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Rabbi Wendi GeffenRabbi Wendi Geffen is a Senior Rabbi at North Shore Congregation Israel, a dynamic community dedicated to celebrating Reform Judaism and fostering connections through progressive Jewish living. Through leadership, guidance, and insightful teaching, Rabbi Geffen has become a pivotal figure in promoting tikkun olam — a Hebrew expression for repairing the world. Her dedication to empowering individuals to explore and define their Jewish identities demonstrates her commitment to the synagogue and the larger Jewish community. 

Rabbi Geffen’s influence extends to national leadership roles, including serving on the executive board of the Chicago Board of Rabbis and participating in various Jewish and community boards. As a respected voice on issues of national importance, she contributes thoughtfully and effectively to public discourse.

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 Here’s a glimpse of what you’ll learn:

  • Rabbi Wendi Geffen responds to parental concerns about childrens’ safety amid global issues 
  • Navigating anxiety and fear in the Jewish community
  • How parents can prioritize values and normalcy during security concerns
  • Why it’s important to acknowledge fear and uncertainty after a traumatic event
  • How parents’ anxiety can impact their ability to support their children
  • Addressing anti-Semitism in children’s education
  • Methods for empowering teenagers to handle anti-Semitic experiences
  • The power of intentional breathing in managing emotions and actions

In this episode…

In an era marked by uncertainty and rapid destabilization, parents face the daunting task of raising children in what often feels like an “unhinged” world. How can they ensure their kids feel safe, develop resilience, and maintain a strong sense of identity amid such volatility?

According to Rabbi Wendi Geffen — a seasoned leader with deep roots in community guidance and Jewish wisdom — parents should empower themselves and their children to navigate these challenges through discernment, community support, and intentional mindfulness practices. Rabbi Geffen emphasizes the importance of understanding that, despite the chaos, there are elements within our control. By fostering open communication, grounding themselves in traditional wisdom, and embracing modern mindfulness practices, families can find stability and strength.

In this episode of The Coping Podcast, host Dr. Leigh Weisz and Rabbi Wendi Geffen of the North Shore Congregation Israel explore strategies for parenting in today’s anti-Semitic world. They delve into understanding and addressing parents’ and children’s anxieties, the impact of societal challenges on family dynamics, and practical tips for incorporating mindfulness and character refinement into daily life.

Resources Mentioned in this episode

Sponsor for this episode…

This episode is brought to you by Coping Partners.

Coping Partners is a mental health practice dedicated to helping children, adolescents, and adults manage various challenges including anxiety, divorce, behavioral issues, relationship problems and much more in the Chicago suburbs.

Our practitioners are devoted to building on our clients’ strengths and bolstering weaknesses.

To gain insight and tools for getting unstuck check out our website at CopingPartners.com, email us at support@copingpartners.com.


Episode Transcript

Intro 0:01

Welcome to The Coping Podcast where we share strategies for coping with the stressors of life, especially the difficulties of parenting. And here is your host, Dr. Leigh Weisz.

Dr. Leigh Weisz 0:15

This is Leigh Weisz. I am the host of The Coping Podcast where I feature top experts on topics like raising healthy children, parenting and so much more. Past guests include therapists Dr. Aryn Froum and Ben Kessler, dietician, Lara Field and many more. Just a quick disclaimer, the information provided is for educational and informational purposes only. This is not intended to provide mental health treatment and does not constitute a client therapist relationship. The information provided is not a replacement for being assessed and evaluated by a licensed professional and is not intended to replace mental health or medical advice. Before we get into today’s topic, I wanted to introduce our guest, who is an amazing individual, someone who truly embodies ‘tikkun olam’ the Hebrew expression for repairing the world. Rabbi Geffen is the senior rabbi of North Shore Congregation Israel, and has been part of the rabbinic team there since 2002. Rabbi Geffen is a tireless leader of our community, a person who people turn to for counsel, education and insight, she promotes a larger sense of purpose and impact in the world’s repair. There are many things that inspire Rabbi Geffen. She’s passionate about how Jewish wisdom adds meaning to our lives, and enables us to better our world each day. As a rabbi, she is dedicated to empowering each person to define their Jewish identity and Jewish journey. And as a senior staff member, Rabbi Geffen empowers the synagogue and the larger Jewish community to pursue justice and the repair of the world. She also likes to cheer alongside her husband Scott for their children at a dance recital or a baseball game, and beyond her leadership at NSCI. Rabbi Geffen is a leader in the National Jewish community. She is on the executive board of the Chicago Board of Rabbis, she serves on a number of local Jewish and communal boards and is a frequent commentator to the press on national and issues of national importance. So thank you, Rabbi Geffen so much for being here.

Rabbi Wendi Geffen 2:27

Thank you so much for having me, Dr. Weisz.

Dr. Leigh Weisz 2:29

You’re welcome. You and I had talked previously about some of the things that both of us are hearing about. One of them is how parents are presenting to us feeling so overwhelmed with worry about how our children can possibly feel safe in the world in which they’re growing up. And I think this is true for most people raising kids these days, but perhaps, particularly for the Jewish community more recently. So I wanted to see if you would start by just telling us what are some of the most common questions and concerns you’re getting from parents?

Rabbi Wendi Geffen 3:04

So thank you so much. You know, I think for as you just insinuated, you know, this is something that is, I think, experienced by everybody in some way. And so, I name that is to say, like, often when we speak about parents, we’re assuming that they exist only in the role of who they are in relation to the fact that they have a child or children. But parents are people too. So whenever anyone is presenting someone, I’m always sort of trying to be sensitive to the fact that what our kids are experiencing, often we are also experiencing, and it’s not always easy to kind of like separate those, those experiences or those feelings out. I think a lot of the questions as they first present themselves, or the concerns maybe even better said as they first present themselves, surround, really, whatever the issue is, and kind of channeling it into equating that the entire world is unhinged, unsafe. And that therefore means that their child is unsafe, and the concerns that come with that. Sometimes, a parent is kind of approaching me in this case because their child has expressed a concern, but I would say more often than not, the parent is either preparing themselves for a case when they imagine their child will come forward, more is kind of projecting There concerns justifiably onto what their child they think must be experiencing and or thinking. And sometimes that might be the case. And sometimes it’s not right. And that even that just is hard to discern. But I think a lot of the questions are things like, you know, first of all in the Jewish context, should I be, should I be sending my child to, you know, I think about like, in the weeks after October 7, and the truth is, this also happened in the weeks after Pittsburg and the Tree of Life shooting, it actually happened in the weeks after Colleyville, as well. So these are things that kind of reflecting on it now take us all the way back to 2018. So this has been going on in a Jewish kind of mindset for a little while now, of just the direct concern about the security threat that is present ubiquitously in the Jewish community. And so for any one of us, in particular, in the Midwest, who knew Jewish life before hits Pittsburgh, right, you know, that there’s a really big delineator, where it became super common after Pittsburgh to see security guards, police cars, all sorts of protective security measures upon entry and throughout one’s experience in Jewish spaces, whether that be synagogues, Jewish organizations, what have you, right. And that’s real, I would say necessary. But we have to know that that comes with a consequence in terms of, you know, if we want people to perceive of a synagogue as a safe space, a comfortable space a home, you know, how many people’s homes have security guards before you go in? So just that alone, I think is a big question for parents that comes to us, which is like, should I really be sending my child to these judicially identified spaces? And obviously, it’s, you know, the the question is coming from the place of concern for not the child’s emotional well being, but literally their physical safety. I just kind of want to honor that. That is a pretty ubiquitous question. And it has only increased, I mean, in that increase exponentially after October 7. Yeah. And I would just say you, you know, somewhat uniquely in our North Shore community, we also saw a big bump of that sort of question not connected to Jewish identity, but safety in general, after our July 4 shooting in Highland Park, which devastated and continues to devastate specifically our community. So there’s that kind of like, just the straight, literal question about safety.

Dr. Leigh Weisz 8:05

Yeah. Right. What you’re saying is, you know, first of all, we always think about anxiety as being I think of like, the bad anxiety. So the irrational parts, but obviously, there is some anxiety, that’s right, wired into us for survival, for good reason. And it’s good, it’s healthier. And so I hear you saying that some of this right is legit. We do have to unfortunately, think about these kinds of issues, too, in order to stay safe. And yet, we also need to figure out a way to live our lives and to kind of balance it and I know you are the most non judgmental, it’s one of the things I love about you, when you speak to you know, everyone you say there’s no one size fits all, there’s no right or wrong. But you help people kind of figure out for themselves, what what the best choices. But I do think about, you know, for the kids, for the parents are, it’s important to parcel out their own anxiety from their kids anxiety.

Rabbi Wendi Geffen 9:02

For sure. And you know, I think even in those questions, if a parent comes and says, my, my child is worried about coming to the synagogue, that is a different conversation than a parent simply asking, should I be sending my child right? It’s the it’s it’s, it’s different kinds of levels of agency. And I think that conversation around those questions and then whatever answers or possibilities might be revealed, is different because it’s also subjective. And it depends on the family, the child, the parent, what’s actually happening in a given moment, but even in that kind of first layer question, there is, as you say, this anxiety because is, although it’s true, we can never guarantee anybody safety in the world. And that’s been true for all time, right? This not just feels more proximate, it is more proximate. And it isn’t an irrational fear. Right? Um, you know, if our if our, if our fight or flight instincts are activated by a tiger chasing us, we’ve literally had Tigers chasing us, it’s not a phantom Tiger. And so just kind of want to honor the intensity of it. It’s why begin with the the reality, right? I think once once we get beyond those sorts of questions, and I can come back to talk about potential responses, right. But then there are the questions of, you know, actual anxiety concern, that becomes more diffuse, and almost like ubiquitous without without an expressed concrete concern, or, or like motivating factor. So last about, like, is it safe to send my child, but more about, um, you know, I feel that my child is growing up in an era or is experiencing things which will permanently affect them to the negative? Or I see it already affecting them to the negative, or how can I prepare them better to navigate in a world which is and then the language will be unhinged, utterly unsafe there, right extremes, speckled, extreme language? And that I would say, that’s the most common trope, and then you kind of fill in the blank to, like, what is likely triggering that so when I think about kind of these navigations, over the last few years, thinking about it now, I would cite actually Pittsburgh, the Tree of Life shooting as kind of like marker one. But then there was COVID. Right? You know, we just can’t believe that all happened, but that that happened. And I think in particular, for people who were or perceived that their children were encountering lockdowns at a time of high developmental possibility, that that really became a major vessel into which to channel anxieties for which there really weren’t answers yet, because nobody knew what the effects of any of this were gonna be. I don’t know, if we think we still don’t know.

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