The words tragedy and tragic are perhaps overused. When someone passes from a ripe old age, it may be sad… it may be a remarkable loss… but usually, it is not tragic. Last week those two words captured exactly what was happening in Parkland, Florida. Last week those words were defined, as if by a textbook… a dictionary…
“An event causing great suffering, destruction, and distress, such as a serious accident, crime, or natural catastrophe.”
I am an HSP, which clinically is Highly Sensitive Person. I react emotionally to outside stimuli, especially the news and events like last week… though I am sure we all had powerful emotional and visceral reactions. How could we not. And I am sure we were all just a few degrees away from personally knowing someone who was in that school. I know several families who I grew up had kids there that day. They are physically okay, but I can only imagine the nightmares and psychological damage caused by this senseless, and perhaps preventable violence.
I am not here to debate guns and gun laws, though I have strong thoughts on that issue. And while I am saddened that so many young people had to bear witness to this horrible event, I am empowered by their strength and willingness to come together, speak out and hopefully affect some real change.
I am not here to discuss anti-Semitism, though clearly the thoughts of this sad, madman included violent anti-Semitic and racist behavior. Judaism was literally put in the middle here, and that is an issue we need to keep discussing and keep tabs on, as it is getting much, much worse… Here, and especially in Europe and places like London, where MULTIPLE incidents are reported DAILY!
What I am here to discuss is the place of religion in tragedies like this one. Clearly, I will look at it from the Jewish perspective, but it is important that people of all faiths have clergy they can turn to for guidance, support and comfort, in what can only be a dizzying and confusing time.To start, it is important that we understand the Seven Steps Of Grief and Grieving. This will give us some indication of where a person is at mentally.
1. Shock And Denial
2. Pain And Guilt
3. Anger And Bargaining
4. Depression, Reflection And Loneliness
5. The Upward Turn
6. Reconstruction And Working Through
7. Acceptance And Hope
One of the most important things I have learned, and the wisest, comes from Pirkei Avos 4:18: “Do not comfort a person when his dead lie before him.”
We can say “we are sorry”… We can say “May their memory be a blessing.” As far as anything else, let those grieving guide the conversation. Just be there for them, when they need you. The fact is, there is so much we cannot possibly know or understand, so now is NOT the time to offer theories… or to say that they are in a better place, etc.
And yes, we sit Shiva for seven days… No coincidence.
While I was watching one of the news outlets interview a Chabad Rabbi, who was helping several of the grieving families, I was struck by two things. The first, was that they were trying to get him to comment on the anti-gun movement that these kids were rallying for. The second, was his response. He specifically said that the role of clergy was not to get into the political debate, but to take care of the needs of the families. While I want to make sure our religious leaders speak up and out against injustice and horrible events like this one, I agree that it is a slippery slope… especially when our country is so powerfully divided. He said that he did not want to make comments that could offend one side or the other of his congregation and community.
Many of you know that a Rabbi on the pulpit, during a High Holy Day service, deeply offended me with their very blatant, and in my opinion, misguided “political” comments. (Actually, it was more an anti-Israel thing, but we’ll leave it at that.)
I want passion and fire from my clergy, but I can see the importance of neutrality and the encouraging of dialogue between sides. As it stands now, it is almost impossible to be in the middle as I strive to be, without getting viciously attacked by the extremes. Our country desperately needs to get back to civility and dialogue… common sense and a unified purpose that strives for the betterment of all of us. Yes, we all have differing opinions on how to go about making change… and I get that… but let’s use the lessons of our sages… let us emulate the councils of old… where we sit and discuss and debate, with love and respect… and let’s put religion/our belief systems in the middle for support and guidance, comfort and love, ethics and morals.
For THIS is what religion is and should be about. This is when religion should be in the middle.