Rabbi Dr. Dovid Fox, director of Project Chai, the crisis intervention, trauma and bereavement department of Chai Lifeline, offers practical suggestions and words of chizuk for parents, educators and community leaders on dealing with the shooting in Jersey City.
People can call to hear a recording. Dial-in number: (605) 313-4101 Access code: 730435 Reference number: 3. For Yiddish speakers, a Yiddish recording is available from Rabbi Meir Chaim Fried, Project Chai Team Member. Dial-in number: (605) 313-5112 Access code: 429088 Reference number: 2.
A Jewish community has sustained a bloody attack. Here. Nearby. A small enclave of Chassidishe Yidden in Jersey City had their lives on the line, life disrupted, during a frightening siege, schools on lockdown, hostages held and murdered, people from around the Jewish world suddenly on alert, again. Whether overheard in adult conversations, whether picked up on radio news, through headlines or word-of-mouth in the schoolyard or street, it is likely that our children, our students, are by now rumoring about the truly scary events – even as more details emerge about the nature of this crime and its intention.
There is little doubt that varying reports will surface, the media will take one or another spin on that matter, and editorializing will package and reframe the nature, motives, rationalization, and, yes, “justification” for the killings and carnage. We have our take on it, our leaders will provide perspective, and meanwhile, it may be important to consider addressing select classes, and parents speaking with their own children, with a blend of reassurance and realism.
The Chassidic branches of our Project Chai intervention team were mobilized immediately, and were on the scene, and are still active, in addressing individual children and adults, schools and elements of the broader Chassidic community. This brief article is for all of us and all of them, who are seeking the answer to my title question—what do we say now?
In making a responsible response to trauma in our midst, there are some guidelines:
· Acknowledge that you are aware of the situation and ask if the students/children have heard about this news
· Ask them what they have heard, and be sure to correct gross exaggerations or misunderstandings lest this foments greater panic
· Ask how they are feeling, what they are feeling, after pre-validating that the news has caused all of us to have internal reactions, such as worry, fear, sadness, confusion, anger.
· Validate their reactions, reframe the more dramatic reactions such as if a child or older student discloses extreme decisions (“I’m not going outside again”; “I won’t go to school or leave the house”; “I don’t want mommy and tatty to leave the house”; “I am never going to daven without kavana again”), and normalize reactions which are on the spectrum of understandable responses for their age level.
Observe younger children, pre-school age, at play for signs of aggression, distress or withdrawal. It is less likely that the current event will impact this age group, but be vigilant for atypical behaviors which might signal their confusion or fear. Elementary age children who are more likely to hear “news” often need to understand details. You can offer them clarity that limits and contains their potential for fearful reactions, filtering your remarks through a “shield” of reassurance. Older children in their teens are more likely to entertain abstract ideas, philosophical and spiritual musings and preoccupations, and may be receptive to your own willingness to address and frame their accurate grasp of matters and their meaning. Fine tune your input to match their actual level of concern.
· Offer reassurance, both in term of our bitachon, and in terms of steps taken by the school, shul, to provide security and monitoring of premises.
· Provide students (and parents) the option of one-on-one dialogues with persons in authority (rabbi, menahel, menaheles, or qualified mental health experts if indicated) to address spiritual, practical and psychological concerns. Do not minimize or criticize those who do voice concern and seek personal chizuk or supportive input.
For those who run schools and are looking out for both student and teacher welfare:
· Explore diversionary projects with teachers, at age and grade appropriate levels, so that students feel that they are taking some reparative action via focused learning, tehillim, inspired tefilla, writing, drawing, etc. as a means of ventilating their fears, sadness, anger. “Active activity” does help a person both divert their focus and energy, and mobilize parts of their brain which are in shock or numbed by the flood of frightening news.
· Offer reassurance but do not make promises which you cannot keep or vouch for, and make it clear that you will be there for them to discuss concerns, and for them to share anything that they hear which concerns them.
Our sages, and the Zohar haKodesh, have described a late emerging phase during “Golus Edom” which is known as Golus Yishmael. The rapid emergent incidents across the globe seem to us like harbingers of that time, this Ikvasa D’Meschica. For adults, this is ironically comforting, as we see the footsteps of redemption picking up in pace and energy. Still, there is an uneasiness implicit as we are confronting threats to our presumptive safety and our familiar routine. This feeling can trickle down to our children, and we have a key challenge to model for them our trust and faith. Let us all mentor for them and for ourselves fervent bitachon and palpable emuna.
Our full-time call-in line for consultation and guidance is accessible at 1-855-3-CRISIS and our department email is firstname.lastname@example.org