A congregant suggested I send you a story/sermon I gave at a Yom Kippur family service in October at Westchester Reform Temple in Scarsdale, NY. The economic crisis was really spiraling out of control at this point and I wanted to highlight the effect this hysteria was having on our children. "Debbie," in the story below, is a 4th-grader who believes that the entire economic downturn is her fault.
Here is the text of the sermon and thank you for your consideration,
Rabbi Dan SklarWestchester Reform Temple
Debbie was too afraid to tell anyone at first. She knew that look that grown-ups get when something is really serious. And it’s not to be confused with the look of mild annoyance. The look of mild annoyance signals to every kid that there’s still a certain amount of wiggle room. "Knock it off!" is usually a good indicator that it’s time to stop but this was a look beyond "knock it off" or "cut it out." It was a look beyond, "I’m only going to ask you once." It was even a look beyond, "Deborah Judith Kandor!" The three names used in their longest form could only mean trouble. No, this was a look that Debbie had never seen before. It was something between frustration and nausea but that’s to say nothing of the abject terror that lingered just under the surface.
People were afraid and Debbie was afraid because she knew that something she had done had caused the climate of fear that had descended upon their town. Now she couldn’t pin it on any one act she had committed, but it seemed that the unfortunate combination of several acts had caused this downturn.
And now the High Holy Days were here and there was nowhere to hide. Debbie was desperate this Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. She kept her head in her prayerbook and she didn’t even join in the singing when her favorite song came and went. Debbie’s parents noticed that something wasn’t quite right, in fact they noticed several days ago, but they thought that seeing her temple friends and hearing familiar words and music would snap her right out of her funk. But something about this service just seemed to make Debbie even more uncomfortable and distracted.
On the car ride home, Debbie didn’t make a peep- she didn’t even respond to the many annoyances her little brother had cooked up for her. The kicking of the leg, the Indian rope burn, the inner eyelid trick- nothing seemed to provoke a response and finally her little brother gave up, turning his attention to the action figure wedged between the seat buckles.
When it came time to break the fast at the Kandor household later that evening, Debbie showed a distinct lack of interest in any of her favorite brunch-time foods, including her mother’s world famous cheese blintzes. Her parents couldn’t stand it any longer. Her mother sighed, “Debbie, you’ve been moping about for days on end. To look at you, you’d think the world had run out of chocolate milk.” Her father put his hands on her shoulders, “Debbie, what in the world is the matter?”
Without missing a beat, she said with desperation, “It IS the world that’s the matter.” Debbie looked up at her father, she looked at her mother and she knew that she couldn’t hold it all inside for one minute longer, she blurted out, “It’s all my fault! Everybody’s upset and it’s all my fault!”
“Debbie, what in blazes are you talking about?”
“I blew bubbles in the house!”
“You blew bubbles in the house?”
“I blew bubbles in the house and my clothes are too clean!”
Now her parents were truly perplexed.
“Debbie, why would bubbles and your clothes make anyone upset?”
“I blew bubbles in the house and my collars are too white. I heard it from the man on TV.”
Suddenly their daughter’s shameful secret dawned on them and for the first time in weeks, Debbie’s parents cracked a smile and the smile became a grin and the grin became uproarious laughter. And Debbie knew at once that they weren’t laughing at her and that she wasn’t to blame.
Her parents realized that with CNN, MSNBC and Fox News running almost 24/7 in the house for the past three weeks, the height of the economic crisis, Debbie had internalized their fears and had drawn conclusions from the bits and pieces she heard on the news as only a 4th grader can.
“So let me get this straight, you blew bubbles in the house and that caused the housing bubble?”
“And your clothes are too clean, so that makes you a white collar criminal?”
“I guess so.”
“And you think you’re to blame for the nation’s woes? How exactly did you arrive at all of this?”
“I know because my stuffed animals told me so.”
“Your stuffed animals told you that you caused the economic downturn?” Debbie’s parents were having a hard time keeping it together at this point.
“Yes, the rest of the animals told on Teddie.”
“Oh? And what did Teddie have to say?”
“He didn’t say anything at all. It all started because Teddie Bear was Stern.”
“The Bear was Stern. OK, we are turning the cable news off for the rest of the year.”
And with that, Debbie’s parents explained to her that the world of high-finance generally did not respond to the bubble-blowing, stuffed animals and laundry cycles of the Kandor family.
Perhaps Debbie's parents themselves learned the most important lesson. They realized on Yom Kippur day, that the stressors and uncertainties they had been facing were not lost on the children. Indeed, the children could make some creative connections and start to feel responsible for something so far removed from the world of children.
They even saved some of the famous blintzes from the break-fast for the perfect midnight snack.
And as the years passed, Debbie never forgot that summer of ’08, the year of bubbles in the house and white collars. The year of “stay-cations” and expensive gasoline.
The year that the Kandor family realized that the single greatest asset they possessed was the Kandor family.
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