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February 12, 1993 - Image 7

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1993-02-12

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Community Views

Take Me To
Your Leaders

Soothing Anxieties
Of Our Children

The radio an-
nouncer inter-
rupted the
music to inform
Chessman's ex-
ecution had just
been carried
kit. I was playing in the
kitchen where my mother
was cooking. I was alarmed
ooth by such unusual behav-
ior on the always staid CBC,
and by the content of the an-
nouncement. My mother ex-
Orlained to me that Mr.
Chessman had murdered two
women, was found guilty and
Lherefore punished. It was
Illy first awareness that harm
could come to people in real
life and not just in fairy tales.
!Sensing my anxiety, my
mother reassured me that
this happened far away from
ins, the person was caught
and that my world was still
I was less able to be reas-
sured that my world was free
from possible harm when I
learned the reasons for the
numbers tattooed on the arms
of my friends' parents. I real-
1 4zed that there are times
where there is nowhere to
,hide from evil and that the
world can be a scary place.
When my girlfriend's father
/died suddenly when we were
in grade school, I knew how
vulnerable my own world
>could be.
Unlike my own experience
and that of my contempo-
raries, children today gener-
/Oy go not gain progressive
awareness of the dangers and
uncertainties around them.
By an early age, radio and
television news, the tabloid
"infotainment" shows, and the
visual images on the front
\ i-,' age of our newspapers in-
undate our children with hor-
rifying details of events and
atrocities in our community
and beyond. These become
facts of their world which can
cause anxiety and uncertain-
/4. In the last few months our
children have had to deal
with images of the victims of
\ Hurricane Andrew, stories of
homeless families with chil-
dren, pictures of the starving
in Somalia, reports of abduc-
/- --ions of children, stories of
parents who leave their chil-
dren unattended while they
fly off to vacation, and fre-
)quent headlines screaming
the details of every variety of
1 child neglect and abuse. The
\-tragic car accident that took
the life of a Hillel School first




Janice Starkman Goldfein is a

clinical social worker in pri-
vate practice in Southfield.

grader and her mother dis-
tresed and frightened parents
and children alike. For some
of the children at Hillel who
were already dealing with
their feelings about the sud-
den death of a classmate's
father, it was especially over-
Answering the questions
generated by these stories is
the responsibility of parent-
ing that's more difficult than
the physical and administra-
tive demands. The first and
most painful question for kids
is, could this happen to me?
Anything within our control
is easy to reassure. We can
guarantee that we will not
leave them unattended in sit-
uations which could make
them anxious, or that we
won't use drugs so they will
not be left to deal with their
own needs or potential emer-
But what of situations that
are not in our control? We
cannot guarantee that bad
things won't happen, but we
can reassure them that we
are taking every reasonable
precaution to see that noth-
ing bad happens either to us
or to them. They should be
aware that we carefully con-
sider the implications of dif-
ferent circumstances and
experiences and plan accord-
ingly. When we explain our
thought processes and rea-
soning, it not only teaches
how to approach situations
and think ahead, but it also
reassures them of our ongo-
ing efforts create a safe world.
Ideally we have to reflect a
balance between appropriate
caution and thoughtfulness
on the one hand, and exces-

"There are times
when there is
nowhere to hide
from evil and that
the world can be a
scary place."

sive worry and fear leading to
avoidance or withdrawal, on
the other. Our behavior sends
messages at least as powerful
as the ones we express ver-
bally. If we come home and
set the alarm and then go
about our business knowing
we have done what we rea-
sonably can to alert us of dan-
ger, we send a message of
trust. If we continue to worry
and constantly check the
alarm, the doors, and win-
dows and remain anxious, we
send a message of fear.
The questions which follow

immediate concern about
their own world usually focus
on what and how. Kids often
want to know the details of an
event and its aftermath.
Knowledge makes the event
less mysterious and frighten-
ing and offers some possible
clues for understanding.
Questions should always be
answered in as forthright a
manner as possible, offering
as much information as
seems appropriate. If we can
be matter of fact about prac-
ticalities, the underlying mes-
sage suggests that reality is
possible to deal with. If we are
evasive or afraid, we convey
that the situation is too hor-
rible to discuss. When a vac-
uum is created by a lack of
information or by the mes-
sage that a subject cannot be
talked about, the imagination
may create frightening fan-
Our verbal and non-verbal
messages shape our children's
views and fears. It is impor-
tant to be aware of how our
own experiences formed our
attitudes. Were we taught
that the world is an interest-
ing place where new experi-
ences and challenges were
welcomed rather than avoid-
ed? Did we have experiences
which traumatized us in some
way? Do we believe that we
are capable of dealing with
any circumstance which pre-
sents itself, or do we believe
that there are situations that
might be impossible to deal
with so we avoid risk and
change? Being aware of these
issues helps us understand
our own behavior and con-
tributes to conscious choices
in dealing with our children.
As children get older, their
questions about events be-
come more complex and so-
phisticated. Questions about
good and evil arise. How can
people behave in so brutal a
way towards one another?
How can a loving God allow
such pain and sadness to oc-
cur? These questions provide
us wonderful opportunities to
share our thoughts and val-
ues in positive ways. Most of
us struggle with trying to un-
derstand both the reasons
and lessons of situations. Our
Tradition and teachings pro-
vide rich sources for dealing
with these issues. Having our
children see the struggle and
dilemmas we experience en-
courages their own thinking
and stimulates discussion. It
is through these conversa-
tions that we have a chance
to transmit the values we
have and to encourage iden-
tification with these.
No matter how we under-


Jewish lead-
ers are a driven
bunch. What
other group
would meet for
several days in
winter in sunny
Arizona by hud-
dling in endless
committees inside a hotel
from early morning until late
evening, with suits and ties
the standard attire for men?
But then, the 150 or so pro-
fessional and volunteer lead-
ers of the Council of Jewish
Federations who came to
Phoenix last week for their
annual leadership board in-
stitute had some serious is-
sues to deal with. Most
notably, they felt the need to
jump-start a special commis-
sion on Jewish identity, an-
nounced at the General
Assembly in New York last
November as an effort to
counter the increasing trend
of assimilation in American
Jewish life.
This is new ground for fed-
erations, which have been ex-
tremely successful in raising
large sums of money to pro-
vide for social service needs
for Jews in Israel and here at
home but have not been in
the business of trying to
make Jews more Jewish.
I was honored, and a bit
unnerved, when asked to ad-
dress last week's board insti-
tute at a session called, "The
State of Federations: A Dia-
logue." I was asked, no doubt,
because I had written sever-
al columns in the last few
months dealing with prob-
lems facing federation.
To their credit, the leaders
of the CJF, the umbrella
group of some 200 federations
throughout the U.S. and
Canada, were willing to in-
vite an "outsider" to critique
them, and the resultant two-
hour session was, I think, not
only liVely but productive.
In my remarks, I sought to
explain that though I am an
outsider in the sense that I
do not work for federation or
sit on its board, I consider
myself an "insider" in the
sense that I am a caring Jew,
struggling to transmit my
proud Jewish heritage to my
own three children. And I
care deeply about the success
of the enterprise we know as
I suggested that if the
main goal of federation is to
raise money, then the current
system, an oligarchy, where
power is in the hands of a
few, should not be changed.
But if the primary goal is tru-
ly to build and strengthen
and ensure the survival of the

Jewish people and the Jew-
ish community, then major
changes are in order.
Today, the language of
federation is of consensus
and committee and process.
But to move from the world
of social work to the world
of Judaism, the vocabulary
should include words like
Torah and mitzvot and
covenant. Because the role
of federation has changed.
For decades it took care of
the financially poor and
needy, but today we have a
community that is Jewish-
ly and spiritually impover-
ished, and federation needs
to not only raise money but
raise Jews.
I submitted that federa-
tion can no longer, in an ef-
fort to maintain community
consensus, avoid contro-
versial issues dealing with
religion (like assimilation
and intermarriage). In-
stead, it must be more bold
and take the path that is
most effective rather than
the path of least resistance.
My premise was that
there is a hungering out
there among American
Jews for authenticity, for
more Jewish knowledge
and a deeper understand-
ing of our history and her-
itage — as long as it is
presented in a thoughtful,
caring, non-threatening
In practical terms, I sug-
gested that Jewish textual
study become a part of
every CJF function, from
the General Assembly,
which successfully intro-
duced such a study session
last November, to CJF
quarterlies and board in-
stitutes. And textual study
should become part of mis-
sions to Israel as well, per-
haps devoting time for
participants to learn about
the religious significance of
the land of Israel.
High school graduates
should be encouraged to
spend a year before college
studying in Israel, as has
become the norm in the Or-
thodox community, provid-
ing young people with a
commitment to Israel and
Jewish values that will last
them their whole lives.
Here at home, federation
needs to forge a new rela-
tionship with what should
be its strongest ally: the
synagogue. Historically,
synagogues and federations
have seen each other as
competitors rather than al-
lies, going after potential
leaders and donors. Feder-





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