Enough Senseless Tragedies Like Sandy Hook

A movie theater. A Sikh house of worship. An elementary school.

How long until we say enough gun violence in our nation? These tragic events get the media coverage because they are the result of gun violence on a large scale, but there are horrific murders and suicides in our nation all the time which are the result of guns and bullets.

Earlier today I took part in a conference call for rabbis about the recent tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. Rabbi David Lerner, founder of Clergy Against Bullets, and Rabbi Jeffery Silberman, a chaplain and Director of Spiritual Care at Danbury Hospital in Connecticut (ten miles from Newtown), both spoke to the more than 100 rabbis on the call. There were Jewish texts that were cited, but ultimately the discussion turned to the need for comprehensive gun reform in our nation.

This evening I represented the local Jewish community at a candlelight vigil for the victims. The following are the words I spoke in an attempt to put the tragedy into perspective, bring healing and also encourage people that we must work to put an end to gun violence.

I have been asked to speak here this evening as a rabbi and as a representative of our Jewish community, however, I would not be fully honest if I didn’t tell you that I also stand here in my most important capacity – a Dad. As a father of two 1st graders I couldn’t help but look at the adorable faces of those children and think about my own children. This violent act was senseless, immoral, brutal and truly vicious. But it was not unspeakable. We, as God’s children, MUST speak about it.

In the portion of the Torah which Jewish people will read in synagogue this coming Shabbat, we hear the voice of Joseph asking if his father is still alive. After revealing himself to his shocked brothers, the first words out of his mouth concern his loved one and whether he is alive or dead. Last Friday, it was the other way around. It was parents asking if their child was still alive. With concern in their voice, they asked the question that no parent should ever have to ask.

In Judaism, we have a mitzvah, a commandment, from Leviticus 19:16 that says lo ta’amod al dam re’echa  — You shall not stand idly by the blood of your neighbor. And I know this is a core ethical precept in all of our faith traditions. Just as we all share the value of Tikkun Olam, that we must all serve as God’s partners in making the world a better place, so too we must hold up the banner that we cannot stand by as our fellow humans, indeed our nation’s children, are being shot dead in school.

We are so much better than that. We have a responsibility to protect each other. To ensure that violence always loses out to peace. That life trumps death. We owe it to the kids who perished and to those who are back at school. We owe it to fellow parents and grandparents.
I don’t have an answer to the question of “where God was” at that school on that fateful day in Connecticut. None of us does. But we do have a mission in front of us. Let us work together so that tragedies such as this are relegated to the history books and our future will be so much brighter.

As a tribute to the victims of this tragedy and to all who mourn, I offer this prayer written by my colleague Rabbi Naomi Levy:

Our hearts are breaking, God,
As our nation buries innocent children and brave teachers.
The loss is overwhelming.
Send comfort and strength, God, to grieving parents,
To siblings, family and friends in this time of shock and mourning.
Shield them from despair.
Send healing to the schoolchildren who are lost and frightened
Whose eyes witnessed unfathomable horrors.
Ease their pain, God,
Let their fears give way to hope.
Let their cries give way once more to laughter.

Bless us, God,
Work through us.
Turn our helplessness into action.
Teach us to believe that we can rise up from this tragedy
With a renewed faith in the goodness of our society.
Shield us from indifference
And from our tendency to forget.
Open our hearts, open our hands.
Innocent blood is calling out to us to act.
Remind us that we must commit ourselves to prevent further bloodshed
With all our hearts and souls.
Teach us perseverance and dedication.
Let us rise up as one in a time of soul-searching and repair
So that all children can go to school in peace, God,
Let them be safe.

God of the brokenhearted,
God of the living, God of the dead,
Gather the souls of the victims
Into Your eternal shelter.
Let them find peace in Your presence, God.
Their lives have ended
But their lights can never be extinguished.
May they shine on us always
And illuminate our way.
Amen.

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller

Scammers Add to the Tragedy of Noah Pozner

Cross-posted to the Jewish Techs blog at The New York Jewish Week

When the names of the victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut were announced, Jewish media outlets immediately published articles about the youngest victim Noah Pozner, the Jewish 6-year-old who was laid to rest earlier this week in a traditional Jewish funeral officiated by the family’s rabbi, Shaul Praver of Congregation Adath Israel in Newtown.

As if the story of this tragedy couldn’t get any worse news reports have surfaced that individuals have sought to capitalize off the Pozner family’s heartache. A man named Jason Martin rushed to purchase the internet domain noahpozner.com. After the Pozner family had the noahpozner.com website transferred to its ownership, Victoria Haller, Noah’s aunt, emailed Martin. He wrote back that he’d meant “to somehow honor Noah and help promote a safer gun culture. I had no ill intentions I assure you.”

The purchase of noahpozner.com wasn’t the least of the surprising acts done by individuals not associated with the Pozner family. It was what was published on that website. Adding to the grieving family’s sorrow, someone the family didn’t know began soliciting donations in Noah’s memory, claiming that they would send any cards, packages and money collected to his parents and siblings. An official-looking website had been set up at noahpozner.com, even including petitions on gun control.

According to an AP story, Noah Pozner’s uncle, Alexis Haller, “called on law enforcement authorities to seek out these despicable people. These scammers are stealing from the families of victims of this horrible tragedy.” Noah Pozner’s family learned of the scam after a friend received an email asking for money for the family. The email was poorly punctuated and listed an address for donations with which the Pozners where unfamiliar.

Noah Pozner was the youngest of the 1st grade victims at the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting.

While scams such as this one against the Pozners are all too common following a tragedy, it is still disturbing to the majority of people who live ethically. It is also outrageous that this family in mourning should have to deal with such a travesty and be hassled with having to deal with these scammers.

Ken Berger, the president and CEO of Charity Navigator, was quoted in the AP article. He said, “It’s abominable. It’s just the lowest kind of thievery.”

The noahpozner.com website now displays the eulogy his mother delivered at his funeral as well as several photos of the adorable 6-year-old who loved tacos. Donations to Noah’s Ark of Hope can be made on the site and a disclaimer clearly states that “This is the only official website for payment to directly and solely benefit the siblings of Noah Pozner.”

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller