Video Link: http://www.youtube.com/embed/c7uY_pQs97U
When seven siblings were killed in a horrific fire last Friday night, the vast majority of the observant Jewish world was insulated from the horror until the Sabbath ended after sundown on Saturday. Within minutes, though, phones, emails, and texts sent the devastating news around the world.
The seven children, who ranged in age from 7 to 16, lived in Midwood, Brooklyn, attended neighborhood schools. It seemed like every child in the community knew them. Their distress was intense, as was parents’ confusion about how to adequately talk to youngsters of all ages about the tragedy.
For more than 1,000 parents and educators, the number to call or email was Chai Lifeline’s Project CHAI. Project CHAI is the crisis intervention and bereavement division of the international children’s health support network. Its three professionals have logged several decades of experience helping children cope with trauma between them.
The first phone calls and emails were received within minutes of the Sabbath’s end. By coincidence, Chai Lifeline’s staff was at its annual staff retreat on the grounds of Camp Simcha, the organization’s camp for seriously ill children and teens. The staff commandeered empty offices and recruited trained social workers and psychologists from among Chai Lifeline’s staff to assist. Rabbi Dr. Dovid Fox, a clinical psychologist and director of interventions and community education for Project CHAI, took an overnight flight from his home in Los Angeles to join the team on Sunday morning.
Intensive effort reaches children, educators, parents
By Sunday morning, Chai Lifeline had released a 12 minute video offering suggestions on how to break the sad news to children and begin the healing process. Within 24 hours, 15,000 people accessed it on Chai Lifeline’s YouTube channel and the Chai Lifeline website. Project CHAI met with principals and staff members at the children’s schools that morning as well. Principals, teachers and staff members appreciated the forum in which they were able to express their own shock and sadness while gaining valuable information on how to help their young charges cope with an unexplainable tragedy. Professionals returned on Monday to meet with classes at the schools that had just lost beloved students and friends.
On Monday evening, Chai Lifeline and the Flatbush Jewish Community Council sponsored “Making Sense of the Tragedy,” an evening for parents and community leaders. Simultaneously streamed on video and audio channels, the broadcast reached over 45,000 people in 25 countries as far away as Japan, Serbia and South Africa.
“A tragedy like this unites people around the world in their horror, sorrow, and shock,” observed Rabbi Simcha Scholar, Chai Lifeline’s executive vice president. “Chai Lifeline and Project CHAI focused on the people most directly involved… those who live in the community and whose families interacted with the Sassoons. But as our live streams showed, everyone felt the loss very keenly. To a great extent, we are all family when something like this happens.”
Video and written material offering suggestions for responding to this and other traumatic events are available at:
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