About fifteen years ago, I was home alone, working upstairs at my computer when I suddenly heard a strange sound as my entire house began to sway from side to side. At first, I thought I was imagining things. My house had never swayed before. But it was real! As I was carried from side to side, I recalled discussions with my neighbors about how our homes were built on swampland and that slowly, one millimeter at a time, our homes were sinking into the ground. I worried that the process had suddenly accelerated and our houses were going down. Fast. I ran down the stairs and out of my house as quickly as my feet would take me. Once outside, I noticed my neighbor across the street standing at her second-floor window. “What on earth was that?” I screamed. “It’s an earthquake,” she answered. An earthquake?! Earthquakes happen in places like L.A. Japan. Indonesia. I’d never experienced an earthquake before and it definitely did not feel like I would have expected. I believe it measured “only” about 5 on the Richter Scale, but even so, it shook me up, both literally and figuratively.
Once I managed to calm myself down, my focus immediately jumped to my kids. The older ones were in school, located in a relatively new building, which I assumed met safety standards. But two of my kids attended ganim that were located in very old buildings. I contacted one ganenet who assured me that the building was still standing. My youngest was in a private gan located in her ganenet’s home. When I called the ganenet she told me that not only was everyone okay, but the kids had actually enjoyed the experience. Just that day they had been learning about various modes of transportation. At the exact moment the earthquake hit, the children were pretending to be riding in a boat. Suddenly the boat began to move in the make-believe water. The kids thought it was so much fun and asked that the ganenet do it again. Baruch Hashem! What a relief!
Years went by and I hadn’t thought much about earthquakes - until last week. The entire Jewish community has just experienced an enormous earthquake measuring a magnitude of 10 on the Richter Scale. Someone who so many of us admired, trusted, and essentially invited into our homes and onto our couches by way of the many books he authored, was found to have been, over the course of decades, the perpetrator of the most indecent acts onto those he was ostensibly working to help. If that wasn’t quite enough to bowl us over, the way he ended his life transformed an already mind-boggling situation into a one-two punch, leaving us speechless and horrified. We are trying hard but we are unable to wrap our heads around this. The earth is violently shaking beneath our feet and we are searching for something grounded to grab onto to help us weather the storm and regain our footing. This is nothing less than a national trauma, obviously experienced much more intensely by the many victims in this story. We have an ever-growing list of “Hows?” which keep repeating themselves in our heads as we desperately seek answers. How could this have happened? How could someone capable of doing so much good also be capable of causing such extreme harm? How can we help the victims? How do we prevent this from recurring? We are trying to compose ourselves so that we can help our children process the events. But just as a parent is instructed to put an oxygen mask on themselves before helping his or her child in the event of a plane malfunction, we ourselves have to process the events in order to help those in our care make sense of what happened. We seek guidance from our leaders who themselves are struggling. They are delivering lectures, hosting Zoom conferences, and writing letters addressing the extraordinarily complicated set of circumstances.
We are very particular about where we send our kids to school, camp, and everywhere else. We try to place them in the hands of people who are warm, caring, and loving. We do our diligence to ensure that their learning environment is safe and stimulating and that our children will be encouraged and nurtured. As their parents, our role is to foster their growth and shield them from harm. It’s instinctual. But as much as we do our hishtadlus, some things are not in our control. We can’t control pandemics and we can’t control geological earthquakes. However, there’s a lot we can do about the sort of earthquake we experienced last week. After we recover from the shock, we need to brush off the debris, think about what we can do to prevent this type of situation in the future, and take the necessary steps to do so.
The aftershocks of this earthquake will be felt for a very long time, and for some, forever. Though nobody would ever ask to be in the situation in which we find ourselves, hopefully this time of challenge will promote individual and collective growth as well as critical change.