection? Love? Parnassah? Clarity? Thank God Hashem put you in this bomb shelter so you have an opportunity to bless people!
5. Learn Torah Together
The Torah teaches that wherever a group of people, or even one person is learning Torah, the Shechina, the Divine Presence, the feminine aspect of the Divine, dwells in that place. Reb Shlomo, Rebbe Nachman, Rav Kook all have amazingly uplifting Torahs. If your a Litvak, learn some gemara, but do it as a group. Get into a group conversation. It will be one of the most effective uses of your time while your together in the this world and the next.
6. Massage Train
Air raid sirens are stressful. Many people tense up their neck and shoulders when feeling stressed. Massage melts away stress from tense muscles like a hot knife through butter. Once again there is science backing this up. The NY Times reported in 2010 that massage has been clinically proven to decrease cortisol (the hormone associated with stress) and increase white blood cells. Massage has also been proven to increase Oxytocin, the hormone associated with peace and relaxation. Consult your Rabbi if this creates Halachic isssues.
7. Pray Together
Whether it’s chanting Tehillim, or singing piyutim. Pirkei Avot teaches that prayer (avodah) is one of the pillars that hold up the world. Rav Kook teaches: “When that prayer of the people of Israel comes, the entire world will be astonished at its glory and splendor, its strength and grace. It will come from the midst of that perfect will that makes the entire world one bloc of holiness, that turns all of life into one chapter of supernal song, a new song, a song of Hashem upon the land of Israel, a song of Zion redeemed and filled with eternal redemption.” God is with you wherever you go, including bomb shelters, and you don’t need a cell phone in order to connect. Don’t underestimate the spiritual power of group prayer.