We live in scary times. Times where mass murders take place in schools, churches, concert venues, synagogues, and the list goes on.
When I read about the mass killing of 11 people attending Shabbat services in Pittsburgh yesterday, I was beyond shocked. A Bris was scheduled in the synagogue at this time. A Bris is a celebration where a circumcision is performed when a baby boy is 8 days old. It is a celebration of life and the child’s covenant with God as a Jew. While this joyous occasion was set to occur, a crazed madman felt it was his mission to mercilessly destroy innocent lives and families in a place of worship. This is horrifying on every level!
My children heard me gasp as I read the article and showed it to my husband. We whispered in outrage to one another. My oldest one wanted to know what we were talking about. I chose not to tell him. I couldn’t think of a way to explain this to him or his younger siblings. Although we don’t go to Shabbat services often, we attend services and events for a multitude of Jewish holidays and celebrations. His grandparents and cousins attend services weekly. I didn’t want him to think that this was going to happen to his family or any other Jew for practicing their religion. I want to shield him and his siblings from the ugliness in the world a little longer. He will be 10 next month and will soon know the evils of the world. It will be beyond my control before I know it. He knows about death and loss through his pets. He has dealt with mean people. He has been bullied in the neighborhood and at school. I have explained the Holocaust and 9/11 to him. We have talked about good and bad people. He knows enough and has experienced enough. He is fortunate to only have “kid fears” at this point.
Deciding to tell your children about tragedy is a personal decision. I do not believe that there is a right or wrong answer to this. I realize there is a chance that he will learn about it elsewhere & I will be available to talk with him about it, if that happens. If you decide to talk to your kids about this tragedy or any other horrific event, here are a few things to keep in mind.
1. Keep information to a minimum- Don’t share graphic details that may give them nightmares. Share the event details succinctly and be available to answer their questions. Limit exposure to media covering the event.
2. Give them time to process the information. Some children may not understand the gravity of what you are explaining. They may shut down. They may change the subject to something more mundane. They may ignore everything you said altogether. They may cry. They may ask questions. This is all normal! Everyone, regardless of their age, handles learning about tragedy differently.
3. Be there for them! Support their emotions. Comfort them with hugs and reassurance.
4. Normalize their feelings. Although, they may be trying to understand a situation that is anything but normal, it is normal to feel sad, angry, confused, etc.
5. Encourage them to do something that can support those impacted or something special in their honor or memory. Today at Hebrew school, the children will be encouraged to do 11 extra Mitzvot in honor of the 11 people who tragically died. Mitzvot is the Hebrew word for “commandment.” However, it is commonly defined as good deeds.
Even though my children may not learn the specifics of this event, they will be encouraged to be kind to one another. They will be encouraged to help one another and support one another. We will find 11 extra Mitzvot to complete this week in memory of innocent people who were fulfilling God’s commandment of keeping the Sabbath day holy by attending Shabbat services.