This article originally appeared in the Yiddish Forverts.
The morning after the Jersey City grocery store shooting last week, I waited impatiently to hear details about the victims and how the Hasidic community was coping with the tragedy.
According to news sources, the fifty boys in the school right next door to the store laid on the floor throughout the three-hour ordeal. A video taken by one of the teachers as he stood by the window demonstrates just how close the shooting actually was to the school.
Now begins the work of helping the children heal. Sruli Fried, a social worker with the crisis intervention unit at Chai Lifeline, met the children, teachers and administrators to help them cope with the psychological effects of having witnessed the attack.
What he had to say might come as news to parents inside the Hasidic community, where any mention of a tragedy is inevitably followed by the phrases “rakhmone litslan,” may the Merciful One save us, or “khas vesholem,” God forbid. These traditional expressions are not just words; they encompass an entire worldview taken by the Jewish people for thousands of years. When Jews say “rakhmone litslan,” it’s a way of spiritually protecting the Jewish people from further calamity - but it also stifles further conversation about it.
Yet Fried emphasized how important it was for the parents of those children to give them emotional support by letting them speak about what they heard and saw — “even if they say it ten or twenty times.”
“Many parents think that if children speak a lot about a tragedy, it creates even more anxiety, but actually it’s just the opposite,” Fried said.
He added that some children may not want to talk about the shooting right away, instead could want to sleep with their parents weeks later: “That’s when they need you more than ever.”
For parents outside the Hasidic community, Fried’s suggestions are obvious. Articles or how-to books on raising children frequently emphasize the importance of validating a child’s feelings, no matter how exaggerated they might be - especially after a traumatic event.
But inside the community, taking his advice means parents should be careful about saying things like “rakhmone litslan,” which could discourage a child from speaking because it can easily be interpreted as “Mommy and Daddy don’t want to hear this.”
The question is, will the parents of these children be able to transform the way they speak about such horrific events? Is it possible to restrain oneself from using an expression that comes as naturally as breathing the air? Just like most of us automatically say “thank you” when someone opens a door for us, or “Sorry!” when inadvertently stepping on the toe of a fellow train passenger, it may not be easy for the parents of these children to restrain themselves from adding “rakhmone litslan” upon hearing the shocking details.
I’m sure that parents will adjust to this new way of relating to their children, but it will take time. By patiently coaching them, and doing so in their own language, Yiddish, experts like Sruli Fried are helping pave the way for Hasidic parents to learn what they need to do to help their child heal.