Guidance for Jewish educators and parents: Helping teens in the wake of Pittsburgh

We share in the grief and pain being experienced in the Jewish community and beyond from the devastating shooting in Pittsburgh.

Moving Traditions and other Jewish educators have a unique opportunity to support teens as they navigate through the unfathomable.

To facilitate conversations with the teens of all genders in Moving Traditions’ Rosh Hodesh, Shevet, and Tzelem groups, we sent the following resources to group leaders and to our partners at congregations, JCCs, and other organizations across the country.

The most important thing you can do in your Moving Traditions teen group, as always, is to create and hold a safe space where teens can share and be listened to.

We do not need to have the answers as we:

  • Ask open ended questions and let the teens lead the conversation.
  • Give the teens in your group permission to feel their emotions, and to speak and act honestly and directly.
  • Bring them Jewish wisdom and rituals that offer support and comfort.

We can also help teens balance their need to grieve with the opportunity to advocate for love over hate.

We can acknowledge for teens that dichotomous messages are thriving now in our culture—fear of difference and hatred, from some, and compassion, empathy, and tolerance from others—and that can be incredibly confusing.

We can empower teens to understand that it is up to each of us to stand up for love and justice in our schools, online, and everywhere that people gather.

We remind you that you are having your own experience of this profound moment and that your own care is paramount.

From a prayer written by Rabbi Tamara Cohen, Chief of Innovation:

It is a Tree of Life—the Torah, the sacred tradition of the Jewish people, the sacred traditions of all peoples, the faith, practice, community, ritual, beliefs, questions, stories, songs, weight of history that get us up again and again, that roots in the pursuit of justice, that keep us gathering, doing what we do, that fuels our anger, our knowing how to walk in grief and fear towards a vision of a healed world that needs us, each of us, in our wondrous difference. May we all hold fast to it.

Suggestions for your next Moving Traditions teen group gatherings:

  1. Before starting the session, light a candle and say a kaddish for those who perished at the Tree of Life synagogue. Or say this prayer using feminine God language by Lori Lefkovitz and Deborah Meyer:

בְּרוּכָה אַתְּ יָהּ מְקוֹר הַחַיִּים הַתּוֹמֶכֶת בָּנוּ בְּהַבִיאֵנוּ אוֹר לְחֹשֶׁךְ מַרְפֵּא לְשֶׁבֶר וְשָׁלוֹם לְכֹל יוֹשְׁבֵי תֵּבֵל

Brukhah at yah, m’kor ha-hayyim, ha-tomekhet banu b’haviyenu or l’hoshekh marpei l’shever, v’shalom l’kohl yoshvei tevel.

Blessed are you, Source of Life, who helps us to bring Light where there is darkness, healing where there is brokenness, and peace to all of the earth’s inhabitants.

  1. Provide space for teens to talk about what happened if they want to talk about it. Don’t press them to talk more than they choose. Respect each teen’s way of coping. Validate the emotions they share. Share yours. They might have trouble putting words to their feelings; consider sharing an emotions graphic like this one and ask teens to point out emotions they are experiencing (


  1. Offer teens time to process how they feel through free writing or drawing. Invite them to write a letter to a teen in Pittsburgh. Or if you think something more active would be more helpful, take a walk or a hike together.


  1. Invite them to connect and seek comfort physically by holding hands and singing a niggun, or wordless melody, together. Or share Debbie Friedman’s Mi Shebeirach:

  1. Remind teens that the adults around them, including police, clergy, congregations, and communal organizations are compassionate, concerned, and taking measures to make sure they are protected from harm.


  1. Context on teens from “Helping Children to Process Acts of Terrorism” by Rabbi Edythe Held Mencher:
  • “Teens are likely to have the most details and the most difficulty seeking help.
  • They want to seem independent, yet such events may stir strong feelings of helplessness and fear. Desperately wishing for the world to make sense, teens are also old enough to recognize when it seems unstable.
  • Don’t press teens to speak about the situation more than they choose and respect each teen’s way of coping.
  • Be patient with teens’ reactions, which may change sharply and often. Teens may seem very mature one moment and childish at the next. This is normal and age-appropriate.
  • Don’t shelter teens from the opportunity to understand the situation but resist the temptation to turn them into confidantes or seek more support from them than is fair.
  • Offer avenues for helping, such as raising money for victims, working to increase tolerance, or taking classes on how to provide emergency medical care.
  • Help teens see the good in the world and remind them that even in a world in which there is war and terrorism, we continue to work toward peace. It’s important to encourage teens, who may be prone to black and white thinking, to recognize the compassion and concern shown by police, clergy, congregations, and communal organizations that provide assistance.”

Resources from the wider Jewish world:

URJ Blog: Resources for Jewish Educators After the Pittsburgh Shooting

URJ Blog: Resources for Coping in the wake of the Pittsburgh Synagogue Shootings

Reform Judaism Blog: 4 Ways to Talk to Teens after the Pittsburgh Shootings

Liturgical and Support Resources for the Tree of Life Tragedy

Paul Kipnes: Kaddish After Gun Violence

Facing History: Educator Resources, Responding to Pittsburgh

ejewishphilanthropy: Serving as an Educator at a Time of Loss, Pain and Grief