High school students bless the Jewish Challah
giving thanks for the blessing of food to eat.
Professor Joe Goldblatt
At the end of a primary school programme about the Jewish people in Kirkwall, Orkney I asked the boys and girls if they had any questions. A young laddie of nine years of age looked me in the eye and said “I see you Jews have had lots of troubles. Can you ever just stop being Jewish?”
His brilliant and insightful question gave me pause. I finally replied by asking him “Living in Orkney can also be difficult due to the weather, the dark winters, and the distance from the mainland of Scotland. However, can you ever stop being an Orcadian?”
The young man immediately rose from his seat upon the floor and shouted “Never!”
I smiled and remembered the legendary British Prime Minister Winston Churchill for whom the Churchill defense barriers in Orkney are named. During the darkest days of World War II he told his fellow citizens and indeed the entire world “Never give in. Never, never, never, never—in nothing, great or small, large or petty—never give in, except to convictions of honour and good sense. Never yield to force. Never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy.”
In my view, sometimes the real enemy is within ourselves. We must fight the forces of division, distrust, disrespect, and intolerance. We must triumph over the overwhelming might of those inner forces that cause our emotions to triumph over our reasonanble analysis.
This is especially true with regards to providing comfort for young children during these difficult days where two wars are raging in Ukraine and in the Middle East. How do we speak in a calm, objective, and empathetic voice to young people who are emotionally distraught by all the negative images and words they see and hear in wider society?
From my own perspective there are three critical steps we must take when approached by a young child with a question or when we notice that they appear to be suffering from distress due to world events.
Firstly and foremost, it is important to listen with our ears, our eyes, and or hearts. In our fast moving world too often we are distracted and do not practice focused listening. I recommend that you find a safe place to listen to the child where they will feel comfortable. This may be their bedroom or their play area. Once you both are comfortable, then open your ears, eyes, and hearts by asking them how they are feeling and what you may do to help.
Second, the late Rabbi Harold Kushner was the author of “Why Bad Things Happen to Good People” and he believed that we must remind children that although the world is imperfect, by having faith and trusting in ourselves we may find strength and comfort. The scriptures suggest this philosophy may help us during the most difficult of times. For example Jesus (who was a Jewish Rabbi) said in (John 16:33) “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”
Third, use facts and evidence to help combat the seemingly dark clouds gathering around the wee one you are listening too. Remind them that we have many blessings such as a good and healthy family, friends who love us, and the freedom to be safe and secure with one another.
In Judaism, following the death of a loved one, we recite a prayer entitled the Kaddish. Kaddish means sanctification and in this prayer, despite our sadness we sanctify God. The closing lines state “May the One who brings peace to the Universe bring peace to us and to all the people Israel.” In our most troubled times, we must reach deep into our souls to find peace through our unwavering belief in a greater power that may be out with ourselves.
These conversations with young people may be extremely difficult to initiate and that is why a book such as What is a Perfect World? by Nancy Lynner may be helpful. In this book the author invites adults and young children 1.5 to 7 years of age to discuss what makes a perfect world by giving examples such as clean air, enough food to eat, good health, and other positive aspects of our lives. At the end of the book the author reminds us that a perfect world may also include ice cream to eat! Then the author asks the reader what they believe is needed for a perfect world?
None of us may easily stop the heartache that is bombarding our lives day after day. By avoiding or reducing our consumpton of news media we may lessen, as Shakespeare described “the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune”, however, we must also continue to converse with one another and search within the depths of our soul to find even greater inner strength. I believe that the greater enemy is often within us and that we may eventually triumph over this evil by surrounding ourselves with others whose love and compassion may help us to heal our sometimes broken world and hearts.
Professor Joe Goldblatt is Emeritus Professor of Planned Events at Queen Margaret University in Edinburgh, Scotland. His views are his own. To learn more about his views visit www.joegoldblatt.scot