It was a horrific accident. In the blink of an eye, 12-year-old Shoshi Stern lost her life and a family and community were changed forever.
This past Thursday, Project CHAI helped Jewish communities throughout South Florida take the first step towards healing.
Project CHAI is the only full-service bilingual crisis and trauma intervention service dedicated to the Jewish community. Chai Lifeline’s trained professionals and paraprofessionals offer a comprehensive network of services to families and communities in the United States and around the world.
Zahava Farbman, LMSW, associate director of crisis intervention and bereavement services at Chai Lifeline, spent a long, exhausting, but meaningful and appreciated day with 600 children, educators and families of Boca Raton, Miami, and North Miami Beach.
Mrs. Farbman began her day with the students of Bais Yaakov of Miami, where Shoshi was in the sixth grade, and those of Sha’arei Bina of Miami, the administration of Chabad of Miami, and the Torah Academy of Boca Raton. (Shoshi had been a student at Torah Academy until she started middle school this year; her younger siblings still attend the school.) The children were still raw from the news that a friend and contemporary was gone. Mrs. Farbman met with the girls and staff of the middle and high schools. She listened as their grief poured out, comforting them all the while. Grief, she said, was like getting stitches.
“It hurts so much when you first get hurt. The stitches hurt, too. But every day it hurts less. And in the end, you are left with a scar. You will always remember the experience, and it has changed you. But it won’t hurt like this forever,” she said.
“If you remember one thing, remember this: what happened was a terrible accident, but there is nothing you could have done to cause this or prevent it.”
Mrs. Farbman paid a shiva visit to the grieving Stern family. “I was able to tell them that I had just spent a day with hundreds of girls. They kept recalling Shoshi’s wonderful demeanor and her ever-present smile. I think it was very comforting for them,” she later said.
The evening was dedicated to parents, the mothers and fathers who have to cope with their own sorrow and shock while helping their children through the crisis. Boca Raton’s three orthodox synagogues came together at the Boca Raton Synagogue for an evening of information, chizuk, and concrete advice on helping their children through the trauma.
Mrs. Farbman detailed how grief impacts children at each developmental stage and briefed parents on the different ways that children express their emotions. She normalized and validated the wide range of possible responses to the tragedy.
“Instead of focusing on all the experiences that Shoshi won’t have, you and your children can remember the friendships and how much she was loved,” Mrs. Farbman remarked.
Even before she flew back to New York, the impact of her visit was already apparent. “Thank you for sending Zahava Farbman,” Rabbi Charles Abramchik, the principal of Sha’arei Bina wrote to Ellen Weiss, MSW, director of Chai Lifeline Southeast, in an email. “She hit the nail on the head.”
The parent of one of the students who had met with Mrs. Farbman felt the same way. “My daughter came home and said that it was going to be okay. She felt so reassured by Mrs. Farbman’s visit.”
Project CHAI was established by Chai Lifeline in 2000 to help children, families, and communities come together following untimely death or trauma. For more information or assistance, contact Zahava Farbman, 212 699-6633, email email@example.com or Rabbi Yaakov Dovid Klar, 917 710-7857, firstname.lastname@example.org
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