Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Talking with our children about tragic events

This is what I shared with the Religious School community at Temple Emanu-El after the events at Tree of Life Synagogue:

Dear School Families,

During Religious School on Sunday and Monday, we did not explicitly raise the tragic events at Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh with our students. We know that every child is different, and each family must choose to handle the situation in its own way. Yet, we also know that many of our children have questions and fears that we, as their parents, want to address – not to mention our own, adult concerns.

I want to share with you the guidance I gave our faculty, which holds for parents as well:

  1. If the children bring up the topic, don’t shut it down. Listen attentively to what they have to say -- their concerns and their questions, their thoughts and feelings -- and let that drive the conversation.
  2. Try to answer questions factually without adding unnecessary details. Don’t assume that your questions and concerns are theirs.
  3. Reassure the children that Temple Emanu-El is a safe place; we are a sanctuary for all people seeking comfort and support. Here at Emanu-El, there are many adults who are looking out for them and who know exactly what to do to prevent emergencies of all types from happening. A good example is that when there is a fire drill, we all are trained to respond quickly and safely. There are other things that the kids don’t know about that we, the adults, are doing to keep them safe.
  4. Let them know that an important part of what it means to be Jewish is that when we hear about tragedy, we want to respond. That is why Emanu-El is participating in city-wide vigils (both to express our emotions and to demonstrate our solidarity) and why our Philanthropic Committee and Student Council are already talking about what we can do to help the people of the Tree of Life Community.
  5. Remind them that there are always many more people trying to be good than to do harm, of all religions, backgrounds, and nationalities. Unfortunately, it is so much easier to be destructive than to build, and bad news always gets the headlines – but remember, although there are some dangerous people in the world, nearly everyone you meet is a kind, generous, loving person like yourself.

If you are looking for additional guidance for talking with your children, I recommend all of the following excellent resources:

Finally, our Parent Association member Zibby Owens published an essay on Kveller about going to a bat mitzvah on Saturday night and being reminded of all the good in life, not just this terror.

With love for our Emanu-El family,


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