When Words Fail

I must have read 30 “Special Messages” from my colleagues in Jewish day schools and other Jewish institutions to their constituents over the weekend and into this afternoon. And with each one, I have felt the need to issue my own grow stronger and I have felt my inability to articulate grow stronger along with it.  Words typically come fairly easy to me, but not today.  I don’t know how to express as a principal or a parent the impact of last Friday’s events.  While our Day School spent the day celebrating the miracle of Chanukah and the advent of Winter Break, unspeakable horror was taking place at Sandy Hook Elementary.  The jarring juxtaposition was not lost on those of us tracking events with one eye on the computer screen and the other tracking dreidel scores.  With facts just coming in as students were checking out, we made the conscious decision to allow the day to proceed as normal and permit people to begin their Winter Break uninterrupted.  That was the last easy call to make.

What do we do now?

I am no different than any other parent in our Academy.

I have two daughters in our schools.  And I demand that when I kiss them goodbye and send them off to their classrooms that every possible security measure is in place to assure me that they are safe and protected.

I am no different than any other staff person in our academy or synagogue.

I work in a school.  And I deserve a workplace that recognizes risk and has in place protocols and procedures to ensure my wellbeing.

The Jacksonville Jewish Center takes its security responsibilities with the utmost seriousness.  I have been in constant contact with Don Kriss, the JJC’s Executive Director, since Friday and I can report that along with our lay leadership, the Security Committee, our contacts in law enforcement etc., all necessary conversations are taking place.  I have complete confidence that our students in Winter Camp are being watched over with all due diligence and that when all our schools reopen their doors in January, that all our security measures will have been thoroughly revisited with an eye towards heightened readiness.  There is nothing more important we do than keep our children (and teachers) safe and it is my sacred promise that all that can be done, will be.

It will be 18 days between the events at Sandy Hook and our first day back in school.

I am not sure if I should be more concerned about how our students are going to react about being back in school or that the world will have moved on to the next big issue or, God forbid, the next tragedy.  We will be prepared regardless.  Our tefillah will include words of prayer for those no longer with us and words of hope for those of us left trying to make meaning of the meaningless.  Our partners at Jewish Family & Community Services along with our clergy will be available to provide counseling to those in need. Our Preschool and Lower  School students will pick up where they left off.  Our Middle and High School students will tackle the topic organically – if our students have need to discuss, we will ensure appropriate discussion takes place.

I will leave the politics to those who know better.

I simply recognize that between last year’s local tragedy (we are still mourning our dear colleague Dale Regan, head of Episcopal School, gunned down just last March) and this month’s national tragedy that something is very much amiss.  I pray that we soon live in a time when “Special Messages” are no longer necessary.

Please God that it be soon.

Hamakom Yehanchem Otam Btoch Sha’ar Avlei Tzion Virushalayim – May the almighty comfort the families of Newtown among the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.

And may the memories of those who died in Sandy Hook Elementary School be always for a blessing.

Author: Jon Mitzmacher

Dr. Jon Mitzmacher is the Head of the Ottawa Jewish Community School. Jon has recently begun his rabbinical school journey at the Academy for Jewish Religion and is thrilled to have joined the faculty of the Day School Leadership Training Institute (DSLTI) as a mentor for Cohort 12. He was most recently the VP of Innovation for Prizmah: Center for Jewish Day Schools.  He is the former Executive Director of the Schechter Day School Network.  He is also the former head of the Martin J. Gottlieb Day School, a K-8 Solomon Schechter, located in Jacksonville, FL, and part of the Jacksonville Jewish Center.  He was the founding head of the Solomon Schechter Day School of Las Vegas.  Jon has worked in all aspects of Jewish Education from camping to congregations and everything in between.

2 thoughts on “When Words Fail”

  1. As someone whose entire family goes off to the JJC (the same position your wife is in), I find I can’t even let myself think about this yet. It’s too hard and I don’t know what to do. I feel relieved that we as a family have 18 days to figure part of it out. Do I tell my Kindergartener about it? Will it be brought up at MJGDS? Will all the schools at Galinsky Academy start doing “intruder drills”? (Please, please, I hope so! I was so surprised to hear other friends around the country whose Kindergarteners have already done these types of drills.)
    I take comfort in the fact that at Galinsky the student/teacher bonds are VERY deep and my children are loved and valued and that the communication within the JJC community is so very good.
    I also want to give a special shout out to Rabbi Olitsky who spent the last two weeks at Parent University sharing about “How to Talk to Your Kids About G-d”. I never thought I’d need to employ what we talked about in such a circumstance so soon, but am feeling grateful that I feel a bit more equipped to do it.

    1. In addition to monthly fire drills, we have been doing periodic “Shelter in Place” drills which includes what to do if there is an intruder in the building. We had not yet done one of those this year…

      Our faculty is prepared for such an emergency, but it is likely that this, too, will come under review and possible revision in light of recent events.

      At present, I do anticipate the Preschool or Lower School engaging with this topic upon return and will see how our Middle and High School students are faring in order to determine what, if anything, should come next.

      We are indeed blessed to be an Academy housed at a synagogue – these are the moments when having our clergy so embedded in the fabric of our school makes a tremendous difference to our children…and our parents.

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