I hope to engage the Jewish people in all facets of Jewish life including prayer, social justice, and Jewish living. I felt I needed a place where I can post some thoughts that might not be fit for a sermon, but longer than a Facebook status update. The posts, responses, opinions and thoughts on this blog do not necessarily reflect the institutional views or practices of Congregation Shaarei Kodesh.
Hamal’ach Hago’el oti.The Angel who redeemed me from all harm-bless the lads. In them may my name be recalled, and the names of my fathers Abraham and Isaac. And may they be teeming multitudes upon the earth. (Genesis 48:16)
These words are part of the blessing that an elderly and ailing Jacob offered his favored son Joseph. They are found in the Torah portion Vayechi, which will be read on Saturday morning, December 14th. Jacob wanted to ensure that his progeny would be protected and that they would remember those who came before them. The words of this blessing have made their way into bedtime rituals for countless Jewish boys and girls. The blessing is often sung when a child is already in bed, face washed and teeth brushed, in the arms of a parent or guardian, and it precedes the final kiss of the night.
December 13, 2012 was the last time that certain parents would say goodnight to twenty innocent children, and it was the last complete day on earth for six caring adults. This was the last night of calm and normalcy for these people’s families, for the brief lives of their children were taken the following morning, at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
Most of us remember where we were when we heard the shocking news unfold. I happened to be in the passenger seat of a hearse, next to a funeral director, after officiating at a funeral for a wonderful woman who had lived for more than 100 years. I was close to this woman, and the funeral was particularly difficult. A year later, I can fondly remember the gentle woman who I loved dearly. On the other hand, I still cannot process how one person could own so many guns and so much ammunition, and decide to use it on innocent children. I remain angry and dumbfounded that a gunman was able to enter an elementary school, cutting short the lives of so many.
In the future, when we talk about Sandy Hook, it won’t be difficult to forget that twenty children and six adults were murdered. To truly honor the deceased, it is incumbent upon us to remember the name of each and every precious child and adult. When Jacob blessed Joseph, he said: in them may my name be recalled.
When we remember the massacre at Sandy Hook, we must remember all the victims by name. We must take the time to read/recall Charlotte Bacon, Daniel Barden, Rachel Davino, Olivia Engel, Josephine Gay, Ana M. Marquez-Greene, Dylan Hockley, Dawn Hochsprung, Madeleine F. Hsu, Catherine V. Hubbard, Chase Kowalski, Jesse Lewis, James Mattioli, Grace McDonnell, Anne Marie Murphy, Emilie Parker, Jack Pinto, Noah Pozner, Caroline Previdi, Jessica Rekos, Avielle Richman, Lauren Rousseau, Mary Sherlach, Victoria Soto, Benjamin Wheeler and Allison N. Wyatt out loud. By taking the time to remember these innocent victims by name, and speaking about them as individuals, we honor them and recall them, just as Jacob asked Joseph to do.
These innocent children and the adults who looked after them deserve to be alive. But because of a madman who had access to guns, in a country with weak gun control laws, they are not. By recalling their names, especially on the anniversary of the massacre, their memories truly will be for a blessing.
Rabbi Robyn Fryer Bodzin is the spiritual leader of Israel Center of Conservative Judaism in Queens, NY. Her essay on gun control can be found in Peace in Our Cities: Rabbis Against Gun Violence, available on Amazon.
December 14, 2012, Adam Lanza murdered 26 students and teachers at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut before fatally shooting himself with a Bushmaster XM15-E2S rifle, legally purchased and licensed by his mother, whom he had killed earlier.
The shooting shocked the world and sparked an ongoing national conversation about gun control.
He hopes the prayer’s recitation by Jews and non-Jews alike will help heal the soul of the country. According to Creditor, a few dozen Jewish congregations and organizations have committed to reciting it.
Over the past year, tens of thousands of Americans have been killed by gun violence. The number varies depending on who is doing the counting and how.Slate has found 11,404 deaths by gunshot reported in the media, while information compiled by Centers for Disease Control indicates that more than 33,000 people have been killed by guns since Newtown. Mother Jones reports at least 194 children have been shot in the last year.
Rabbi Menachem Creditor (photo credit: Courtesy of Menachem Creditor)
“The attention of the Jewish community has waxed and waned when it comes to this issue. We’ve lost the Jewish passion to demand gun laws,” says Creditor, who has been very active in the campaign for more and better gun control laws.
Creditor is involved with efforts by PICO, a national, non-partisan network of faith-based community organizations, to reduce gun violence and get effective gun control legislation passed. Last January, he was among nine rabbis who participated in a gathering of 80 clergy in Washington, D.C. to speak out against gun violence. He also met with Vice President Joe Biden’s policy team working on gun violence legislation, as well as with White House staff.
Earlier this year, Creditor edited a collection of writings by rabbis about gun violence titled, “Peace in our Cities,” which has been distributed widely on Capitol Hill.
People familiar with El Malei Rachamim will recognize Creditor uses its traditional order and structure, but changes the content to reflect a different theological stance.
“It is less calm, less accepting of what is happening in the world,” the rabbi says.
Creditor says he was partially influenced by Israeli poet Yehuda Amichai’s prayerful poem, “El Malei Rachimim,” in which he states there would be more mercy in the world if God Himself were not so merciful.
Creditor says that post-Biblical theology falls short.
“We’ve become so confused about human responsibility that we’ve allowed prayer to reinforce our helplessness,” he says. “Prayer is supposed to galvanize human agency.”
“God, grant us the courage, wisdom and endurance to change our world into a safer, saner place, the world You dreamt of, a world where Your Portion is one we extend each other through unending, unfailing, unconditional human concern,” he writes.
‘Even one life saved makes it worthwhile’
Creditor says rabbis and other religious leaders will need stamina to fight a long-term battle for gun control.
“For faith leaders, this is going to be an endurance race with the National Rifle Association,” he says. “But even one life saved makes it worthwhile.”
An obvious twist on one of the most recognizable lines of the traditional prayer makes Creditor’s message unmistakable.
“Adonai, do not bind us by death into Your Eternal Bond of Life. We have far too much living to do first.”