It’s been six years since the Butwin family was murdered, but I can remember the events of that day perfectly. I remember the growing horror as the facts began to emerge: a member of our synagogue had killed his wife and three children, and then took his own life. I remember feeling empty, heart-broken, and lost over the course of those first, most intense days.
I was out of town when I got that initial call, on a trip with my son (then three years old). As we flew back to Tempe, I held his sleeping body and wondered how anyone could harm their own child.
Each year since then, we’ve read the names of Yafit, Malissa, Daniel, Matthew and, yes, Jim on their shared yahrzeit. We’ve lit five candles, and strewn them with glass beads like tears. One year, Yafit’s dear friends led services with me. We’ve held a Day of Service to create some benefit from tragedy.
Still, I’ve struggled with the right ways to memorialize the Butwins. The tragedy was so complex and the emotions so complicated. Some of us had deep connections with one or more family members; many of us never met them.
These murders were many things, including Domestic Violence – also called Intimate Partner Violence. Although they are the worst example of such behavior, they remind us that there’s a spectrum of abuse, and that no one, Jews included, is immune.
On June 8, we will once again mark the Butwin yahrzeit during Shabbat services.
This year, we’ll hear from Stephanie Orr, Director of The Casa Center for Positive Social Change, a non-profit dedicated to addressing child abuse, relationship violence and bullying. Casa teaches Social and Emotional Learning (SEL), Emotional Intelligence (EQ) and Bullying Prevention to children, teenagers and adults. These are understandings we all need, especially as our culture becomes more toxic. We need to understand how to empathize and how to deescalate situations before they become violent. We need to become better advocates for people who are being hurt. For more information, visit casacares.org.
According to Casa, “understanding emotions is a SKILL that must be learned and practiced.” Each and every one of us would benefit from understanding our emotions and triggers better. What’s more, handling tough situations well is critical to our collective wellbeing.
Let us learn how to support those in pain more effectively. Let us learn to navigate uncomfortable, challenging, oppressive, and violent situations better. Let us continue to grow as human beings. For me, these are essential goals of synagogue life.
By learning in this way, I believe, we become better people and honor the memory of the Butwin family.