Rabbi Chaim Ellis, LISW-S, a talmid of Yeshivas Mir Yerushalayim, teaches in the Hebrew Academy of Cleveland and works as a social worker at the Yeshiva Derech Hatorah. He practices as a Licensed Social Worker in private practice and provides trainings to schools and mental health agencies.
The recent tragedy that took place in Pittsburgh is shaking the core of Klal Yisroel. The fact that a tragedy of this magnitude can happen in America, a medina shel chesed, where those who died and suffered injuries only because they were Jews is shattering. We don’t ask why as we do not understand. However, a tragedy can bring up feelings, fears and uncertainties. How do we address our young who look towards us for warmth, security and love?
To ignore it may not be correct–if even possible–in today’s day and age where the news surrounds us and arrives at lightning speed.
Here are a few pointers you may consider when discussing this tragic event with your children:
- Allow your child to talk – Of course you have to know your child. Children who are more anxiety-prone may need more reassurance than others. Shlomo Hamelech says “Daageh b’lev ish yaschenah it” (Mishlei 12:25). The Gemara (Yoma 75) learns from this pasuk, that when one worries, he should talk it over with someone. Talking alone can relieve their fears and stress. Allow your children to ask questions and discuss their feelings.
- Stay calm – When talking to your children stay calm as they will mirror our reactions.
- Eisav soneh es Yaakov – Use age recommend language. Anti-Semitism is real and not new at all. This tragedy is a very clear reminder. However, baruch Hashem, we live in a medina shel chesed where outwardly most people act nice to us for the exception of some very bad people. This incident is an example of just that.
- Do something – In situations like this we all feel like we want to do something to help make a difference and help lessen the pain. Children are no different. Have them daven for the injured, write letters or draw pictures to the respective families who have suffered losses, rachmana letzlon.
- Acheinu kol Bais Yisroel – All Jews are our brothers. No matter where are brothers are “Haomdem bein bayom u’vein bayabosho…” whether they are in Eretz Yisroel or anywhere in the world, we feel and care for them like brothers. This will teach our children empathy and caring for one another; especially towards our acheinu beis yisroel.
- Where evil is found, courage is found – Our talk should focus more on the overwhelming good that takes place in a difficult time like this. Rather than focusing on motives, guns or violence let us focus on the heroism displayed by our police officers and the incredible chesed that our Jewish community displays.
- Safety – Reassure your child that you together with the community are working hard to keep their shuls or schools as safe as they can.
- Tefilla – The most important thing we can do is turn to tefillah and daven for our safety. Share with your child that tefilla is the most powerful tool that we have. In fact we have a specific tefilla that we daven so that people who have evil intentions should not harm us. This is said at the end of Shemoneh Esrei: “V’chol hachoshvim alai raah, meheirah hafer atzasam v’kalkel machshavtam — As for all those who think to do evil against me, speedily nullify their plans and disrupt their thoughts.” We ask Hashem to destroy their plans from the very beginning. In wake of this tragedy, this tefilla takes on a whole new meaning.
May we never need to have discussions like this again and may we be zoche to celebrate the ultimate simcha in the coming of Mashiach speedily on our days.