Rosh Hashanah is almost upon us, and with it comes call to return: to return to that which we were created to be, to return to what truly matters, to return to the Eternal One Whose loving embrace calls out to us. The name of our prayer book for this High Holy Day season, the “Machzor,” is related to the root of the word “return.”
Our tradition reminds us that each of us is created in the Divine image, and yet, when we think about our behavior, individually and collectively, we can probably all think of instances when we have strayed from the mark and failed to treat ourselves or each other with sacred reverence. Now is the time for us to try to make amends, to return to the potential that we have been given and to assist others in this same process.
As Summer turns to Autumn, and the school year begins again, the theme of return seems to be all around us. Unfortunately, the new school year is a painful reminder of the inequalities that plague our most vulnerable. The “al cheit” prayer lists all of our sins and shortcomings as individuals and as a community, asking each of us to reflect on how we have failed our most vulnerable and enjoining us to recommit to healing and justice for the new year.
The National Survey of Children’s Health reminds us that poverty increases the likelihood of adverse childhood experiences, trauma and poor health outcomes. For this reason, KentuckyOne Health is a proud supporter of Bounce, a coalition of leading organizations working together to build resilient children and families.
Bounce is part of a five-year initiative launched in 2012 by the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky to improve the future health of children. Bounce seeks to address the root causes of poor health by infusing trauma awareness, knowledge, and skills into Jefferson County Public Schools and out-of-school-time provider agencies to foster the resiliency of vulnerable children and families.
Efforts include training the staff in pilot schools to recognize and respond to symptoms of trauma which can be caused by everything from divorce to an incarcerated relative. In addition, work is underway to educate parents, teachers, and after-school caregivers about adverse childhood experiences – also called ACEs – and to teach techniques to build resilience in their families.
Bounce is based on extensive research that toxic stress in children under age 18 directly correlates to poor health in adulthood. The more ACEs, the greater the chances of bad outcomes. While it’s impossible to protect youth from all of life’s ups and downs, there are tools to help them respond effectively to adversity.
One teacher in the pilot school recently shared what this initiative meant for the students in her class, and how she was able to use this to intervene in their lives in a powerful way. After reading the story “If She Only Knew” which describes the life of a student whose volatile home life makes it difficult to focus while at school, the teacher gave her first grade students a paper with a prompt “If my teacher only knew…”
The answers that she received affirmed the transformative power of having a safe place to share our truths, with responses that included this heartbreaking sentence: “If my teacher only knew … she is the only one who loves me.”
The Talmud tells us that if we save one person’s life, it is as if we had saved a whole world. This program is a powerful reminder of the importance of relationship to bring healing and hope to countless children who struggle, and feel so alone. Poverty and adverse childhood experiences can set the course of a child’s life, but the possibility of return and repair can change everything. It all begins with someone believing in us … this impacts whether we can believe in ourselves and all of the choices we make in our own lives.
When trauma hits, everything can be derailed. But, our tradition enjoins us to never give up hope. All it takes is the love and faith of someone else. Let us never doubt the power of our words and actions to transform the lives of those around us.
May this new year be the year when no child ever feels unloved again … when all feel safe and hopeful, with opportunities to grow and thrive into the people that they were created to be. May our return actualize, not only our own sacred potential, and but that of those around us as well.