Books: Spiritual resilience

Sherri Mandell says she’d rather be a superficial person – and have her son still alive.

The Mandell family photographed in their home in Tekoa several months after Koby’s murder (photo credit: ARIEL JEROZOLIMSKI)
The Mandell family photographed in their home in Tekoa several months after Koby’s murder
(photo credit: ARIEL JEROZOLIMSKI)
In an effort to help other bereaved families not only to cope but to resume leading a fulfilling and meaningful life, Sherri Mandell, whose 13-year-old son Koby and his friend Yosef Ish-Ran were brutally murdered by Palestinian terrorists in May 2001, has authored an inspiring book on Jewish spiritual resilience based on her own intense struggle.
Since losing their beloved child, Sherri and her husband, Rabbi Seth Mandell, created the Koby Mandell Foundation, which runs – among several other therapeutic programs – a sleepaway summer camp for bereaved children. Over 6,000 children have benefited from Camp Koby.
The Mandells are involved in other initiatives as well, including lecturing around the world in order to help others.
“In our transformation from mourners to activists, my husband and I have learned the art of Jewish resilience,” she states.
A pastoral counselor and award-winning writer, Mandell – author of The Blessing of a Broken Heart, which was translated into three languages and adapted as a stage play – offers advice and insight to those who may wonder how they could ever survive unspeakable tragedy.
There is no better candidate to write such a book. Coming from anyone else, it might infuriate grief-stricken readers to be told that they could become their “fullest and deepest selves as a result of adversity,” or that “after the fear and trauma, know that, in the darkness, you will encounter sparks of beauty.” But not when the message is from a mother who has suffered a parent’s worst nightmare.
Indeed, Mandell concedes that despite her spiritual growth and renewed purpose, she would have “prefer[red] to be a more relaxed superficial person with my son alive than be imbued with a profound sense of mission.”
Having navigated what she calls the “seven C’s – chaos, community, choice, creativity, commemoration, consecration and celebration” – Mandell has learned not only to survive but also to thrive as well as to eternalize her son’s memory through meaningful contributions to society.
She has “struggled to find resilience for the last 13 years, clawing and elbowing and climbing my way out of the pit of despair and sadness,” and her only purpose in writing this book is to encourage others who are also struggling.
As she explains, the book was written not only for the bereaved but for anyone suffering trauma. It seems, however, that even those who have been fortunate not to have experienced such intensely painful challenges could also benefit from reading it, in order to appreciate the value of community, to become more sensitive to others and, perhaps, to learn what to say – actually, what not to say – to a person in distress.
“Resilience isn’t an attitude,” Mandell states. “It’s a process.” Certainly, it’s a long and agonizing process. Reading The Road to Resilience, however, should help along the way.