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The Children of Terror

The Children of Terror

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The children of terror are not only the victims of an attack or those whose families suffer injury or loss. They include all the children of Israel, forced to experience with a child's vulnerability the daily newspaper and television coverage of the carnage. Even if their parents try to protect them from these images, they still know the horror that has taken place, as the nation's shock and grief is carried like sand by the wind into every nook and corner of our country, entering every home and classroom. The fear enters and, like a radioactive substance, rests silently within them, emanating its destructive rays, affecting them, disturbing them, unsettling their sleep and the daily confidence children need - the confidence that they and their loved ones will live through the day.

As the director of Chabad's Terror Victims project, I meet many children directly affected by terror. Some are like leaves blown in a storm, torn from the tree, severed from the source of their strength and faith, lying on the ground, withering. Others recover and carry on their lives -- not as if the tragedy never happened, but with the tragedy and grief integrated into their lives, in some cases even strengthening them with courage, compassion and sense of purpose. This does not happen immediately, but over time. And it does not happen in a vacuum, but only after many tears and sleepless nights and fear-filled days. But, for some, though not all, eventually the healing happens.

With the spread of terrorism, children from around the world are graphically exposed, far too often, to the worst of what life and humans offer. And as we attempt to shelter and help our children adapt to these horrific events, we can all learn from Israel's child-aged victims of terror. Why does one child recover, even grow from his trauma, while another is oppressed by it for years or a lifetime? What makes the difference?

What I have observed, and has been confirmed by the trauma therapists with whom I've communicated, is that the seeds for this healing are sown long before the terror attack. The resilience, the faith, the strength to integrate and overcome the horror has been instilled or encouraged in a child throughout the years of his or her growth. Thus, when terror strikes, either directly or indirectly, it encounters an organism already equipped to eventually absorb the shock and loss. The child feels the horror, reels from it, cries and grieves from it, but eventually is able to heal from it.

How is such resilience and power of healing instilled? Through the family. The family, especially the parents, is a child's world. No matter what may be happening outside the family, the center of a child's life is the home. No matter how unstable or violent the outside world may be, peace within the home equals peace in the world to a child.

Certainly our children see and feel the violence and trauma; but the violence and trauma are buffered by the peace and love that lies within the home, and especially by the peace and love between the parents.

This is a child's haven: the environment in which he or she lives and which he or she absorbs as part of his/her character and faith. A child raised by trustworthy, reliable, loving parents lives in a trustworthy, reliable, loving world, no matter the havoc that occurs on our streets. Security at home develops a sense of security in a child, and prepares him or her for the storms of life.

When hate fills the eyes of our enemies, love in the eyes of family members is the only true remedy, lest our children grow believing that the world is a hate-filled place. When terror shatters faith in the stability of daily life, stability at home is the healing force, demonstrating that life continues with love and regularity.

Conversely, violence at home, anger between parents, fights and hateful words that occur in our kitchens and living rooms, exacerbate a child's fears, confirming the worst.

For a child, seeing hate in the eyes of one parent towards another is far worse than the hate-filled eyes of our enemies they see on television. Screaming at home, heard on a daily basis, is far worse than the ranting of anti-Semitic muftis enflaming their followers. A home filled with tension and the threat of dissolution - for when parents fight children fear most of all the break-up of their homes - is far worse than the fear of taking a Jerusalem bus or going to the market or riding down an isolated Ramallah by-pass road at night.

And on a more subtle level, the lack of warmth and affection at home, promises broken, birthdays forgotten, and a sense of disregard for the daily challenges children face at school and with their friends, breeds distrust, isolation, and instability, compounding the fear and vulnerability our children feel living in a violent, erratic society.

And if, G-d forbid, there should be actual violence and abuse in the home, whether physical or emotional, then we have affirmed the belief in our children that the entire universe is evil; we have a created a world for them in which the worst is around every corner, able to strike at anytime, anywhere, with no safe refuge in which to find comfort.

Then, when terror strikes, G-d forbid, it becomes the breaking point. The terror of the outside world merges with the fear and tension they already feel at home -- a fear and tension that has become a built-in part of their personality and emotional reality.

Thus, the rising rates of family violence and divorce in our society are a double attack upon our children: they strike when they occur, and strike again whenever terror strikes. Our children need us to be supremely conscious of their vulnerability and to constantly strive to keep our homes intact and our domestic demons in check, ever mindful that love and stability at home is both preventative and cure for children living in these perilous times.

Jay Litvin was born in Chicago in 1944. He moved to Israel in 1993 to serve as medical liaison for Chabad’s Children of Chernobyl program, and took a leading role in airlifting children from the areas contaminated by the Chernobyl nuclear disaster; he also founded and directed Chabad’s Terror Victims program in Israel. Jay passed away in April of 2004 after a valiant four-year battle with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, and is survived by his wife, Sharon, and their seven children. He was a frequent contributor to the Jewish website Chabad.org.
About the artist: Sarah Kranz has been illustrating magazines, webzines and books (including five children’s books) since graduating from the Istituto Europeo di Design, Milan, in 1996. Her clients have included The New York Times and Money Marketing Magazine of London.
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Discussion (6)
February 25, 2012
Reply to Vince Levenda
The problem with that statement is that abusive men don't learn. It is difficult for a woman to parent when her husband is terrorizing the house and undermines her every move. Abused women not being good wives? They live on eggshells. Any little move could mean they are a horrible wife and therefor deserving of abuse. They have to be perfect, and even when they are, the men find reasons to violate them. It is not the fault of a woman being traumatized by heinous acts toward her. The man is not fulfilling his G-d given function by beating her, he isn't behaving in accordance to any known mitzvah! If women have PTSD, pray for healing and wholeness, don't send them keep them trapped in abuse!
Anonymous
Fort Worth
October 22, 2009
so what now?
so what now? what if you are that child that had no safe refuge and then terror struck in your life, and now you are a total mess? just at the time you are meant to be building your life and own family. what now? how to heal now?
Anonymous
la, ca
January 22, 2006
miror
thank you for all your WONDERFULL words and chizouk may all the merit come to your familly!!!
tajszydler sara
france, brunoy
January 11, 2006
rescuing abused woman from their homes
If rescuing abused woman from their homes causes PTSD why not cease rescuing abused woman from their homes? Then abused woman would have a chance to learn how to be wives and mothers and abusive men would have a chance to learn to be husbands and fathers. Instead "I pray for forgiveness for not removing myself and my son from that horrible situation sooner"
Vince Levenda
Melbourne, VIC
May 13, 2004
Jay Litvin's article on terror and children
b"h
Thank you for your article. As the mother of a son who has Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome I can confirm that all the experts have told me that it was the abuse he witnessed in the home, the constant fear and anger, that predisposed my son to PTSD -- as you write, when the terror came, he had no defense. And now I pray daily to Hashem that my son will one day be able to feel joy and not be in terror all the time. And I pray for forgiveness for not removing myself and my son from that horrible situation sooner. Keep telling your readers that love, devotion to Torah, a home which is a "mini-Kedusha" is the most important thing parents can provide for their children. And if someone will also say Tehillim for my son, a blessing on you.
Reva Katz
Anchorage, AK
May 12, 2004
After reading this heartfelt article I still am not sure that parenting and a strong family is the only answer. It is the foundation for strength and compassion but there is something more that questions me.

I have been teaching for the past 15 years. I have followed siblings through their personal and educational journeys. Even twins raised together in a loving family react to situations in different ways.

One person raised in a good home might go through trauma and live with the hope that they can make this life a better one yet others live a life of self-pity.

So yes, being raised in a family with love and compassion is essential and indisputable but on the other hand many people have been raised with the opposite and strive to make sure that others won't suffer like they did.

Elise
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