by Claire Dahan –

On Monday evening, during the observation of Yom Hashoah, a major incident occurred in our community. As you know, this day is an important time for remembrance, paying tribute to the victims and giving voice to the last survivors. Since physical gatherings are impossible during this period of confinement, yet it remains important for us to maintain our duty of remembering the Holocaust, activists from our community, including Gabriel Abensour, organized a virtual gathering via the Zoom platform on Monday evening.


However, that evening, technology showed us its limitations, and reminded us that we must be extremely vigilant when we allow it to enter our homes. In the midst of the testimonial of Miriam Gross, a crucial one on her experience as a survivor, the virtual conference fell victim to attack by hackers. Child pornography, revealing horrific acts of violence, suddenly appeared on our screens. These were violent, raw, and shocking images, prohibited and condemnable by law.


A complaint has been filed and the case is ongoing, but the participants in this Zoom meeting, as well as the many viewers who watched the live transmission on social networks remain shocked. You can easily imagine the psychological repercussions that such images can have on the interviewee, participants, remote spectators, and organizers of the event, even seen through a screen. It must also be pointed out that among the people who saw these images were children and adolescents! A psychological response unit was established immediately by the organizer of the event, but these images create strong psychological trauma. They arrived by surprise, in a totally inappropriate context, just as an attack on the street would occur.


And trauma always causes psychological damage. Firstly, as is the case with mental trauma, the attack was so unexpected, so shocking that we were prevented from reacting quickly and turning off the Zoom meeting or even simply our screens. Flabbergasted and shocked, we were paralyzed for a few seconds, seconds that seemed endless, without anything being done. There was disgust, at seeing violent images of a sexual nature occurring to children, making us want to vomit. Anger, at seeing the event soiled and degraded by the pornographic nature of the images. Sadness, at feeling defiled during an event that marks our deep Jewish identities. Guilt, over having attended the event with our children, feeling that we had taken them to the wrong place at the wrong time. Helplessness, for having been unable to prevent it from happening. And a sense of having been exposed while we had felt safe in our living rooms with our families.


So, what do we do? Do we stop observing important dates? Do we no longer enjoy the benefits of technology, technology that has made the current confinement a little less burdensome?


Whereas barely a month ago, Zoom was a tool reserved for professionals, with mass confinement the tool has become so popular that even our children have easy access to it. The platform allows people to come together remotely, and it is a good thing for us to maintain connections during this time. Yet, what happened last Monday forces us to think about the use of these tools and consider the risks we are exposed to through them. Several matters stand out to me.


First, you need to know the instructions on how to use the tools, just as you would read the instructions for medicine or potentially dangerous household appliances. Remember that while these tools allow us to create another method of connection, they must still call for greater vigilance. Often, we do not have enough control over all the parameters of the applications we use, and we must in order to protect ourselves.


Then, when we are faced with attacks, whether they are virtual or real, we need to learn to develop emotional resilience. This is precisely what Miriam Gross did that evening in reaction to the attack. When the organizers were able to intervene, by closing and restarting the session, she continued to speak, giving her testimony with the same authenticity and commitment she had beforehand.  Later, when she was asked about how she felt experiencing the intrusion of those images, her response was, “Anti Semites are rascals. Let’s forget what we’ve seen and move on.” I find it great that she reacted this way, and I could not give a better example to illustrate what emotional resilience is. This is what it means to say, “I am not the master of this painful event, but I am the master of what I want to do with it. This event will not rule over me, because I have decided that I want to continue to do what makes sense to me, to defend my values and to convey my message.” This is what I feel whenever I listen to survivors, this great ability to get up and shout loudly that they have made the choice to continue living.


Finally, remember that while emotional resilience may not be innate, fortunately it can be built!


Feeling violent emotions after seeing those images is normal, seeing them a hundred times in our heads at any time is also normal. The fact that these images are “on screen” do not make them any less violent and invasive. They act as a real aggression and break into us, as if we had actually just been hit or if a heavy object had fallen on our heads. It may even be that we do experience it physically, feeling a sense of heaviness and discomfort, because our emotions are felt first and foremost in the body. So, sometimes it will be possible to go ahead on our own, but  it also helps to have words put to what we feel, especially in cases that send us back to other traumatic and/or painful experiences. Getting help and talking with a loved one or professional can help to remove the emotional burden that has fallen on us and invades our minds.


To be strong does not mean to get up automatically and immediately, but it means being able to take the time to identify your emotions and verbalize them. I believe there is no innate resilience, but all the uncomfortable events in our lives, whether severe or not, allow us to build and strengthen ourselves at all times. We can only be inspired towards resilience by the way the disastrous episode of last Monday was managed; Miriam Gross continued her testimony without giving up, the organizers launched a psychological response within a few hours, and the video was able to be edited to cut out the violent content.

In the end, we decided that what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger. I hope that everyone can find their bearings and continue to celebrate important events, even from a distance. Good confinement to all!