Tragedy. Resilience. Pride.

January 10, 2020

You can read the whole Ta Shma, Beit Rabban's weekly newsletter, here

Dear Beit Rabban Community,

We all know that safety comes first. It is our primary responsibility as people who are entrusted with the care of children. It is the foundation of all healthy relationships. it is the bedrock emotion that allows children, and all adults alike, to express their full selves, to take risks, to achieve. It is all about safety, physical and emotional and we do all we can, while continuously finding ways to do more, to build and sustain safe environments for our children.

Then horrible things happen, like attacks on Jewish community within miles of our own. These tragedies affecting Jews, affecting children, affecting other people who are vulnerable, happen too regularly. And we seem to be constantly reminded of our vulnerability and that of our children. When these things happen, they obligate us to interrogate all our safety infrastructure, no matter how tight we believe it to be, and to do more to keep our children and our communities safe. This is what we have been doing in the past weeks as a school leadership in very close partnership with our security company. It seems to be what all our colleagues in the field are doing as well.

There is another side to this safety question that we think about all the time as educators and as parents. How do we ensure our children feel safe when when there are objectively frightening things happening, when we as adults may feel anxious and frightened? There is no way to screen out all that is frightening, to ensure that our children are indefinitely protected from the awareness of tragedy. And, we know better than to give our children false assurances. We cannot promise our children that we will protect them from all the things that frighten them because we cannot follow through on that promise. If, God forbid, something "bad" were to happen to them, whatever that may be, we could inadvertently intensify that trauma by having broken a fundamental commitment to them.

So what do we do to support our children emotionally, to help the retain the sense of fundamental safety that they deserve when we may be scared ourselves?

  • We remind ourselves to first make sure we are checking our own anxiety levels and not raising the level of fear in our homes and classrooms.
  • For our older children in elementary grades and beyond, we talk to them about these tragedies with developmentally appropriate detail and make sure they feel safe expressing their emotions to us. We want the to know that we can handle their feelings, no matter how big, and that they never have to protect their grown-ups from their challenging feelings.
  • We remind our children that there are really smart and responsible people in charge of their safety and of public safety in general who are always doing more and more to protect children and to learn new safety lessons.
  • We tell them honestly that these things are still very rare, that overall we are living in a safe environment. When terrible things happen, it shocks us, we all stop and really think about these events for a long time and support people who are directly affected. One of the reasons that we are so shocked is that these things are uncommon.
  • We focus on all the helpers, the people who come to the aid of those who have been hurt, the professionals and the regular people. We talk about what we can do to help.
  • We assure our children that no matter what happens in the world at large, or even to them personally, they can always rely on us to support them. We are all strong and resilient, and we amazing at overcoming tragedy.

On this last point of strength and resilience, I think we have an extra lesson to teach our children as Jewish adults. We are not just strong and resilient as individuals and as families. We have been strong and resilient as a Jewish people thousands of years. And we are extremely proud of this strength and resilience.

To be honest, when the UJA-Federation announced the No Hate. No Fear. Solidarity March I felt anxious about the gathering. But I forced myself to put that anxiety aside because I trust that our Jewish institutions take safety and security extremely seriously and because I know that we must stand up as a community and affirm our belief in the resilience and strength of our people.

This Sunday's march, with over 25,000 Jews and allies of all faiths in attendance, inspired me beyond what I could have imagined. I am so grateful that my children we there. I am so grateful for the amazing hand-on lesson they received in Jewish pride. My own sense of Jewish pride has been deepened and strengthened.

The sad reality is that tragedy, personal and communal, will continue no matter what we do, and we are going to continue to have difficult conversations with our children over the years. I pray that we have more and more opportunities to also have inspiring conversations with them: to teach them and to engage them joyfully in the profound pride we have in being part of the Jewish people. I hope that these opportunities to talk about communal strength, resilience and pride are not always necessitated by tragedy. Even when they are, I pray that our community will always come together with the kind of solidarity that it did this past Sunday.

Wishing all a restful and rejuvenating Shabbat,