CLERGY CORNER: A Moment of Silence for Stoneman Douglas

Posted on 01 March 2018 by LeslieM

Teaching children that murder is wrong because it is against the law, or it is not “nice,” or it runs against the social norm, does not penetrate the core of many youth. It is a shallow argument. By teaching our children that the Creator and Ruler of the world has deemed certain behaviors as wrong and evil, and this Creator cares about the behavior of every person and expects of him/her to behave with goodness and kindness toward others, and will hold this child responsible for their actions, we can hope to ingrain these values in them in a far more effective way. The child must be given to understand that the world is not a jungle, for there is a Creator and Master who sees and evaluates all his actions.there is, in the expression of the Talmud, an “eye that sees and the ear that hears.

When morality is based on my own moods and inclinations, or the norms of the school or the society, I can end up justifying the most heinous crimes. Germany was the most advanced nation in science and philosophy, yet in the name of science it produced the most chilling criminals in the annals of human history.

King David put it in Psalms: “The genesis of wisdom is the fear of G-d.” When children are inculcated from the youngest age with a “fear of G-d,” in the healthiest sense of the term, with a recognition that G-d has deemed certain behaviors evil, and He is watching them, there is a far greater chance for them to behave morally, despite internal turmoil and all types of challenges life my confer upon them.

There is one man I know seeking to create some change in one city.

At the border of Crown Heights and Brownsville, in an impoverished corner of Brooklyn, stands the hulking, tan brick building that houses P.S. 191, the Paul Robeson School.

The school serves a student population that is remarkable in its disadvantage: 99 percent of its roughly 300 students in pre-kindergarten through fifth grade qualify for free or reduced-price lunches; some live at the homeless shelter next door.

But, every morning at 8:30, half an hour after rambunctious kids come bouncing into the building in their blue school uniforms, this school becomes remarkable in a different way.

It gets quiet. For a full minute, there is only silence.

After a teacher and a handful of students announce the moment of silence over the loudspeaker system and offer something to think about for that day — a personal goal, or how to help someone else — each and every person at P.S. 191, from the littlest 4-year-old pre-kindergartener to the principal, pauses for 60 seconds.

P.S. 191 has been observing this morning ritual for the past three years, ever since Avraham Frank, a Chabad Chasidic Jew heeding the late Lubavitcher Rebbe’s call (back in the 70s and 80s when the violence in schools increased dramatically) for a daily moment of silence in public schools, walked in off the street and introduced the idea to the principal. So far Frank, a white-bearded 64-year-old with a day job managing home attendants for New York City’s Human Resources Administration, has persuaded administrators at 13 public schools in Brooklyn, Manhattan and Queens to institute a moment of silence.

His goal, he said, is to get moments of silence into schools “all over the city.”

Though school-sponsored prayer in American public schools has been prohibited since the 1962 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Engel v. Vitale, voluntary, student-initiated, private prayer is not. In response to the ban on school-sponsored prayer, there has been a nationwide push for the introduction into public schools of daily moments of silence that students can use to pray or reflect.

I have seen tremendous changes behavior-wise and in terms of punctuality,” said Sonia Witter- Clue, the supervising school aide. “The kids want to be here for the moment of silence. When they miss it, you can see they’re upset.”

Her 5-year-old granddaughter and 8-year-old son, both students at P.S. 191, love it so much that they insist on having a moment of silence even at home on the weekends, she said.

And it has had a direct impact on the kids’ academic success, said Hadar Gafhi, the school’s assistant principal.

It focuses the children,” she said. During the moment of silence “they’ve made their resolutions for the day and are ready to learn, and they get right to work,” Gafhi said. “We’re seeing tremendous academic growth in our kids.”

Today, we need a paradigm shift in education both at home and in schools across the country. We must teach our children to be “mentchen” not only for the police not to get them in trouble or for people to disapprove of their behavior, but because there is something called right and wrong — and it matters. Kids will get that.

Thirty years ago, on May 17, 1987, the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, penned a letter to President Ronald Reagan in The White House.

…It is particularly gratifying that you… bring to the attention of the Nation and of the International community the need of upgrading education in terms of moral values, without which no true education can be considered complete.

Consistent with your often declared position, that ‘no true education can leave out the moral and spiritual dimensions of human life and human striving,’ you, Mr. President, once again remind parents and teachers, in the opening paragraph of your Proclamation, that their sacred trust to children must include “wisdom, love, decency, moral courage and compassion, as part of everyone’s education.” Indeed, where these values are lacking, education is – to use a classical phrase – “like a body without a soul.”

With the summer recess approaching, one cannot help wondering how many juveniles could be encouraged to use their free time productively, rather than getting into mischief – if they were mindful of – to quote your words – a Supreme Being and a Law higher than man’s…”

Rabbi Tzvi Dechter is the director of Chabad of North Broward Beaches, located in the Venetian Isle Shopping Center at 2025 E. Sample Rd. in Lighthouse Point. For all upcoming events, please visit

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