A panel of Elon University’s multifaith chaplains gathered in the Sacred Space of the Numen Lumen Pavilion on Nov. 13 to make connections through hard discussions and to seek guidance from tradition. The panelists discussed the Israel-Hamas war and how to navigate the conversations around it, particularly with the holidays drawing near.
The panel consisted of the Rev. Kirstin Boswell, the Rev. Julie Tonnesen, Imam Shane Atkinson and Rabbi Maor Greene and focused on the nuances of gratitude and grief, how to process complex emotions, and how an individual can care for both themselves and others in times of conflict.
During the event, Greene said because the attack on Oct. 7 happened on Shabbat and the festival of Sukkot — a Jewish holiday —, there was extra shock and grief felt by the Jewish community.
“You’ve got to be there for other people, even though my own [reaction] is like, ‘Oh, I’ve seen this movie before, I don’t want to watch it again,’” Greene said. “Even though it was different. It was sort of a sense of dread and wanting to hold on to that last little bit of celebration.”
Atkinson said in his own Islamic faith has helped him handle the onslaught of events and the emotions that come with it.
“In my faith tradition, we believe in an afterlife. This is a very brief moment; this is a test. In our tradition, the people that are the most beloved to the creator go through trials. And hopefully can forge you into a more beautiful person,” Atkinson said. ”There are many things in my tradition that made me feel better, not to take away from the tragedy.”
Tonnesen said in order to process emotions and help others, people must first cope with their own emotions.
“One evening — cooking dinner —I just hit a wall and had this rage, screaming-crying snotty-tissues moment,” Tonnesen said. “I think it emphasizes the importance of processing things and doing it for myself so I could help others.”
Boswell asked the panel, “We have thousands of lives, Israeli lives are lost, and tens of thousands of Palestinian lives are lost. How is that? How do you deal with it? How do you care for others?”
In response, Greene said as an individual, the most they can do is to care, listen and focus on community — especially as islamophobia and antisemitism is on the rise.
“It’s not that different than how I approach the climate crisis in the sense of, ‘This is too big for me to do anything about on a global level, but where do I have the power and how can I help and be there for people I care about?’” Greene said.
Ellie Caraway, a senior who attended the panel, said she was grateful to have a space to discuss painful topics.
“I think that having this space is really, really important and I’m really glad and thankful for the chaplains for providing this outlet and I think they were all really insightful,” Caraway said. “It was cool to hear different voices from people with different faith backgrounds, and how they use that yet it felt like an inclusive space.”
She said her biggest takeaway was being gentle in conversation and respecting other opinions.
“Being gentle with yourself and being gentle with others even if you have different opinions,” Caraway said. “The chaplains talked about really you don’t have to have the same opinion as someone to still listen to them and hear them, but really just being gentle and taking space for yourself. And it’s okay to be clear about that.”
Atkinson said there is a way to move forward despite the conflict.
“Judge yourself and others on how beautiful their character is. Being generous, being forgiving, the world is pushing me to imbibe on that,” Atkinson said. “Try to model that because that’s what I’ve seen.”