Sunday, November 4, 2012

Tefilla, Resilience and Sandy: Suggestions for Educators

The following is a post by Chana Zweiter, Founding Director of The Rosh PinaMainstreaming Network. She is presently travelling in NY and shares this reflection 

Of all the times to be in NY.  I was there this week during the angry throes of hurricane Sandy.  And I did feel the anger. I watched trees fall into windows and rip out of the earth with sidewalks.  Friends were flooded and lost important and precious items that can never be replaced – memorabilia from parents and photos of kids.

I thank God for that we are all well and were never missing much , even as I wonder and ask Him, “What’s this all about?”

Dr.Aaron Antonofsky, of Ben Gurion University was a noted Israeli physician who focused much of his efforts on helping people to be resilient, overcome challenges in their environment. Our job, he said, was to help individuals/children to develop the inner skills with which “function in the face of changes in themselves and ...their environment.”  There is no one way to respond to what has happened. We need to take the time to reflect on Sandy and not rush to draw conclusions or messages.  But right now, we as family members and educators need to be sure that our children have those inner skills.

A few years ago, Dr. Martin Seligman, leader in the field of Positive Psychology, conducted an empirical study focused on understanding what psychological interventions provide those inner skills .  He and his colleagues examined responses of individuals who were depressed to five exercises. I want to share with you here insights about the following two most effective exercises:

  1. “THREE GOOD THINGS IN LIFE”. Participants were asked to write down three things that went well each day and their causes every night for one week. In addition, they were asked to provide a causal explanation for each good thing.”
  2. “USING SIGNATURE STRENGTHS IN A NEW WAY.” Participants were asked to take our inventory of character strengths online at and to receive individualized feedback about their top five (“signature”) strengths (Peterson et al., 2005a). They were then asked to use one of these top strengths in a new and different way every day for one week.”
The study required the participants to complete the exercise for one week, but some continued for six months or longer. They attributed that to the fact the participants who continued to benefit from the exercises did so because “these two interventions involve skills that improve with practice, that are fun, and that thus are self-maintaining.”

Much has been said about the power of tefilla/prayer during this difficult period. I share this in Davenspot because I know that our tefilla provides us with those two exercises, we just need to find them. I suggest that we make daily tefilla more meaningful and connected to our daily lives  immediately,  helping our children to deal with the overwhelming helplessness that Sandy has brought:

  1. The source of “THREE GOOD THINGS IN LIFE” are tefillot such as, Ma tovu, Modeh Ani, Modim Anahnu Lakh, and all the Berachot that we say on an ongoing basis. When you daven/pray tomorrow with your kids, stop before you say Ma tovu and ask them to write three things that are tov, good, in their lives. Ask them to explain why. This exercise can be adapted later on when you ask them to list what they would like to be good and how they can make it happen. Similar activities can be done when reading Modeh Ani – “for what am I grateful – to God, to my parents... “ Guiding the kids in preparing a Grateful Diary in which they record what they are grateful for every day is another exercise that will achieve this focus on what is good, taking away some weight from what is not.
  2.  The source of “USING SIGNATURE STRENGTHS IN A NEW WAY”  can be  found in tefillot/prayers such as the first paragraph of the Amida/Shmone Esrei, which reminds us of Avraham, Yizhak and Yaakov,  forefathers, each of which is noted for a particular characteristic. Conduct a discussion about these characteristics. What were they? What do we learn from them? Then ask the students to make a list of their strengths, how they have used them in the past, and how they can adapt them to meet the immediate needs of the storm.
These are just a sampling of exercises our Ohr Hadash Tefilla Initiative provides. And their benefits are more far reaching than dealing with Sandy.

For more information about the  Ohr Hadash Tefilla Initiative, please write to us at

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