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March 28, 1986 - Image 17

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1986-03-28

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Jewish View On Suicide

Continued from Page 2

student who threatens suicide,
analyze motives or try to handle
the situation themselves. "It's
sometimes useful to find a small
piece of the problem that can be
dealt with positively, such as get-
ting an 'incomplete' on a course
the student is worrying about,"
said Nancy Stockton, a campus
psychologist. Students who seem
to be at serious risk are often
asked to take health leaves and
get psychological help, in which
case their grades for the last
term — which are frequently low
— are removed from their tran-
script. A condition for the stu-
dent's return may be a letter
from a psychotherapist.
"A suicide arouses immense
anxiety among everyone who
knew the student, as well as a
great deal of guilt," said Ben
Lieber, dean of students at
Amherst College and formerly a
dean at Columbia University.
"Everyone thinks that if only
they had done something else it
wouldn't have happened. It helps
to be as open as possible with
them about the circumstances of
the suicide, to let them know how
common attempts are and gener-
ally to treat it as something that
is not shameful, but is genuinely
The tragedy of suicides, even when
minimal, as the Detroit report indicates,
cannot be treated lightly. USA Today,
commenting editorially under the title
"Teens Need Help to Solve the Problem,"
thus pointed to the issues involved:
Anguished families and
friends ask "Why?" But there's
no pat answer why young people,
often one right after the other,
take their own lives.
There is a teen suicide every
90 minutes. Every day, 1,000
young people attempt suicide,
and every year, 6,000 of them
succeed. Suicide is the third lead-
ing cause of death in the 15-to--24
age group.
Three high school students
took their own lives in Omaha a
few weeks ago. Two others tried,
but failed. A week later, a
Spencer, Mass., high school
junior shot himself in the head.
Then two classmates tried to kill
"Cluster suicide" is a modern
phenomenon that hurts us all —
it robs us of our future.
There have been 17 of these
clusters in the past few years.
They have occurred in all parts
of the USA, including New York,
Texas, Florida, Wisconsin, and
Despite our concern, kids
keep killing themselves. We don't
really know why.
Experts have theories:
Youngsters are under pressure to
do well in school; parents are
belay with their own lives and
problems; teens feel hopeless
under the threat of nuclear war;
families are broken by divorce
and destabilized by frequent.
moves; • there's more drug and
alcohol abuse.
Some would have us believe
that teenage suicide isn't an
epidemic and that a few isolated
incidents are glorified by the
media. "Rich kid kills self"
makes a good story, they say,

and it's ghoulish to report such
But it's far better to talk
about these things than to pre-
tend they never happened. A
news report can be used to start
a discussion about depression
and suicide: Parents can reassure
kids they'll be there when the
kids need them.
It's not being a peeping Tom
to report a tragedy — and it
would be a far greater tragedy to
ignore the problem.
Goleman's analyses, factually sup-
ported, are a valuable contribution to a
painful subject. To confront it, it is
necessary to know the facts and to deal
with them seriously.
It is heartening to know that this
community does not suffer from the dan-
gers of suicide trends. To be prepared to
confront the menace is nevertheless a
communally human obligation.
Every occurrence that results in
suicide is tragedy. When young people
end their lives, by whatever means, it is
tragic. When an elder person resorts to
it, it is very, very sad. When so distin-
guished a jurist as Henry J. Friendly
finds it difficult to confront life's chal-
lenges, there is cause for grief.
Judge Friendly has gained a lasting
place in American jurisprudence as
judge, as interpreter of the law, as
author of briefs lawyers will use in their
legal practices for many years. Judge
Friendly was turning blind and he could
not continue to enrich his profession and
the American experience. But the cause
for his action is believed to be the great
sorrow he underwent a year ago when
his wife of 56 years passed on. The les-
son of it is a deeply-moving posthumous
sense of compassion for a very great fel-
low citizen.

A Very Sad Case
When It Strikes Home

Syme said. "I watched as my
parents became old overnight ...
There is nothing more I can do
for Michael, but I decided I
would personally do whatever I
could to spare others the trauma
of loss by suicide."
He was instrumental in the
formation of the Reform move-
ment's Task Force on Youth
Suicide, the only such effort by
any religious body.
Miss Goldgar has other references to
Detroit-oriented tragic occurrence in her
Southern Israelite article, in which she
Both Michael Syme. and
Mitch Bolton would seem to have
much to live for. They were both
talented musicians. Michael
played 20 musical instruments
and had played backup to such
as John Lennon and Frank
Zappa. His brother called him a
"fine actor and a promising ar-
tist," for whom everyone pre-
dicted a brilliant career or series
of careers.
Rabbi Syme is still uncertain
what drove his brother to
suicide. What he does believe,
and Mrs. Bolton agrees, is that in
many cases, suicide is a prevent-
able tragedy. "It can be pre-
vented," he told the audience,
"by caring people — you among
them." He said, "What everybody
needs is something to live for ...
a sense of meaning and purpose
and uniqueness as an indi-
vidual." Any number of things,
he said, can arouse a feeling of
hopelessness: "Whether it is the
death of a parent, sibling or
friend, or the end of a love affair
or failing a course in school.
Sometimes suicide seems the only
way to respond to an inability to
deal with pressure."
Rabbi Syme blames the
media, too. "Television implicitly
tells us that there is not a single
significant problem that cannot
be solved in a minimum of 23
minutes (plus commercials) or a
maximum of 54 minutes. The
music we listen to often conveys
the very clear message that death
is the only way out of the diffi-
culty of life." •
Returning to prevention,
Rabbi Syme challenged the audi-
ence: "Does it shock you to know
that you and people your age
probably have the capacity to
save more lives than all the
psychiatrists, parents and social
workers in this city?"
Then he addressed th crux of
the matter. "Most people don't
want to die. They just want help.
They are crying out for someone
to get them help."
The importance of recogniz-
ing the 'signals is paramont, he
says. That includes recognizing
that if a friend talks about
suicide and swears his or her
confidant to secrecy, the real
hope is that the wall of silence
will be broken and the friend will
tell someone who can help.
Rabbi Syme cited a book by
Sol Gordon, Ph.D., called When
Living Hurts; a book with heavy
meaning, written with a light
touch, that deals with the frustra-
tions and stresses of life that can
evoke suicidal thoughts. Pub-
lished by UAHC's Yad Tikvah

Foundation of the Task Force on
Youth Suicide, the book offers al-
ternatives and insights to youth
and to parents.
Again and again, he urged
the students not to laugh it off if
a friend talks about suicide. "Lis-
ten," he said. "Listen, and then
please tell someone. Call your
friend's parents. Call the
helpline. Make someone under-
stand the seriousness of what
you are sharing. The worst that
will happen is that your friend
will be angry for breaking a con-
fidence; but only temporarily.
Those who understand what true
friendship entails will thank you
and treasure your friendship
even more."
Rabbi Daniel Syme, who has
emerged as a very creative factor in the
publishing department of the Union of
American Hebrew Congregations, con-
tributes a great ethical-moral-social
guideline to a very serious problem. He
does it with a seriousness that emenates
from personal suffering in a very sadden-
ing experience, one the shared with the
affected parents.
The entire generation has much to
learn from the lesson offered by a griev-
ing scholar.

%troop Report':
Nazi's Account Of
Warsaw Ghetto Battle

SS Brigadefuelifer Juergen Stroop
directed the Nazi forces who battled the
resisting Jewish population and finally
destroyed the Warsaw Ghetto.
The Warsaw Ghetto Uprising is un-
matched in the record of heroism and re-
sistance to Nazism in World War II. The
actual account is provided by the nead of
the German forces against the resisters
in The Stroop Report: The Jewish Quar-
ter of Warsaw Is No More (Pantheon).
This is a facsimile edition of the actual
report, with a copy of the German text
and the English translation accompaning
The summary record by Stroop in-
cludes the daily actions and more than
50 photographs taken by the German
forces. They make this reprinted first
paperback edition immensely valuable in
the study of the entire Holocaust subject.
Adding great value to the report is
the introduction to the volume by An-
drzej Wirth, literary and drama critic
who taught at Harvard and City Univer-
sity of New York, and is now on the fa-
culty of the Free University of Berlin
and a senior associate at St. Anthony
College, Oxford, England. A native of
Poland, he taught in Polish universities
as well.
The authoritative comments by
Wirth are translated by Sybil Milton.
Because he was "editorially respon-
sible for the German edition," Wirth's
annotations assume significance. It took
courage to overcome the objections cur-
rent in 1960 to the task undertaken by
Wirth with the aid of Gunther Grass.
The Jewish Resistance to the
Stroop-commanded forces lasted 28 days.
Stroop was executed by Poland in
1951 for his, actions against civilians.
It is. not pleasant reading, the ac-
count of suffering in Warsaw, the mass
extermination in Treblinka death, the
mounting horrors that lent the tragic
term to the Holocaust.
Wirth's introductory essay provides
,Continued on next page

Another, even more saddening case,
is a recollection by a former prominent
Detroiter, Rabbi Daniel Syme, son of
Rabbi and Mrs. M. Robert Syme. It is
told in a long article, "Suicides Hit Close
to Home; Spurred Duo to Help Others,"
in the Southern Israelite of Atlanta by
the newspaper's editor, Vida Goldgar.
In excellent reporting, editor
Goldgar dealt with the activities of Iris
Bolton, executive director of the Link
Counseling. Center of Sandy Springs,
Ga., which is confronting the suicide
problem. The special interest attracting
Detroiter's to Miss Goldgar's important
essay commences with the following:
Rabbi Daniel Syme will never
forget August 30, 1975. On a re-
cent Monday evening, he told a
primarily student audience at
Emory University why: "That
was the night my brother
Michael committed suicide. He
was only 20 years old."
For Iris Bolton, executive di-
rector of The Link Counseling
Center in Sandy Springs, it hap-
pened a little later: "It was nine
years ago that my beautiful 20-
year-old son made a choice to
end his life."
Out of 'their grief and the et-
ernal questions "Why?" and
"Could something or someone
have prevented it?", both have
spent. the years since learning
everything they could that might
answer those questions. Rabbi
• • • • •
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