A Message from Rabbi Shira Koch Epstein

“When a person must cross an exceedingly narrow bridge, the general principle and the essential thing is not to frighten yourself at all.”
– Rav Nachman of Bratslav

Photo by Bridget Badore
Rabbi Shira Koch Epstein

Yesterday I sat with members of our community who were incredibly shaken by the bombing on Saturday night and the manhunt that followed. As resilient (and at times weary) New Yorkers, we have different reactions to this most recent violence in our midst.

I have heard a lot of different things from our members and staff over the last few days. Some of us are anxious, some angry; some expressing gratitude to have made it safely to this moment; others left feeling insecure.

Here at the Y, we work hard to keep our facilities, our members, and all of our community safe and secure. Our physical safety is maintained through our careful, continually updated, and expert-informed safety and security procedures, and your helpful vigilance in notifying us if anything seems unusual or out-of-order.

However statistically unlikely we are to be hurt, the hardest part for many of us is to maintain a feeling of security at times of uncertainty. As Rav Nachman of Bratslav suggests, sometimes we have to face narrow bridges — circumstances in which we feel a sense of insecurity. And, at those times, it is natural to have a level of anxiety that helps us to look before we step, and to look for a railing when we need one. But, it is all too easy to frighten ourselves, to conjure up terror that is much greater than the threat and to decide not to cross the bridge at all — to stop progressing in our journey.

As a child, I was afraid to get on an escalator — well past the age when children usually conquer such fears. I had heard stories of children getting clothing stuck and getting hurt. I was certain that those mighty metal teeth would eat me right up. I would go the long way to take the stairs, or find an elevator. Luckily, I had a family friend who understood fear, took my hand, and gently showed me how to step carefully on to the escalator.

Here at the Y, we can take each other’s hands. We can continue to be the kind of community that comes together in all of our glorious diversity to support each other in moments of anxiety and to celebrate with each other in moments of joy.

So, as we support our security staff as they scan every card, and keep vigilant for anything out of place, we also scan our community for anyone in need of a hand, a hug, or a kind word. We keep vigilant for how to reach out and get to know someone else in a class, in the lobby, and on the basketball court. We make sure that they are not alone. Together we help each other not to frighten ourselves; instead we help alleviate each other’s anxiety, and in this way, work to restore a sense of security in our beloved city.

L’shalom (To peace),

Rabbi Shira Koch Epstein
Executive Director
14th Street Y