Sometimes, a headline sucks you right in: “Suicide Rates among Jewish Teens Drop as Religious Devotion Grows, Study Finds” (from The Washington Post, 10/2/14). As the father of two teens and one tween, who works with teens on a regular basis, that headline got me.
The study was conducted by researchers at Tel Aviv University. The co-author of the study, Gal Shoval, tried to explain the findings. He suggested that the one thing that mitigates suicidal thoughts is hope. In other words, the possibility that things might get better can convince a suicidal teen to NOT act. Faith and community can be important sources of hope.
Suicide is the third most common cause of death among teens in this country (after accidents and murder). We don’t like to discuss it much. It’s one of those taboo subjects. Sure, we all talked about mental illness and suicide for a few days after Robin Williams’ death. But, then, we moved on to other subjects.
I thought it was a curious coincidence that I stumbled across this article on the Eve of Sukkot. The Sukkah is a symbol of protection from the elements. According to tradition, the Israelites lived in Sukkot (booths or temporary shelters) during the period of wandering from Egypt to the Promised Land. On Sukkot, we are supposed to invite guests into our shelter and share meals with them, make them feel part of our community. In addition, what sets a Sukkah apart from any other structure is the roof. We are supposed to be able to see the stars through it at night and enjoy shade from it during the day.
When members of our community are suffering, we must be their Sukkah. We must give them shelter when they are wandering. We must invite them in and make them feel a part of the community. We must show them that even when they are feeling confined, they can still see the stars. We must help them feel comfortable when they feel discomfort.
That’s what a Sukkah does on the festival of Sukkot. That’s what a synagogue does year-round. Many of our teens know what a special place this is already. If you know a teen who is not yet connected to our community, let’s talk about how we can make that connection. Faith and community can give them hope. Their participation gives our community hope.
Hag Same’ah – have a wonderful Sukkot holiday!