Thursday, December 20, 2012

A Response To The Tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut


(Links which I spoke about during this message can be found toward the bottom of the post),

Shalom Shaarei Kodesh 

Last week, on the 7th night of Hanukah, as we lit those candle which were supposed to bring us joy, we all felt the opposite feeling; a deep sense of pain and sorrow after the school shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut.  Before I continue, I wanted to teach a small piece of halacha/Jewish law regarding how we as Jews mourn and how we get through difficult events and times.

After a loved one passes away, no matter the circumstances, the immediate family sitsshiva. Shiva is just a word that means seven, meaning that the family sits down in their home for seven days and lets the community come to them to fulfill the great mitzvah of Nichum Avelim, comforting mourners.

The laws of a shiva house are interesting. We are told that when we enter a home, we are forbidden from making ‘small talk’ with the mourners. Our tradition tells us that we should sit in silence and wait for the mourner to speak to us. But this answer was not good enough for all. The rabbis actually gave us words to speak to say to the mourners just in case there are no words at all and the silence became too unbearable: HaMakom Yinachem Etchem B'toch Sha'ar Avelei Tzion U'Yerushalayim...May God comfort you along with the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem. Unfortunately, the first teaching of remaining silent is not an easy mitzvah for us in the modern world to keep. We live in a world where silence is not something we are used to, but even more so, the human condition almost begs for us to say something which is perhaps why the rabbis gave us an out by giving us words to say. In the social media world that we live in, we are constantly told to comment on events and to have an answer for everything instantaneously.  There were of course many theories offered as to the cause of this tragedy, and each person seems already dug in as to the cause (full disclosure:  I myself have very strong feelings as to what we can do to prevent another tragedy, but I am open to listening to other view points).  

But honestly, after this horrific event, I could not muster any words or come up with any theories, in fact, my first posting after the disaster was the following – “no words”. I believe that our Rabbis give us an important lesson through this request for silence – comfort mourners first, and once this holy task is completed, then you can look for answers. 
This Friday will mark seven days from the massacre at Sandy Hook elementary. It is almost as if we as a country have been sitting shiva for seven days and now we are standing up and resuming our lives. I believe that now we can start processing things, and we must process these issues together as a country and a community, whether it is gun control, mental health, or a culture of violence (these were three of the major factors that the country seems to have latched on to after the tragedy).

When we lose someone we have loved, there is an open hole in our hearts, and they need to be healed, slowly but surely. My hope is that we can heal together.  This was week was difficult, and the event in Newtown Connecticut affected us all. The families in Connecticut are mourning the losses of their children, their wives and partners, their sisters and brothers, and their mothers, but I believe that all of us are secondary mourners. The question is, what now, what can we do about it? How can we deal with the pain?  

I want to share with you a couple of ways which you can deal with this tragedy. Please note, I am not telling you that this is how you should handle this tragedy, but merely providing some ideas.

First, read their names, read their stories.  Here is a link to the names of those who lost their lives:  


1)    Processing – every family has to navigate how they will deal with this issue. I found a couple articles very helpful:
“Talking to your children about Newtown” by Patricia Stern, LCSW, MP - http://njjewishnews.com/article/15714/talking-to-your-children-about-newtown#.UNIh23Pjmro
“Dealing With Grief: Five Things NOT To Say And Five Things To Say In A Trauma Involving Children” by Rev. Emily Heath. Although this is not a “Jewish” source, the author provides extremely valuable and effective methods on how to deal with this issue in a theological way. 
Additionally, I am here as your spiritual leader to speak to you and your family if you have any questions or just someone to talk to, so please do not hesitate to contact me.

1)    Action – I urge you all to visit the Jewish Council of Public Affairs website which they created as a reaction to this tragedy.  On this site, you will find a petition which urges our leaders to take action on all levels of government to deal with the issues of assault weapons, mental health, and violence in media and games. 


USY, United Synagogue Youth, our movement's youth arm, will be holding a rally against gun violence:


Also, you can contact our local representatives to demand action:


2)    Tzedakah – I want to share something that our religious school director, Hinda Rosenbaum, shared with our religious school families regarding this tragedy:

An official fund was set up by the Newtown community to help the families of the victims:
Sandy Hook School Support Fund
c/o Newtown Savings Bank
39 Main Street, Newtown CT 06470
Another option, suggested by one of our Religious School parents, is to help by creating snowflakes! An odd request for us here in Florida but it will make lots of people feel better!
“Welcome Students to a Winter Wonderland”
When school resumes for Sandy Hook, it will be in a new building. Parent-volunteers are working to ensure that the students are welcomed back by a winter wonderland with the entire school decorated with as many unique snowflakes as possible.
We encourage senders to be as creative as possible, remembering that no two snowflakes are alike. Please send snowflakes by January 12, 2013 to:
Connecticut PTSA
60 Connolly Parkway
Building 12, Suite 103
Hamden, CT 06514
The above Tzeddakah options are only suggestions or you may choose any other option to promote the healing process.

3)    Prayer/tefillah – Last Shabbat, I distributed a prayer written by a friend and colleague Rabbi Menachem Creditor.  It is an incredibly moving prayer and it might be able to give you words where none might come out- 

A prayer from Rabbi Naomi Levy:


A prayer by Rabbi Rick Sherwin:



4)    Community - we can come together as a Shaarei Kodesh community, pray, and be together. It is fitting that we are joining together with Temple Beth Shalom this weekend. We are first and foremost a people, and we can join together, young and old, male and female, in prayer, and of course, in celebration of the bnai mitzvah of Matthew and Sydney Levine. 


But I would like to end with one way we can deal with tragedy:  to join together as a community, pray together, enjoy life together, and support each other, not just in times of sorrow, but in times of great joy.  It is fitting that we are joining together with Temple Beth Shalom this weekend. We are first and foremost a people, and we can join together, young and old, male and female, in prayer, and of course, in celebration of the bnai mitzvah of Matthew and Sydney Levine.  This Shabbat, we get up from our low points and move on to the celebration of life through simcha.

We hope you can join us together, for together, we will again be whole.
Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi David Baum