Project Chai Provides Crisis Support to Norfolk Community; Issues Psychological Guidelines for Coping During Times of Trauma

UPDATE: Project Chai Hosts Community-Wide Crisis Support Call in Response to Norfolk Tragedy

Project Chai, the crisis intervention, trauma and bereavement department of Chai Lifeline, hosted a community-wide call on Thursday morning, July 11, in response to this week’s tragedy in Norfolk. More than 1,000 people called in to hear Rabbi Dr. Dovid Fox, Project Chai Director of Interventions and Community Education, address various psychological, spiritual, parenting, and practical concerns with regard to students, children and adults.

Listen to a recording of the call below.

As emergency personnel continue their search for Rabbi Reuven Bauman, a rebbi at Yeshiva Toras Chaim in Norfolk, Virginia, who was swept out to sea on Tuesday, Chai Lifeline is offering its resources and support to the local community. Team members of Project Chai, the crisis intervention, trauma and bereavement department of Chai Lifeline, are currently on the ground—led by Zahava Farbman, MSW, PhD Candidate, and Project Chai co-director—offering emotional and psychological assistance to family, camp staff and the Norfolk Jewish community.

“As the Jewish world struggles to adjust to the frightening image of a disappearance at sea, we must also be mindful of the fear and agony of campers, students, children, and all who are impacted by this unfolding event,” said Rabbi Dr. Dovid Fox, Director of Interventions and Community Education, Project Chai.

“We continue to hope and to daven for a miraculous outcome, yet the pain and the sadness are already present within so many of us,” said Rabbi Simcha Scholar, CEO of Chai Lifeline. “We encourage anyone in need to avail themselves of Chai Lifeline’s resources during this difficult time.”

Project Chai has issued the following guidelines to lend some psychological structure during times of trauma:

•            It is normal to feel deeply saddened. This may be experienced as tearfulness, as loss of initiative, as low energy, fatigue, as loss of appetite. The mind and the soul in some ways almost “conspire” to react to anticipation of loss of life by having the body experience other more concrete losses such as lack of interest in familiar and even necessary things.

•             It is normal to feel uneasy. Encountering tragedy during one’s youth opens up a new vista on life, namely, that time in this existence is finite. Some young people are suddenly confronted with worries about losing others, nervous about those who are dear to us and who are aged.

•             It is normal to experience a sense of loneliness and isolation. It is difficult to open up and examine one’s feelings for this precious teacher who has not been located. Some people rebound from facing such distressing possibilities by withdrawing and not feeling comfortable opening up to others, even to friends, about their emotions.

•             Whenever life is in sudden peril, it is normal to engage in existential contemplation, pondering the meaning of one’s own life, one’s values. At times, students will throw themselves back into their learning with a great intensity, or will seek refuge in profound lengthy davening, or at times… have the impulse to do the opposite, retreating from their studies and tefillos and feeling detached and unmotivated about getting back into their routine and lifestyle.

•             It is normal to ponder the nature of the unexpected, and to wonder about spiritual matters. At times students want to explore questions that they may feel are esoteric, such as where and what are the Divine hashgacha, what is happening out there, and other very spiritual topics which they may have little information about.

•             It is normal to want to do something, to undertake some practice or pledge in the merit of the rebbe.

In coping with the challenge of shock, or of grief, and of the ultimate and dreaded fear of loss, it is necessary to address and elaborate on each of the above pointers.

•             There is a difference between reactive sadness and clinical disturbance or depression. Most people who grieve a loss do begin to regain their strength and motivation in a week or two. When the sadness is very embedded and unchanging, when one feels unable to return to their usual self or continues to feel “not like myself,” it is important to confer with a trusted mature adult. One can consult with a rabbi or with a parent. There should be no shame associated with admitting that you are struggling. A mature, compassionate mentor will never make you feel stupid or embarrassed if you disclose that you are continuing to have a difficult time. Logic and reasoning are seldom sufficient tools or interventions to jolt one out of feeling depressed.  It is important to be able to “process” your feelings and if you cannot do so with a rebbe or parent, it may be helpful to speak with a professional who understands the differences between grief and depression.

•             Anxiety is part of the human condition and can take many forms, depending on the type of stress which has troubled a person and depending on the person himself. Anxiety can present as nervousness, nervous energy, fear, phobia, panic or even a host of physical symptoms. It generally abates over the short term but if you continue to feel “out of sorts” after two weeks or so, or if even early on you are experiencing intense debilitating anxiety, you will likely benefit from a consultation with a professional who understands the anxiety continuum and who can help strategize for healthy management of your worries and fears.

•             People do tend to withdraw at first upon hearing bad news. It is most therapeutic, however, to get yourself back into your routine, and to encourage your friends to do so as well. This does not mean that you are supposed to deny or suppress your thoughts and feelings. It does mean that you are supposed to talk them through with those who respect your internal process while also giving yourself the healing gift of letting yourself recover your love of learning and your love of life. Never sacrifice your basic human needs for food, water, warmth, shelter and camaraderie when you are struggling with grief.

•             Fear of loss is a spiritual as well as a psychological crisis. The concept of death is, for most younger people, concealed in a lot of mystical cloudiness… and confusion. Fortunately, we have not only Torah sources to turn to for help in navigating some of the mystery, but we also have great Torah leaders to whom we can pose our uncertainties and, hopefully, be given either words of encouragement or words of enlightenment. Find someone who you can feel close to, and whose words can illuminate and strengthen you. This is not a moment in your development where you should be teased or humiliated for expressing your musings. Find a mentor. Ask him to help you know what to study and how to make sense of your spiritual questions. Do not conjecture or speculate about spiritual realities that you may know little about. There is so much non-Torah information out there on these topics which is harmful, misleading, and very contrary to our own beliefs. Get your information from a true Torah scholar. There is nothing like death, sadly enough, which brings out the immediacy of one feeling something deeply moving inside which can lead to spiritual awareness and maturing.

•             A mentor can help you determine what can become a productive spiritual course to follow at this time, and what might be overdoing it. Too little attention to one’s spiritual yearnings is antithetical to our hashkafa. Excessive immersion in ritualistic behavior, however, is seldom healthy. Keep away from extremes and aim for stability, especially at this time

Halacha explains to us the nature of mayim sh’ain lahem sof – the implications of loss at sea. Our Gaonim have encouraged us that the probability of tefilla assisting in the rescue of one swept out to sea means that there is always the possibility of survival. We continue to daven, and to hope, and we likewise continue to display caring and sensitivity to all who are affected by this fearful dilemma. May our prayers be answered.

Project Chai encourages anyone with questions or concerns to contact crisis@chailifeline.org or 855-3-CRISIS.

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