Home, but not really online
This week's portion: census (Bamidbar)

Pastoral counseling assignment: response to a dirty bomb

Being temporarily cut off from my email is discombobulating on all sorts of levels. (I may write about that later today -- it's a little bit funny, and a little bit revelatory, how deeply I feel this disconnection!) One of the practical challenges it poses, though, is that in my low-residency rabbinic program we rely on email a lot.

Tonight, for instance, I have a pastoral counseling class, for which homework is due. But how can I hand in the homework if I can neither email it to the instructor nor access the google-group where our course discussions are held? Well, I can post it here. And hey, maybe it will be interesting to someone out there. Here's the assignment; my response follows beneath the extended-entry tag.

Imagine a dirty bomb set by terrorists has gone off in the closest major city to where you live and work, but not in your city of residence/work. Religious school happens to be starting in a week’s time – how will you change the opening week’s programming/classes to integrate this incident in a healthy way? Please write up a memo to parents and faculty describing procedures and program plans, recommendations for how to handle the situation with students/children, etc.

Dear Parents,

Even at this time of upheaval, the joyful obligation to educate our children continues. It's my hope that we can find comfort in the familiar routine of returning to Hebrew school next week, both as teachers and as students, even in the face of recent events.

Our plans for our first day of class have changed in light of this week's terrorist attack, and I want to share them with you so you will know what's in store.  The day before we return to Hebrew school, I will lead a workshop for our religious school teachers, which will give our teachers a space in which to begin coming to terms with the explosion and its implications on practical, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual levels. Each of us will come to the first day of class strengthened by that workshop and by that chance to process the news together, which will help us be present to your children now and in days to come.

On our first day of Hebrew school, we'll begin together as a group by singing "Mah Tovu," which speaks both of our tents (the physical structures of our lives) and our dwelling-places (how those structures can be transformed when we awaken to holy presence within them.) Then each teacher will form a circle with her class, and we'll spend some time on introductions, learning each others' names, and giving each child the chance to mention something she or he did over the summer or something she or he wants the other kids in the class to know.

After each class has its opening circle, the teachers will facilitate small-group discussions about what happened in [City] recently. Our intention is to answer the kids' questions, and offer them a context in which to talk about their fears and hopes, in a safe and age-appropriate manner.

In kitah Aleph, the children will work on drawings expressing their feelings about the bomb. In kitah Bet, the children will have the opportunity to write stories and poems. And in kitah Gimel, after we've taken our chance to process the news together, I'll lead the b'nai mitzvah students in study of texts from Lamentations, the central text which we read at Tisha b'Av when we mourn the destruction of the Temple and the shattering of creation's wholeness. All three groups will close with contemporary (and age-appropriate) poems which offer a variety of responses to fear and loss.

At the end of our time, we'll gather again as a school community for a closing benediction and song. And starting next week, we'll transition into our more formal learning for the year, including the signing of a Learning Covenant (which your child will bring home for you to sign as well.)

Your child will come home with a handout containing the poems we read together, as well as a sheet of information about what we can do to help survivors and those who mourn. I encourage you to set aside some time to read these with your child and to talk about them. And I encourage you also to make sure you're taking some time each day to care for yourself!

Please know that I am here for you and for your children. Please don't hesitate to reach out.

Wishing us all the blessing of new beginnings,