Processing California Fires and Pittsburgh Shooting With Teens

The following are some ideas for how to process the recent, devastating fires in California and continue to process the Pittsburgh shooting as you welcome the month of Kislev with your groups:

1) Writing is a powerful, therapeutic tool for responding to and healing from traumatic experiences including the fires in California and the Pittsburgh shooting. The following are two writing activities that you might choose to do with your groups:

  • For groups outside of California and Pittsburgh: we invite you to write letters to teens in California and Pittsburgh. If your group enjoys art projects, consider making origami Stars of David and write your letters on the stars. After you make your stars and/or write letters, mail them to the Moving Traditions national office at 8380 Old York Road, Suite 4300 Elkins Park, PA 19027.
  • For all groups: The lament psalm is an ancient form of therapeutic response to major national disasters, acts of oppression, and other sorrowful events. Consider inviting your teens to write their own laments, either addressed to God or to another audience in which they name what they are grieving, angry, unhappy or disappointed about in the world and what they would like to change. Use Psalm 88 as an example ( If participants need help beginning their laments, provide them with line starters such as “I cry for…/Rescue me from…/I pray for…”

2) Invite your teens to reflect on the role of action in the context of disasters. Has reaching out to others been helpful? Volunteering? When can being engaged in action be helpful/unhelpful as part of dealing with trauma?

3) Group leaders, it’s important for you to give yourselves space, before your groups, to process your own feelings in response to the recent events. By reflecting on your own emotions, you will be better equipped to help participants process their reactions. The organization, Facing History and Ourselves has some great resources related to this:

4) Finally, before lighting the candle at the beginning of your meeting or before blowing out the candle at the end of the meeting, consider sharing the following prayer:

Each month, as we light the Rosh Hodesh candle, we recall when people lit fires on hilltops to announce the new month. And in the month of Kislev as we light the Hanukkah candles, we will remember the destruction of the temple and the miracle of a flame that burned for longer than we expected. As wildfires persist in California, let us remember that flames are not always intentional, miraculous, or announcing good things to come. For those who have lost their homes, their lives, their schools, their places of worship, their ability to breath clean air, fire is destructive, frightening, and life threatening. As we light this month’s Rosh Hodesh candle, welcoming Kislev, we hold sadness for what has been lost and fear of future destruction. We also hold gratitude that we are safe and able to come together to celebrate Rosh Hodesh, gratitude for the people who have volunteered their time and resources to help those affected by the fires. We hold in our minds destruction and rededication, extreme loss and hope.