Why I Tell My Kids About Tragedies

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malaysian flight 370On Saturday night, I boarded a plane only hours after Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 had gone missing. I was out of town for a couple days and less connected to news than usual. Once I had safely landed from my return flight on Monday afternoon, my husband asked if I had heard about the missing plane. I began to follow the story more closely with the rest of the world. Then, I read an article which put names, faces, and stories to a handful of those anonymous passengers, turning a mystery into a very real tragedy.

Yesterday morning upon waking, I was confronted with even more tragic news. A wonderful woman named Rashi Minkowicz, a Chabad rebbetzin I had met only a few weeks earlier, suddenly passed away while she was sleeping at 37 years young the night before, leaving behind a husband and eight children. In the several hours that I got to hang out with Rashi before the talk that she hosted me for in North Fulton, GA last month, I was wowed by her. She had house full of kids with a revolving door for guests and students. She was open-minded towards people of all walks of life and respected different pathways within Torah observance. She gave me a tour of the new mikvah they had recently built which she was so proud of. Rashi was a straight shooter and one of those dynamos that must not have slept very much because of all she was doing. She packed more good deeds into those 37 years, than many of us probably do in a lifetime.

Yesterday, my eight year old daughter saw me reading an article about her and asked what happened. There are probably many parents who would NEVER discuss such events with their children. They’d never tell them about planes that simply disappear or mothers that simply don’t wake up, but I’ve never shied away from discussing sad events with my kids for one simple reason: how will they know how to cope with suffering if I never show them how I do?

Whenever I let them know about something tragic that has happened, I explain how heartbroken I am, but I remind them that I trust in Hashem’s (God’s) plan nevertheless. I tell them that while there is much sorrow in this world, I live with hope that what you see is not what you get. That everything ultimately has meaning. That our lives and actions are interconnected and not random. That beneath the very real and raw pain that we will all eventually face, there is goodness coming from the Source of all things.

My parents gave me everything as a kid. Love, support, attention, education, opportunities. But there was one thing they didn’t know how to give because they had never gotten it from their own parents: a bigger purpose to existence. And when tragedy struck unexpectedly when I was eight years old and a classmate and her brother were murdered by their father, I had nothing to cling to. I learned that remaining distracted from these bigger questions was how most people coped, until of course a tragedy struck and the distraction was temporarily interrupted. Then back to more distraction.

I sometimes feel guilty that I don’t give my own children as many opportunities as my parents provided me with. My husband and I had our kids younger, had more of them, spend lots of money on Jewish day school tuition, and starting Jew in the City was not the best decision financially-speaking. However, although my kids have not gone on as many vacations as I did and have not had as many extra-curricular activities as I had, I believe I am giving to them the greatest gift a parent could give a child: trust in God.

Like I said to Rashi twenty-three days ago as we drove from her house to the event, I speak to my kids candidly about tragic news because although, God willing, I’ll be around for many, many more years, the truth is, we never know how long we have in this world. But if in the time I do have, I teach them trust in God and believe that God has plan for them, then that faith will be something that they can hold onto, even once I’m no longer able to hold on to them.

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Allison Josephs About Allison Josephs

Allison is the Founder and Director of Jew in the City. Please find her full bio here.

Comments

  1. Wow!

  2. Deborah Scop says:

    Beautifully said. Thanks.

  3. It seems unusual for a woman to be named Rashi when it’s the name of a famous (male) Rabbi. Is there a story behind that?

    • Allison Josephs Allison Josephs says:

      Thanks for your comment, AJ. ‘her grandmother and namesake (Rashi) – also died at 37. So other than being named for her grandmother, I don’t know where the name came from. But Rashi the rabbi was not actually named “Rashi.” That is only an acronym of his real name “Rabbi Shlomo Yitzhaki.”

  4. Thank you for this…so absolutely real and true. How you took tragedy to bring out the true meaning of our lives as long as we are here, many it be for many long, healthy, happy years!

  5. Linda Pressman says:

    This is so beautiful, Alison. Thank you for not only imparting that wisdom to your children but to us, your lucky readers.

  6. Singing Girl says:

    But isn’t this answer that you gave far more frightening to a small child than a random universe? If I were a child and found out that Hashem could possibly strike me down while I was sleeping for no discernible reason at all…it would scare the living daylights out of me! Alternatively, understanding that bad things sometimes happen and we simply have to be as vigilant as possible to protect against these bad things (via better security screenings of pilots or regular doctor’s check ups, etc), is far more empowering and far less frightening.

    • Allison Josephs Allison Josephs says:

      Thanks for your comment, Singing Girl. I obviously can’t speak for every child, nor would I, but I can speak for myself and my children. I grew up in a very safe world, but when this father went crazy and murdered both his children and himself, I saw there are no guarantees in life. I saw that my parents love, vigilance, money, time fell short. EVERYTHING in this world will fall short because there are bad people, freak accidents, and disease.

      But I try to make Hashem very real for my children. We speak of Hashem all the time, from the yumminess of the cookie they’re eating (Hashem made delicious cookies for children!) to the fact that they woke up that morning (modeh ani), to talking to them in a very real way about the fact that while there are crazy things that happen in this world, I don’t believe this is all there is to existence and that Hashem’s love for us is unending. And while I don’t know exactly what comes next, I have them focus on how much daddy and mommy love them and remind them that Hashem’s love for them is that, that, that, that much greater and that no matter what happens it’s going to be OK. There’s a plan and it’s a loving one. And they’re not freaked out. It actually gives them a lot of comfort.

      Check out this post for more info (when my friend Mayim Bialik got into a freak car accident and I learned about it on TMZ!) http://jewinthecity.com/2012/08/mayim-bialiks-car-accident-and-the-illusion-of-a-stable-world/

      • Singing Girl says:

        Allison,

        My issue is that Hashem cannot simply be there for cookies and love. Hashem, if it controls the universe, then also creates evil as well. If Hashem creates good, Hashem creates bad. To be intellectually honest you have to thank Hashem for a child dying cruelly of cancer.

        How is this in any way a comforting way to think???

        • Allison Josephs Allison Josephs says:

          These are amazing questions, Singing Girl!! I write about these issues all the time! In this world, when bad news happens we say “Blessed is the True Judge” because we can only see darkness and sadness when something bad happens. And we must FEEL sad. Not just go through the motions. We must feel compassion for those who are suffering, we must mourn when we lose. Please check out this post I recently wrote on the subject http://jewinthecity.com/2014/02/wrestling-with-suffering-when-should-you-question-god/

          But it is seeing the good that makes me trust in Hashem even when the bad comes. Please check out http://jewinthecity.com/2012/11/hurricane-sandys-destruction-groping-for-faith-in-the-midst-of-darkness/ and http://jewinthecity.com/2013/04/if-harmony-and-kindness-in-the-world-make-you-believe-in-god-shouldnt-disunity-and-evil-make-you-not-believe/

          Here’s the thing – I have a choice: I can believe in a meaningless world with no God and no point to suffering OR I can believe in a world where the suffering has a purpose, it’s just one that I can’t understand from my human vantage point.

          The suffering is not going away. So I live life believing in nothing or live life hoping that there’s more to existence than what we see. Many people take another option – constant distraction/never thinking of these things but I’m too morbid to not think about these things.

          It is this attempt to live with transcendence and spirituality that makes all those rules worthwhile to me. Being able to do every last thing I want to has no meaning for me when at any moment the most awful tragedy could occur and I could God forbid lose everything. So this system of Judaism makes all my actions connected to something bigger. I’m aware that I won’t know 100% if it’s true or not until the day I day, but like I said on another post I believe in our people, I believe in the beauty of our Torah and the mitzvos that I’m living day in and out (at times) bring great meaning to my life.

          So to sum it up – I see NO comfort anywhere in this awful world unless there’s more than I understand. And so I live life hoping that there is.

          • Singing Girl says:

            Allison,

            Your comments assume something major that I think is very troubling…

            I have been told (by other people – rabbis included) that G-d is good. And he has a plan. And it is a good plan. And he loves us very much. And so the Holocaust, children dying of cancer, famine, destruction, all of it makes sense. Why? Because it is necessary for whatever reason we do not “know” yet in order for G-d to bring about the Moshiach in times we cannot predict. And we will all “get it” at the end…when we are resurrected. This sums it up in a nutshell.

            A couple of obvious and logical replies to this…

            (1) If Hashem is so good then why must people suffer so much for an end that is undefined in the Torah itself? Hashem has a good plan? If Hashem exists then inherently Hashem would be neutral – neither bad nor good, since these are human concepts to begin with. Love itself is a human concept. How could Hashem love if Hashem is not even human and love is a human emotion? And Judaism itself disputes this concept of an all-loving G-d that is simply understands us best and has the best plan for the world.

            (2) Read the Book of Job, which many scholars have articulated as a very atheistic manifesto. Poor Job suffers and his whole family is wiped out merely as a game played between Satan and Hashem. He suffers quite literally for no reason at all – none. And then in the end there is no resolution. He gets a new family back. Okay…and? So what? Does that make it okay that his original family died? Of course not. Judaism itself ultimately is saying that suffering happens and there may be no reason at all for the suffering. In other words, Judaism itself says in the Book of Job that the answer to “Why do bad things happen to good people?” is…there is no answer and sometimes things just happen.

            ———————–

            Conclusion…

            (3) As a child, if I were told that Hashem loves me, but apparently did not love the passengers of the Malaysian Airliners enough to keep them alive…or loves me, but just didn’t love my ancestors enough to save them from the Holocaust…or loves me, but didn’t save a childhood friend from dying of cancer…I would be in a state of terror. I would not be comforted, but I would be traumatized. Just be aware that some children will react this way. I actually know some personally who reacted exactly as I have described. Not all children find the concept of a loving God to be comforting in the slightest and many find an atheistic reality to be far more comforting, for the reasons I described.

          • Allison Josephs Allison Josephs says:

            Hey- No worries about your words – I get it. This is a tough topic, no doubt about it. But I don’t understand though why God must inherently be neutral and not good. What is the reasoning for that? It’s not what Judaism believes. We believe that God is the *ultimate* goodness. I heard an interesting idea from the book “Derech Hashem” about this. Why do people do things – like anything? We breathe because we need air. We eat because we need food. Most of what we do is because we have a need we need to fulfill.

            But how about a Being that needs nothing. Why would it act? If God is the Creator of all this stuff then we know He “acted.” Yet a Being that has everything would never need to do anything because It lacks nothing and yet God did something. So the answer given by ‘Derech Hashem” is that when you act but it’s not for yourself then the reason is altruism. So God created the world for altruistic purpose. In order to give. But what is the best kind of gift – to just give something to someone? Or make them earn it? I think most people would agree that a hard earned “A” feels better than an “easy A.” And so therefore God makes us work for our reward. And the way we work is by reward and punishment not being clear. The good people suffer, the bad people succeed. And so we do the right thing not because we’re guaranteed our “prize” but truly because it’s the right thing to do.

            In terms of Job – I don’t see it as the manifesto for atheists, I see it as the manifesto of faith. The answer given at the end is that “I am God and you are not and until you’re God – which you’ll never be – you won’t understand.” And I know it’s not satisfying. I GET that. But what other choice do we have?

            I’ve never framed it to my kids that God loving them means they’ll get everything they want in life. Far from it! I’d never tell them the Malaysian flight disappeared because God loved those people less God forbid! What I say is Hashem loves us so much but sometimes we simply don’t understand why things happen the way they do.

            For me personally, watching people who have lost EVERYTHING – I know such people – watching them still cling to hope and faith fills me with immense hope and faith. Because I (bli ayin hara) have lived a very nice, good life overall. And these people have lost everything and clung to hope – I can’t describe the inner strength I see from them.

            So the message I give to my kids is that it’s our job to actively comfort and help those who are suffering. And then it’s our goal to cling to hope no matter what life throws our way. THIS is the mission of the Jewish people. Amalek and Haman said the world is random and meaningless and we said again and again, that there is unity and perfection one layer deeper, beyond what we can see.

            The point of the post was to explain “why *I* tell my kids about tragedies. Everyone must raise their kids as they see fit. But IMO, raising a kid to believe in *nothing* when this is a world of such such sadness is not something I could imagine doing.

  7. Singing Girl says:

    Anyway, I am sorry if my words were too harsh. Reading over what you wrote you actually are an extremely sweet human being. Sometimes my verbiage comes out quite harsh.

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