I’ve written before about my attempts to engender a sense of social responsibility in my daughters. We donate bags of food and clothes, as well as tzedakah money, to our local food bank, and they’ve helped distribute bags throughout the neighborhood for the annual “Stamp out Hunger” food drive. We’ve talked about poverty and homelessness as pressing, and very local, issues, but at the same time I’ve always reassured them that papa and I have  good (enough) jobs, and that we have lots of friends and family who would help us out if we were ever in trouble. I don’t think talking about those in need has ever caused them to worry about having a roof over their heads or food to eat, and I consider that a good thing.
A few days ago, our small community was hit with a tragic wave of arson – nine or more fires were set in a neighborhood a stone’s throw from ours (pretty much all neighborhoods here are a stone’s throw from each other….) – 2 people were killed, and several families lost their homes. One of those families is part of the Jewish community, and I taught with the mom at the Hebrew school last year.
I’ve been riveted to my computer, trying to find any information I can about what I can do to help. I’ve gathered up a bag of clothes for my former colleague, who wears about the same size as I do, and am awaiting more lists of what is needed. The community is working impressively hard to gather and disseminate information about how we can help one another.
I’m torn about whether or not to share any of this with my daughters. On the one hand, I want them to see how people reach out and band together when a neighbor (or entire neighborhood) is hurting. I want them to see that their parents are a part (albeit a very tiny part) of this effort. I want to do all I can to make sure this kind of response becomes second nature to them as they grow up. At the same time, I don’t want to scare the crap out of them. Because of course, this could happen to them. That is, to us. And because we’re all a little on edge around here, I’m not prepared to field their possible questions with the breezy confidence I feign in the face of queries about other, less imminent, threats.
So far, I’ve mentioned that someone we know had a house fire. I added quickly that no one was hurt – and exclaimed something really stupid and cheerful like “It’s so great that we all have smoke detectors!”
A little later in the day, Ella caught me alone in the kitchen. “You know that fire that happened to your friend?” she asked quietly. “How did it happen?”
I thought for a moment about what to say. “I don’t know,” I lied.
But on second thought, I have no fucking idea how something like this could happen, so I guess I wasn’t lying after all.

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