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.