With the declared mission of “helping to build, and often rebuild, resilience within the Jewish community,” social worker Moshe Borowski has set an ambitious agenda for SSTART, a fledgling nonprofit group that helps families and communities deal with trauma.
Borowski has worked with Jewish schools, synagogues, and communal institutions throughout the country, including organizations in northern New Jersey.
SSTART: School and Synagogue Trauma and Resilience Training was founded in 2006. Earlier, Borowski helped start the Metropolitan Jewish Hospice in New York and created the crisis and bereavement department of Chai Lifeline, which offers support to seriously ill children and their families.
As for SSTART, Borowski said he decided a group was needed to address trauma caused by events other than illness and death, including, for example, divorce and abuse. The organization is supported by private donations.
Much of his work, said Borowski, reflects “the ripple effect.” For example, he explained, “a rabbi may ask me to speak with a parent who says her child can’t sleep, but this may be because another child had a parent who died.”
“When tragedy hits, it leaves us wrestling with new realities,” said Borowski. “One of the most frustrating aspects of any type of trauma or loss is: What do you say or do to help when it seems that nothing can be accomplished?” Recently, he noted, he was consulted by Chabad on how to speak with children about the massacre in Mumbai.
In addition to offering crisis intervention “to help the healing process by reconnecting victims to their inner strengths and coping skills,” the group provides life-skills programs to help people prepare before challenges arise, sending printed materials and making presentations to interested groups. One publication lists common grief reactions of children – including physical, cognitive, emotional, behavioral, and spiritual symptoms (such as loss of meaning or purpose).
In counseling parents, Borowski said, he quotes the late psychiatrist Viktor Frankl, a concentration camp survivor and author of “Man’s Search For Meaning.”
“I tell them almost any response from their child is normal,” said Borowski, “and they have to convey that to the child. Kids with trauma question whether they’re normal. [Children] also have to be told that they’re not alone in having to deal with this. There’s a smorgasbord of people they can turn to.”
Most important, he said, children must understand “that they have permission to go through this.”
Aliza Frohlich, middle school psychologist at Yavneh Academy in Paramus, said Borowski’s work is helpful to local Jewish institutions.
“A school may only have one mental health professional on staff,” she said. When a community tragedy occurs – Frohlich cited, for example, the fire that devastated the Seidenfeld family in Teaneck in 2005 – educators “can’t deal with it alone. They need to be able to call someone” who has special expertise in that area.
The Yavneh psychologist said she has had occasion to consult Borowski on issues that have arisen in her school and considers him an important resource, especially when “there’s a sudden, shocking death that’s hard to deal with.” She added that, as former head of a lecture series at Teaneck’s Beth Aaron, she invited Borowski several years ago to speak on grief and mourning.
Among the programs offered by SSTART is GameDay, held in conjunction with the New Jersey Nets. Ephraim Jaffe of Passaic, who has helped publicize SSTART and was one of the group’s first “big brothers,” said Borowski arranges for him to bring groups of high school students to basketball games.
“He feels they’re under pressure and just need to have a good time, to chill out,” he said.
Volunteer Boruch Spivack said he’s been “fortunate to have had the opportunity to connect Moshe with Passaic-Clifton Jewish Family Services and Someaich Achim,” a case-management program designed to help individuals and families in crisis.
“Dozens of children, and some of their parents, have had the opportunity to attend the games for free,” said Spivack. “The kids are mere feet away from the players and have had the opportunity to take pictures with the players and talk with them and receive their autographs. This is a once-in-a-lifetime thrill for people who can really use it.”
Spivack, who said he runs the youth baseball league (“called ‘yiddle’ league”) in Passaic”“Clifton, added, “I know that oftentimes, sports is the one place that kids can go to escape whatever is troubling them and, for a few hours, not have to think about the daily problems.”
For more information, e-mail Borowski at HealTheHurt@gmail.com or call (646) 673-5909.