Q&A panel participants Dr. David Pelcovitz and Rabbi Jonathan Rietti, with moderator Eli Shapiro, LCSW, clinical director of Madraigos
Q&A panel participants Dr. David Pelcovitz and Rabbi Jonathan Rietti, with moderator Eli Shapiro, LCSW, clinical director of Madraigos

On Thursday evening, November 30, Madraigos presented “The Next Step,” an initiative of its community resources division, to address the most effective ways to cope with trauma resulting from Hurricane Sandy. The event, which took place at Congregation Kneseth Israel—The White Shul in Far Rockaway, was endorsed by the Gruss Foundation and CIJE (Center for Initiatives In Jewish Education). Over 150 parents, school administrators, and teachers attended, coming from the entire New York area and as far as New Jersey.

Madraigos was privileged to have illustrious presenters, each highly regarded in his field, address the audience. David Pelcovitz, Ph.D., noted author, lecturer, and researcher with 25 years of clinical experience, shared his valuable insights from a parenting perspective. Rabbi Jonathan Rietti, educational consultant for over 28 years, author of curricula for educators, and senior lecturer for Gateways, offered valuable guidance to teachers, school administrators, and parents in addressing the effects of the storm from an educational viewpoint. With a Torah foundation and professional experience to guide them, both lecturers presented hands-on advice and practical steps that can be implemented right away in classrooms and homes.

The program was opened by Ephraim Kutner, chairman of the board of Madraigos, who noted the seriousness of trauma and the importance of cohesiveness among families and the community as they tackle such critical matters. Mr. Kutner then introduced Rabbi Eytan Feiner, mara d’asra of The White Shul, who delivered beautiful divrei berachah.

Rabbi Feiner explained that the world stands on three pillars: Torah, avodah, and gemilus chasadim. He said that we can suffer and be knocked down, individually and collectively as a community, but we need to get back up to accomplish and grow so we can climb the ladders of Torah, avodah, and gemilus chasadim. In this way, we can face what comes our way, one neshamah at time and one step at a time, as reflected in Madraigos’s work and mission.

Dr. Pelcovitz discussed the three core ingredients to recovery and resiliency. First, he explained the important role of parents in providing a protective shield for their children so that in spite of what is lost, their children feel that their parents are at their side to provide predictability, a place to talk about their anxiety, and a strong sense of support.

Second is the concept of community. When people surround themselves with a community that cares about them, making them feel not alone, it makes all the difference.

Third, when children have religion, it gives them the ability to have a sense of meaning that comes with the connection to a whole system of meaning. He also discussed the importance of gratitude in that to the extent we can pull back and focus on what we have, the better off we will be in the future. Dr. Pelcovitz contributed other beneficial insights as well from his many years of experience in coping with the complex challenges of trauma facing families in the Jewish community.

Rabbi Rietti, in his dynamic style, also spoke about the concept of resilience. He felt that there has been consistent trauma and global terror in our history and, as a result, building resilience is not a new issue in Jewish history. In fact, he says it’s genetic to resist and rebuild even stronger than before. His words were both inspiring and heartfelt, and helped give clarity to a complex topic in Yiddishkeit.

These lectures were followed by a lively Q-and-A session moderated by Eli Shapiro, LCSW, clinical director of Madraigos, which gave participants the opportunity to pose questions and gain specific knowledge in situations that they face within their families and classrooms.

Closing remarks were made by Rabbi Josh Zern, executive director of Madraigos, who described Madraigos’s dedication to going above and beyond in order to best meet the critical needs of our youth and their families at this crucial time. He expressed his gratitude for being able to extend the specialized services that only Madraigos can provide.

A well-respected teacher in one of the local elementary schools commented, “I found the program to informative and enlightening. With all my years of experience, I have never been faced with trauma in such a real way. It’s been very difficult. Now, I feel more confident in helping my students overcome some of their fears and anxieties.”

“I appreciate all of the information shared tonight. I have been struggling with how to respond to my kids’ feelings and now, thanks to the speakers, I have gained more clarity. Thank you,” remarked a parent.

Madraigos would like to express special thanks to The White Shul for opening their doors to graciously host and sponsor the event. Throughout the storm and recovery process, The White Shul has been a bastion of light and center of unparalleled chesed and support for the entire community. Madraigos expresses hakaros ha’tov to Mr. Moshe Klein of MK Ink Creative Group for his expertise in graphic design and marketing and, more importantly, for his unwavering commitment to Madraigos’s mission.

For more information about The Next Step program at Madraigos, please contact Eli Shapiro at 516-371-3250, ext. 2. For sponsorship opportunities, please contact Rabbi Josh Zern at 516-371-3250, ext. 5. To learn more about all Madraigos programs and services, please visit www.madraigos.org.

Madraigos, a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization, offers a wide array of innovative services and programs geared toward helping teens and young adults overcome life’s everyday challenges one step at a time. Their goal is to provide all of their members with the necessary tools and skills to empower them to live a healthy lifestyle and become the leaders of tomorrow.

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