Yesterday I received two texts from Chico High School, where my youngest daughter is a sophomore. The first was Code YELLOW, which essentially means be aware that there is a potentially serious situation. A few minutes later the incoming text was Code RED–there now is a serious situation. To ensure student safety and that all the adults are focused on the students and the campus, parents are asked not to come to the school, nor call for information.
With no information other than the color scale to express the seriousness of what was happening, I (and hundreds of other parents) were sitting with something out of our control. All I could do was pray for protection and peace, and lean into faith. Oh yes, and regular deep cleansing breaths.
The Morning Blessings in our Kol Haneshamah prayerbook say, “Blessed are You, Renewing One our God, life of all the worlds, who gives strength to the weary.” Indeed. I am addressing the strength a parent needs in a situation like the one I experienced yesterday. I am also addressing the strength we all need right now as we reel from a wave of horrific gun violence over the past few days–back to back shootings in the California cities of Monterey Park, Half Moon Bay, and Oakland. Not knowing what was happening at Chico High, I of course flashed on the possibility that Chico could be added to that list of California cities.
We step into a new year with this headline from CNN: “Three weeks and 39 Mass Shootings. This is America in 2023.” What is our response to this? As Jews? As humans? Many are utterly paralyzed by what seems to be an entrenched and insurmountable problem. Others live in a chronic state of low level stress and anxiety. Neither of these is a way to live. I urge all of us to resist cynicism and despair. I urge all of us to find ways to face the truth of what is happening while also taking care of ourselves and managing our stress in healthy ways. I don’t have tidy answers other than reminding us to stay connected with each other and seek support in community.
The next text I received, an hour later, was from my husband Chaim, “At CHS. Have Lucy.” I replied. “Thank you and thank G!d.” What my daughter heard from all the talk and energy at school was that there was someone with a gun on campus. How completely frightening! It deeply pains a parent to feel what their child might be feeling in that situation.
We found out later in the afternoon that it was a false alarm. Collective sighs of relief. And yet for a period of time, many of those students believed there was a person on campus with a gun. In the wake of the shootings of the past several days, it is a very realistic possibility that this could be happening right here in Chico.
There is something important to add here as Jews. The collective trauma that we all carry (consciously or not) around the holocaust is real. That hair trigger, heightened sense of fear and anxiety is closer for us and always in the background (or foreground). Rabbi Tirza Firestone speaks of how this trauma is carried ancestrally in her important book Wounds into Wisdom: Healing Intergenerational Jewish Trauma.
So what can we do? Perhaps the single most important and doable thing is to simply show up to the present moment. Breathe. And show up again. As I mentioned, it is important to be connected to each other for support and to process our experiences. It is important to be together in community.
This Friday is International Holocaust Remembrance Day. At CBI we will be gathering to welcome Shabbat and then mark this day and observe this important time on the Jewish calendar. Together we will watch the Yiddish film Yidl Mitn Fidl. Filmed in Poland just before the onset of the Shoah, Yidl Mitn Fidl captures a lost world, untouched by the Holocaust. It is a romantic musical capturing everyday life in that part of the world in the 1930s. The poignancy is knowing what happens next.
Let’s connect this Friday to remember together, to support each other in shaky times, and to welcome Shabbat–the day we can always count on coming to us, regardless of what else is happening in the world.