By now, the community has had a chance to take a deep breath following the horrific Friday night fire in Midwood that killed seven children and wounded their mother and sibling. Yet the tragedy is still forefront in our minds, and for some children, the healing process will take some time. Project CHAI, Chai Lifeline’s crisis intervention and bereavement division, was on hand within minutes of the end of Shabbat to help parents, educators, and community leaders cope with their own emotions and assist the children around them.
Project CHAI’s team, assisted by Chai Lifeline’s psychologists and social workers, fielded more than 1,000 phone calls and emails in the first 48 hours following the event. By coincidence, Chai Lifeline’s staff was at its annual staff retreat on the grounds of Camp Simcha. Rabbi Dr. Dovid Fox, a clinical psychologist and director of interventions and community education for Project CHAI, flew from his home in Los Angeles to join them.
On Sunday morning, Chai Lifeline released a 12-minute video featuring Rabbi Sruli Fried, MSW. The presentation offered suggestions on how to break the sad news to children and begin the healing process. It has been accessed more than 27,250 times on Chai Lifeline’s YouTube channel and the Chai Lifeline website.
Zahava Farbman, LMSW, Rabbi Yaakov Dovid Klar, LMSW, and Rabbi Dr. Dovid Fox, the Project CHAI team, met with principals and staff members at the children’s schools that morning as well. Principals, teachers and staff members appreciated the forum in which they were able to express their own shock and sadness while gaining valuable information on how to help their young charges cope with an unexplainable tragedy. A forum for parents was held that evening. The professionals, assisted by members of Chai Lifeline’s staff, returned on Monday to meet with classes at the schools that had just lost beloved students and friends.
On Monday evening, just three days after the fire, Chai Lifeline and the Flatbush Jewish Community Council sponsored an evening of reflection for parents and community leaders. Presentations by Rabbi Yisroel Reisman and Rabbi Joey Haber were streamed on video and audio channels, posted on our website and uploaded to Chai Lifeline’s Youtube channel. The live broadcast reached over 45,000 people in 25 countries as far away as Japan, Serbia and South Africa.
“Our hearts go out to Gabriel, Gayle, and Tziporah Sassoon, and to the extended family,” said Rabbi Simcha Scholar. “When something like this happens, we are all family. And like family, we are here to help.”
Additional material offering suggestions for responding to this and other traumatic events is also available at www.chailifeline.org/live. Project CHAI team members can answer your questions; contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 855-3-CRISIS.