Sunday, August 9, 2020 -
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What’s this rash of suicides?

Here is a statistic that I fervently hope is not outdated by the time this appears: In the last number of weeks, there have been four suicides in our community.

A suicide is so overwhelming that it closes everything else out. The event stays with you for years, for decades. The anguish is immeasurable. The cause can range from the unknowable to the all too knowable: drug overdose, mental illness, extreme financial pressure, extreme moral embarrassment, sheer physical suffering (as in the concentration camps), fear of ethical compromise (Sarah Aaronsohn, fearful that, under torture by Ottomon Turks, she would betray her comrades fighting to free Palestine from Ottomon oppression in WW I, took her own life).

Whatever the cause, because the deed is so overwhelming for the survivors, and usually so very tightly tied to individual circumstances, certain pertinent data can be overlooked.

I refer to a lugubrious fact: Suicide is on the rise.

Beyond the individual circumstances, a certain permit, a certain movement, a certain despair, within society at large has both spurred and legitimated an act that stands contrary to the ultimate in Biblical imperatives: “Live by them” (Lev. 18:5).

One reads that the rate of suicide is up in the military, or is higher among Native Americans, and these sad facts can hide an even sadder one: Suicide is rising among the population as a whole.

Something about our super-electronic, super-communicative, instant-achievement or instant-failure society sends a certain message to an ever growing number of people: Life doesn’t matter.

All this should put us on alert, a very easy point to make in theory and very difficult to put into practice. The theory, of course, is to be more aware, to be empathetic, to extend a hand, to be a support. Nos’ei ve-ol im chaveiro is the Hebrew term. So easy to say.

So difficult to implement, since potential suicides, people in extemis, are almost always surrounded and insulated by layers upon layers, from the outside: physicians or psychologists or both; family members who are embarrassed or overwhelmed, in either case steeped in long stories and complex details that become almost impossible to share; or by layers from the inside: by lonelineness and despair, convincing more and more people that reaching out is pointless, or that exposing their vulnerabilities would only add to their pain.

It is difficult to think of a more profound act of altruism than to support a suicide hotline, or to put one in place in one’s subcommunity. It is difficult to think of a more basically human act than to alert someone — whomever the right person may be, and that right person may be yourself — about someone else’s suffering, about someone who threatens suicide, whether openly or silently.

Elise Zakroff, a mental health peer counselor, informs me about SOS — Signs of Suicide — a prevention program for middle and high schools. It reduces the number of self-reported suicide attempts. Zakroff informs me of the ACT technique: Acknowledge, Care, Tell.

Tell, indeed. For our society has told us the opposite: Do not intervene. Our society has become obsessively and inhumanely defined by “Privacy Policies.” “We can’t disclose personal information about you” has come to subtly and pervasively poison our society, translating into anti-values: Isolation. Without-Exception Boundaries. If You Won’t Talk To Me, I Must Ignore You. These anti-values are the opposite of awareness, empathy, extending a hand, being a support; the opposite of acknowledge, care, tell: ACT.

After the fact, guilt is inescapable. Here, a family member or friend is before you. Then, in an instant, not. Gone. Irretrievable. You have been robbed of the ability to intervene. You are utterly filled with helplessness — and guilt. Woulda, shoulda, coulda become overwhelming.

Many in my circle remember Marshall I. Bloom, a subject of countless conversations at countless reunions and get-togethers. It was 1969 when his death — when suicide — entered my consciousness, and that of so many of my peers. Those who are reading this will relate instantly. Many retain their first memory of suicide. It stays in one’s consciousness in a way that nothing else does.

Prayer — a purely spiritual act — and wise intervention — a very practical act — both of which combine into caring — are our tools in the face of this growing, and ultimate, menace.

Copyright © 2013 by the Intermountain Jewish News

Hillel Goldberg

IJN Executive Editor |

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