Hard Conversations – A Light in the Darkness by Susan Jacobs, Director of Education

On a typical Sunday morning at Temple Beth El Religious School, you will see students piling into school and hear the din of their giggles and greetings as they make their way to class. School is a happy place where our Jewish students have the chance to hang out with their Jewish friends who they may only see at Temple Beth El. It feels great to be in a room where all the students are Jewish and understand what that means when you live in Charlotte.

But things were very different on the morning of Sunday, October 29, 2018 – the day after the horrific shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh. It was clear that many of our students would know what had happened and would have questions and concerns that we would need to address. I was so saddened and sickened that this event and these conversations would take something away from our precious children. As our families pulled up to school that morning, they were greeted by Rabbi Knight, Cantor Thomas, Rabbi Klass, Rabbi Schindler and me. The very presence of our clergy was a comfort to our parents and students.

Once school began, our older classes received a visit from our clergy and had a chance to ask questions and to process what was on their minds. Not surprisingly, they were very concerned about their own safety at Temple, school, and in the greater community. They asked difficult questions about anti-Semitism and shared their personal feelings and thoughts about being Jewish and incidents they have personally experienced. Most importantly, they learned that they could always turn to our rabbis, the cantor, our teachers and staff of Temple Beth El to find a safe place to share their feelings. To make sure that our younger students were alright, Rabbi Schindler attended the kindergarten-second grade T’filah to share a story of love and hospitality, without speaking directly about the incident. The mood was somber and serious and very different from our typical Sunday. I left school that day emotionally exhausted and so sad as I processed the comments and concerns of our students. I did not know how or if we would be able to begin to restore their faith and security.

The answer came a few days later in a large, over-stuffed envelope addressed to me from the Faith Formation Director at St Gabriel Catholic Church. The envelope contained dozens and dozens of letters and cards from their elementary and teen students to our students offering words of love, support, prayer and community. I was moved to tears. I couldn’t imagine that their Director and faculty would choose to have such a difficult conversation with their students about what happened in Pittsburgh and how that would impact their Jewish neighbors down the road. On the front each card there were verses from Torah. The one that really moved me was, “How good it is when brothers can live together in peace”, the English translation of Hinei Mah Tov, a song that our students sing regularly.

Those cards were shared with our older students who were so moved to know that there are other children in their city who took the time to share their love and support with them in such a personal way. It was an incredible gift. Truly, a light in the darkness.

Those cards and letters, along with many others from around our community, are on display in the Temple lobby. Take a moment to look at them the next time you are there. Your faith in humanity will begin to be restored and you will be comforted to know that we are not alone.