HELP COPING WITH TRAGEDY: Project Chai Hosting Public Call-In Crisis Support In Response To Norfolk Tragedy


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UPDATE 10:00PM: As the Jewish people across the country are processing the sad and frightening news about Rabbi Bauman and his dire situation, individuals from many communities who know him and his family, and regard him as family, have reached out to Chai Lifeline’s Project Chai for support and have reached out with many questions. In an effort to address and respond to the many psychological, spiritual, parenting, and practical concerns with regard to students, children and ourselves, we will be offering a phone consultation with a call in number tomorrow, Thursday July 11th at 11am ET. Please feel free to call in and Rabbi Dr. Dovid Fox and Mrs. Zahava Farbman LMSW will discuss supportive and helpful responses for dealing with tragic news and frightening events. May HaShem bring us hope and clarity in the days ahead.

Thursday 11am EDT Project Chai 20 minute call with Rabbi Dr. Dovid Fox & Mrs. Zahava Farbman LMSW

(515) 604-9602
Access code 660597

Rabbi Dr. Dovid Fox Director Of Interventions and Community Education, Project Chai
Zahava Farbman, MSW, Phd candidate, Co-Director of Project Chai

As emergency personnel continue their search for Rabbi Reuven Bauman, a rebbi at Yeshiva Toras Chaim in Norfolk, Virginia, who was swept out to sea on Tuesday, Chai Lifeline is offering its resources and support to the local community. Team members of Project Chai, the crisis intervention, trauma and bereavement department of Chai Lifeline, are currently on the ground-led by Zahava Farbman, MSW, PhD Candidate, and Project Chai co-director-offering emotional and psychological assistance to family, camp staff and the Norfolk Jewish community.

“As the Jewish world struggles to adjust to the frightening image of a disappearance at sea, we must also be mindful of the fear and agony of campers, students, children, and all who are impacted by this unfolding event,” said Rabbi Dr. Dovid Fox, Director of Interventions and Community Education, Project Chai.

“We continue to hope and to daven for a miraculous outcome, yet the pain and the sadness are already present within so many of us,” said Rabbi Simcha Scholar, CEO of Chai Lifeline. “We encourage anyone in need to avail themselves of Chai Lifeline’s resources during this difficult time.”

[12:30PM UPDATE FROM VIRGINIA: Search Continues For Rabbi Reuven Bauman, Swept Out To Sea While Saving Student]

Project Chai has issued the following guidelines to lend some psychological structure during times of trauma:

  • It is normal to feel deeply saddened. This may be experienced as tearfulness, as loss of initiative, as low energy, fatigue, as loss of appetite. The mind and the soul in some ways almost “conspire” to react to anticipation of loss of life by having the body experience other more concrete losses such as lack of interest in familiar and even necessary things.
  • It is normal to feel uneasy. Encountering tragedy during one’s youth opens up a new vista on life, namely, that time in this existence is finite. Some young people are suddenly confronted with worries about losing others, nervous about those who are dear to us and who are aged.
  • It is normal to experience a sense of loneliness and isolation. It is difficult to open up and examine one’s feelings for this precious teacher who has not been located. Some people rebound from facing such distressing possibilities by withdrawing and not feeling comfortable opening up to others, even to friends, about their emotions.
  • Whenever life is in sudden peril, it is normal to engage in existential contemplation, pondering the meaning of one’s own life, one’s values. At times, students will throw themselves back into their learning with a great intensity, or will seek refuge in profound lengthy davening, or at times… have the impulse to do the opposite, retreating from their studies and tefillos and feeling detached and unmotivated about getting back into their routine and lifestyle.
  • It is normal to ponder the nature of the unexpected, and to wonder about spiritual matters. At times students want to explore questions that they may feel are esoteric, such as where and what are the Divine hashgacha, what is happening out there, and other very spiritual topics which they may have little information about.
  • It is normal to want to do something, to undertake some practice or pledge in the merit of the rebbe. In coping with the challenge of shock, or of grief, and of the ultimate and dreaded fear of loss, it is necessary to address and elaborate on each of the above pointers.
  • There is a difference between reactive sadness and clinical disturbance or depression. Most people who grieve a loss do begin to regain their strength and motivation in a week or two. When the sadness is very embedded and unchanging, when one feels unable to return to their usual self or continues to feel “not like myself,” it is important to confer with a trusted mature adult. One can consult with a rabbi or with a parent. There should be no shame associated with admitting that you are struggling. A mature, compassionate mentor will never make you feel stupid or embarrassed if you disclose that you are continuing to have a difficult time. Logic and reasoning are seldom sufficient tools or interventions to jolt one out of feeling depressed.  It is important to be able to “process” your feelings and if you cannot do so with a rebbe or parent, it may be helpful to speak with a professional who understands the differences between grief and depression.
  • Anxiety is part of the human condition and can take many forms, depending on the type of stress which has troubled a person and depending on the person himself. Anxiety can present as nervousness, nervous energy, fear, phobia, panic or even a host of physical symptoms. It generally abates over the short term but if you continue to feel “out of sorts” after two weeks or so, or if even early on you are experiencing intense debilitating anxiety, you will likely benefit from a consultation with a professional who understands the anxiety continuum and who can help strategize for healthy management of your worries and fears.
  • People do tend to withdraw at first upon hearing bad news. It is most therapeutic, however, to get yourself back into your routine, and to encourage your friends to do so as well. This does not mean that you are supposed to deny or suppress your thoughts and feelings. It does mean that you are supposed to talk them through with those who respect your internal process while also giving yourself the healing gift of letting yourself recover your love of learning and your love of life. Never sacrifice your basic human needs for food, water, warmth, shelter and camaraderie when you are struggling with grief.
  • Fear of loss is a spiritual as well as a psychological crisis. The concept of death is, for most younger people, concealed in a lot of mystical cloudiness… and confusion. Fortunately, we have not only Torah sources to turn to for help in navigating some of the mystery, but we also have great Torah leaders to whom we can pose our uncertainties and, hopefully, be given either words of encouragement or words of enlightenment. Find someone who you can feel close to, and whose words can illuminate and strengthen you. This is not a moment in your development where you should be teased or humiliated for expressing your musings. Find a mentor. Ask him to help you know what to study and how to make sense of your spiritual questions. Do not conjecture or speculate about spiritual realities that you may know little about. There is so much non-Torah information out there on these topics which is harmful, misleading, and very contrary to our own beliefs. Get your information from a true Torah scholar. There is nothing like death, sadly enough, which brings out the immediacy of one feeling something deeply moving inside which can lead to spiritual awareness and maturing.
  • A mentor can help you determine what can become a productive spiritual course to follow at this time, and what might be overdoing it. Too little attention to one’s spiritual yearnings is antithetical to our hashkafa. Excessive immersion in ritualistic behavior, however, is seldom healthy. Keep away from extremes and aim for stability, especially at this time.

Halacha explains to us the nature of mayim sh’ain lahem sof – the implications of loss at sea. Our Gaonim have encouraged us that the probability of tefilla assisting in the rescue of one swept out to sea means that there is always the possibility of survival. We continue to daven, and to hope, and we likewise continue to display caring and sensitivity to all who are affected by this fearful dilemma. May our prayers be answered.

Project Chai encourages anyone with questions or concerns to contact [email protected] or 855-3-CRISIS.

[A Charidy campaign has been set up for the family.]

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  1. Where would we be if our parents and grand parents used these coping techniques as a nation we have been dealing with tragedy for 2000 years these copy paste press releases although helpful to some are insulting to us as a nation

  2. Mei G well said. It started 20 years ago and gets worse every year. No job? Start an organization get some great tear jerking pictures raise money get some people with letters after their names to volunteer for you and bam you are all set.

  3. @meir G

    Please don’t use the word “us” when you are obviously nowhere near qualified to speak for others.

    Your comment is way off on so many levels. It’s beyond the scope of this comment section to post all the reasons why.

    My humble suggestion would be to call the number in this article with your concerns and you would walk away with a better understanding and come out of the call with a different disposition.

  4. @ meir G

    I agree with Lost in Lakewood. Perhaps you should take his recommendation and reach out to the phone number provided. You can either lecture them or discover more about the necessary services they provide for frum communities. The call is anonymous and no one will judge you disfavorably. There are many prominent Rabbonim today who hold a social work or physiology degree in addition to their semicha, and they are certified, experienced, and knowledgeable to be able to tell you that coping techniques from tragedies, mental health issues, addictions, and God Forbid suicides are a very unfortunate reality in the frum world.

  5. To my thinking, all that advice from supposed professionals is just plain trite. It may be useful for youngsters, but for adults who comprehend the words on Yom Kippur in “u’nesano tokef” in Mussaf there are no questions.

  6. we must also be mindful of the fear and agony of campers, students, How about firstly reaching out to his wife and 5 children, the oldest soon to be Bas-Mitzwah. Also how about next in line, reaching out to his parents and siblings.

  7. flatbush tzadik- in no way did i bash an org. they do plenty of good work , both speakers are qualified and so is your grand mother
    lost in lakewood & tgi.. my point is that the ” subtle message” of this specific team is . we have the answers , we have the tools; your parents, rabbeim moras and shul rav ” dont know how to deal w / trauma. & tragedy the second mesaage is its ok to…….. lastly their tool box is basicly info you can google so dont play hatzoloh. do u know how much they get for these lectures? when you bring real insight & chochmoh to the table you can charge. hamakom yerachem veyenachem

  8. Meir G and Flatbiush: The tragedy of this drowing is only exceeded by the realization that pockets of gross stupidity and insensitivity persist within the frum tzibur. If even even one person finds guidance and emotional support from these support groups, they will have contributed more than you guys ever will .