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As community continues to grieve, it seeks ways to recover

By Barbara Bayer

Editor

The feelings we’ve been having, Paul Goldenberg said, “can almost be described as a punch in the stomach.”

Goldenberg is the national director of the Secure Community Network. As such, he has seen tragedies such as the one that the Jewish community is coping with many times.

“You have a wonderful, vibrant Jewish community embedded in middle America that has an exceptional and an extraordinary relationship with the greater community and no one ever believes that something like this can happen. The best description is almost like a punch in the stomach. You lose your breath. Hopefully you regain it back very quickly because it’s all about recovering and it’s all about resilience and I think your community showed exactly that tremendous effort,” Goldenberg said.

Efforts to begin the healing process began almost immediately. Jewish Family Services has had counselors available since the very beginning.

“We are able to respond to all who have called and have connected with community resources if we get into areas or volume that we can’t handle. So far, that’s not the case,” said JFS executive director Don Goldman.

He pointed out that the JFS counselors and employees, like most people, are having the same normal sadness and fears.

“We took some time on (April 17) for them to debrief and share their thoughts with each other,” he added.

Over the next few weeks JFS will hold some family life education events, some in partnership with schools, to help parents work with their children. (Hyman Brand Hebrew Academy is conducting one tonight, Thursday, April 24. See page 7 for details) 

“We have already consulted with Jewish preschools and the Academy, providing them resources. We have also reached out to national resources so that JFS is prepared to handle the healing properly,” he said.

Goldman said the JFS staff believes it is normal to process these difficult events, but also wants to make sure people learn to move on and return to their normal lives.

“That doesn’t mean the community shouldn’t deal with the issues raised. In fact, we have reached out to other Jewish Family agencies, including Chicago and Seattle, where the 2006 Federation shooting took place, to make sure we learn from their experiences. No event is identical and each community will react differently. But we want to make sure we have as much knowledge as possible to help our community heal,” Goldman said. 

Love will keep us together

Rabbi Arthur Nemitoff of the Temple, Congregation B’nai Jehudah, who organized last week’s Service of Unity and Hope, said that with every death, the moment comes when the hard work begins and we have to begin the task of pulling the pieces of our lives back together.

“We know that silence will not heal the wound that has ripped our community asunder. For it is silence that allowed such acts to happen. Silence in the face of hatred. Silence in the face of prejudice. Silence in the face of fear. Silence is no solution,” he said at the interfaith service.

He believes love will help us pull the pieces together.

“Love for each of God’s children. Love for who we are. Love for those who are wounded and weary. The Bible is clear in this message. In the book of Leviticus, we are commanded not once but twice, ‘V’ahavta l’reiecha kamocha’ — You shall love your neighbor as yourself.

“If we can love — if we can embrace the opposite of hate — then we stand together and we will be stronger,” Rabbi Nemitoff said.

Prayer promotes healing

Photo by Barbara Bayer: Three thousand people showed up Friday night at the Jewish Community Campus to pray together and walk in solidarity from the site of one horrible tragedy at the Campus to the other at Village Shalom and back.

Many prayers address strength and healing. Others help us move forward.

“The Kaddish prayer addresses that internal instinct of disloyalty,” noted Rabbi Mark Levin.

“By reciting Kaddish from the grave forward, tradition insists that even though we resist, we are commanded to go on and strive for full lives without those who lie in the grave. It’s not disloyal to work toward enjoying life even though our loved one has died,” he said.

“Jewish tradition is ever so wise, and tuned in to the actual lives we lead. I pray for healing for all those who have lost family or friends in this tragedy. May we all restore ourselves to health and strength, wiser and closer to one another because even in tragedy there are lessons to be learned about life’s beauty,” he continued.

The Jewish Community Chaplain Rabbi Jonathan Rudnick, who works under the auspices of JFS, is no stranger to grief counseling. He was the one called to the hospital on that fateful day to meet with the families of at least two of the deceased. As he’s been saying Kaddish regularly following the death of his father last August, he finds the prayer very comforting.

“In it we talk about all the House of Israel,” Rabbi Rudnick said. 

“I think part of the road of the healing, at least for me, is a heightened awareness of the universal inside of Jewish tradition, Jewish practice, Jewish prayer. We are talking about our community, whether we were inside or outside our community is salient to everyone that as two Jewish places were targeted for Jewish people to be killed, the people who were killed were from different faith traditions,” he said.

“There is a potential there for that to be a disconnect, but we really need to come back to connections and what community is all about. So for me, a lot of this week has been grabbing on to those places and things where the Jewish feels very universal,” he said.

Don’t be isolated

Rabbi Rudnick’s office is at Village Shalom. He was there the day of the shooting and said it hit him that so many residents there feel isolated.

“In particular a person who was a Holocaust survivor was trembling and crying and feeling like it was all happening again. That person was in that place of isolation and fear,” Rabbi Rudnick said.

He said that person and others would be comforted and bolstered by visits from people outside of the retirement community.

“Stop by Village Shalom and be present there. Even just walk in for 10 or 15 minutes and connect with the first person one would run into. In a way these now become part of healing, what we have some control over, what we have some choice in, which we didn’t last week in the act itself,” said Rabbi Rudnick, noting that oftentimes it will make the visitor feel good as well.

Be informed

Rabbi Rudnick said reading the April 17 issue of The Chronicle reminded him of being in Israel in times when terrible things happened. He said a natural reaction is to read and get more information about it.

“How and whether that helps is debatable, but sometimes you feel like the more you know, you’re in a little bit more control and everyone was a part of it so you kind of latch on to that. The different perspectives that you provided in The Chronicle to connect to what happened both in terms of who this person, the perpetrator was and is, and other perspectives in the other story … it felt good to know that there will be continuing connection (in the paper),” he said.

Regardless of how Rabbi Rudnick discussed ways to heal, he always referred back to the Beit Yisrael, the House of Israel. Being together, comforting each other, keeping tradition, always as a House of Israel.

“There were people who were not part of the Jewish people, but they were close to the Jewish people. They lived in our midst. Here they were with us in our homes, it doesn’t get more homey than the Jewish Community Center and Village Shalom, even more than a synagogue in that sense because it has such wide open doors and to be able to find ways in prayer, in Jewish language, that includes all of the people who connect with the Jewish people … will begin our healing process.”