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Crisis / Krísis

Updated: Nov 5, 2020

A time of Krísis: what can we learn about today from the ancient Greek?

We call this is a time of crisis, but what does crisis mean? In the Jewish world we often like translating “crisis” into “mashber” משבר, from the same root as shever / something breaking. Incidentally, this is the same word used in ancient and contemporary Heb. to indicate the time of birth at the critical moments when the baby is on her way to emerge. The word Mashber holds within it the hope of a break which, in turn brings with it hope for new life, much like the shattering glass at the end of a wedding. Something is broken, something new is born: a new life, a new home, a new society.

But, the etymology of crisis points us to something even deeper: crisis, borrowed from Latin crisis "judgment, critical stage," borrowed from Greek krísis "act of separating, decision, judgment, event, outcome, turning point, sudden change," (from the online Merriam-webster dictionary).

I knew about “turning point or sudden change” but find it more useful to understand our time now through the lens of “act of separating, decision, judgment”. The first understanding, which ties in nicely with Mashber as a breaking or turning point, describes for us what is happening right now, but the second understanding describes what actions we should take.

Crisis is not only a description of a moment or situation – Covid 19, civil unrest, loneliness, unemployment, climate crisis…. It is and should mainly be about our reaction to the situation facing us and a call to action.

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