Photo Credit: Jewish Press
Keshet Starr

Oy gevalt! We’ve all said it, after a bad day, hearing unfortunate news, or realizing how dangerously close it is to Pesach. But what does this term actually mean? And what does it do for us?

According to Webster’s dictionary, gevalt is an expression of alarm, while oy indicates exasperation or dismay. From one perspective, this isn’t such a good thing. Shouldn’t we focus on the good in our lives, and not the difficulties? AKA more joy, less oy?


But it turns out that talking about the tough things is actually critically important to building healthy relationships and having a healthy inner life ourselves. As Dr. John Gotterman puts it, “When we talk about our feelings, they become less overwhelming, less upsetting and less scary.” Marriages where partners never broach difficult conversations weaken, because it’s in conversation and negotiation that couples can move forward and grow together. Workplaces built on relentless positivity cannot excel, because they can’t struggle through challenges and come out the other end. Even within ourselves, we need to face our hard moments to process them.

So the next time you break out into an oy gevalt, don’t feel guilty – you’re doing the hard work of being human.


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Keshet Starr, Esq., is the CEO of the Organization for the Resolution of Agunot (ORA). She has written for many publications and is a Wexner Field Fellow. A graduate of the University of Michigan and the University of Pennsylvania Law School, Keshet lives in New Jersey with her husband and four children.