To Whom Should Our Children Turn to In Times of Trouble?
October 22nd, 2010
Rabbi Gary S. Creditor
Though it was long ago, I remember fairly well being a teen-ager. I remember high school, USY, continuing Jewish studies locally and in New York, and playing various ball games on the street in front of our homes. In high school I remember derogatory comments made to classmates who were Italian and Polish. I was the token Jew so they left me alone. There were very few African Americans to attract attention. There were derogatory comments made about sex. Gender was only a word that appeared in English grammar books. Many of us thought that our lives should mirror "Leave It to Beaver," a later group would think about "Happy Days," or other television shows that made everyone appear perfect, everything was neat, and everyone had the exactly correct word for every scenario. There was a reality gap between our lives and those shows. There were tensions in school between groups of students, parental expectations and what we could realistically achieve, with teachers, and with classmates. Life had its ups and downs. We didn't have the electronic connections of today to bridge the distances. While this language was not used, there were many things hidden in the closet that didn't dare come out. With the distance of decades and much reflection, I can say that I didn't have as challenging a life as I thought I did then. With all that being said and true, I also knew that I was blessed in two exceptional ways: I always had at least one teacher with whom I felt confident to talk; I always knew that I could turn to my Rabbi.
About twenty-five years ago, when I was a Rabbi on Long Island, a group of teen agers in Northern New Jersey committed suicide. I remember that vividly. As a young father with children I was terribly distraught. That Shabbat I preached a sermon lamenting their deaths, but I also asked a question: Besides their parents firstly, to whom should they and could they have turned? Was there no one out there with a sympathetic ear and open heart that would not be judgmental but offer them love and a safe haven for their feelings, pains, and troubles and help them somehow, some way? They were not Jewish, so I asked: did they turn to their ministers, priests or other religious figures?
In that sermon I declared, and in light of recent events such as the suicide of the student from Rutgers University and particularly the suicides of a large number of gay youths who were bullied, and even if not connected to that issue, I issue these words:
Every child of any age, teenager in high school, collegiate wherever they are, especially with our technological communications should never feel alone, should never think that there is no one to turn to. They can turn to me as their Rabbi. Not that I have every answer for them. I don't. Not that I know everything there is to know. I don't. But as I stood with most of them for their Bar/Bat Mitzvah and Confirmation, as I stand this Shabbat with Eli, and even if I didn't, as their Rabbi, representing our faith that is a source of strength, insight and comfort, I stand ready and willing to help them. None of our children, regardless of age, is ever alone. Of course as their parents we are their first line of love, defense and guidance. But for whatever reason they can't or won't, they never should even imagine doing anything terrible to themselves, or to others. I want every one of our children, wherever they are in the world to know, that especially through the power of email, I am there for them, in whatever capacity I can help them. Give them this message of love. Give them your message of love. Give them my email: firstname.lastname@example.org. And if the phone better serves them, then call me at shul. Call me at home. Regardless of hour. There have been those who have taken me up on this.
Across the years of my Rabbinate there have been youth besides adults who have turned to me for their personal needs. Sometimes it was help in writing a college paper. That was a challenge. Other times it was more personal questions. I always assured them that they and I were in confidential communication so that they felt able to share whatever it was. It was my mitzvah to assist them. It was terribly important to me that they knew that there was a place and person, who represented their core values and who cared about them, that they knew that it was safe to turn. This continues even in this electronic age. My ear and heart was and is always open to them. I pray for their and our happiness, success, fulfillment and contentment. I pray for their peace of heart, mind and soul. I kvell in seeing them grow up and stand with their spouses under chuppah, name their babies and attend the brit milahs. I stand with them always. At any time. For any reason. Their Judaism is theirs for all times, far beyond their 13th birthday. I dare say that their Judaism can be, should be and must be more important to them after their b'nai mitzvah, after their Confirmations, as they will inhabit a much more difficult world, much more challenging life, after they leave home, than while they live in it. It is then, when they experience the existential challenges of life, when they confront the highest issues, when they confront their sexuality, that our faith – Judaism and its values - can inform them, support them and strengthen them. As their Rabbi it is critically important for me to be accessible to them, for them to feel comfortable and capable of turning then, and never feel alone, never feel rejected, never feel abandoned. We walk together in the sunlight of bright, easy and happy days such as this, and in the valleys among the dark shadows. We walk with love. We walk with them always.