It’s been three weeks now since the tragic death of 16-year-old Chananya Backer.
During his Tisha B’Av funeral at Levinson’s, a packed house wrung their hands, cried and expressed every sort of sadness at the death of this youth.
Now, weeks later, it’s almost as if he’s been sadly forgotten.
We’re talking about Obama and McCain. We’re talking about getting back to school and ordering Rosh HaShanah seats.
But can we afford to stop thinking for a moment about a youth, who was kicked out of T.A. and pretty much had nowhere else to go?
A group of his friends told me recently that they basically “go to the park” to drink or smoke weed.
I think about the 23 rabbis who signed a letter on April 11, 2007 condemning sexual molestation. They signed because there was a public exposure of their previous shortcomings in dealing with this tragedy. But since April 11, 2007, I’ve heard that some rabbis are sorry they inked the paper, since it validates efforts to bring to the public the names of perpetrators.
We didn’t see any letters with rabbinic signatures after Chananya died. Many of us who talk about these issues knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that it would all just clear out of the air sooner than later.
But we also know that this just cannot happen.
School has opened or is about to open for many students. We’ve got to stop “loving” them after they are dead.
Teens need to be given tools to handle the peer pressure they face. They need to be told how to say no, how to physically remove themselves safely from the party that is going too far. They need to know that they can call home and ask their parents to save them, no matter what the day or hour.
We cannot let Chananya’s death fade away into a memory.
At a get-together last Shabbat, a friend asked, “What can we learn from his death?” There were no shortage of opinions or responses from the other 10 or 11 men sitting at the table.
One suggested that the kids have safe places to go, even during school hours.
Another said it’s up to individual adults to be brave enough to reach down and connect with children they see going through so much pain that they medicate themselves into oblivion.
Others said that Chananya’s death was just something that happened, and sometimes stuff happens beyond anyone’s control.
OK, but I don’t feel that anyone is doing anything to make the odds any less that we will be attending more funerals.
Tears, signatures and speeches aren’t enough. Saying “I love you” isn’t enough. We’ve talked love enough; now we have to do love. Creating programs, offering these kids leadership, maybe even leaders who look more like them and less like those they rebel against, is worth a look.
Again I’ll say that we’ve got leadership in this community who could make this work if they wanted to.
I want the JCC, Center for Jewish Education, Jewish Community Services, synagogue and day school leaders to pick up the phone and call one another, and start with a meeting.
When the Weinberg Foundation and the Associated were handing out checks to the schools a year or so ago, everyone was in that room at the JCC with their hands out.
One last idea: So many times we’re invited to parlor meetings for groups to give money to worthy causes. Why not have parlor meetings to keep our children alive? In living rooms, dining rooms and dens, why not bring a handful of parents and teens together in a spirit of “no wrong answers”? Let the kids talk safely even to their own parents. Let the parents talk that way to the kids. Then, break everyone into a kids’-only group and a parents-only group where advice, help and encouragement can be given.
It’s just an idea. But something has to happen.
We can’t let Chananya’s death leave our collective memories.
I guarantee you we’ll be reminded again by someone else if we choose the easy way out — to do nothing.