Morristown Jewish Center

Rabbi Nesson’s Sermon on Newtown Trajedy

I also offer you my sermon(scroll down)  about the situation in Newtown, with the title :

Were the Mayans Right?

© Rabbi David Nesson  Morristown Jewish Center

Saturday Sermon December 22, 2012

I am glad to see all of us here today, I really am. Since we are all here, it must mean that the prediction that December 21st  would be the end of the world, at least according to some interpretations of the Mayan calendar, must have been wrong. You know that all over the world  people did some strange things, in anticipation that it  might be the very last day. There were people who quit their jobs, people who went to the ancient Mayan temple to pray, people who went out to eat all their favorite meals, people who paid to sleep in underground bunkers in the Soviet Union that we built when they were told that US was going to bomb them…I’m sure you heard some other stories too.

So I am glad the world did not end, and I am glad that the Mayans got it wrong.

Or did they?

You know that Dec 21st was the shortest day of the year, the darkest day of the year. It was also the one week anniversary of the tragedy that brought Newtown Connecticut to a halt and America to  its knees.

And I am thinking, that maybe the Mayans got it right, though they may have been a week off.

Because a week ago, the America that we know, died , at least a little bit

It came to an end along with 20 children, the 6 and 7 year olds , and 6 adults. The end of the world came to 26 families because of a senseless act of violence.

It’s been a week, and yet we still find ourselves in shock, in mourning, and with so many questions. How does someone kill innocent 6 year olds? What is happening to us as a nation? This is the 15th mass shooting this year, and the 7th one to take place in a school this year. How do we come to grips with this, and can we allow ourselves to let this become the new norm in America?

Some of us already want to be talking about Gun Control, while others of us are thinking that the only way for us to feel safer as a nation is to arm school teachers or have armed Policeman in the corridors of our schools

Some of us already want to talking about Mental Illness, how it seems easier for us to legally purchase a gun than it does to be treated for depression or mental illness, while others of us already want to be talking about the glorified role of violence in our society, in movies, in video and internet games, and how to put a stop to it. All of these things are worthy topics, essential topics and no one of them will be less important than any other when we really begin as a nation as to wrestle about all the issues surrounding this horror.. To many this moment will be what Malcome Gladwell calls a Tipping Point,

Abraham Joshua Heschel famously said that the ancient prophets spoke to the moral state of the nation, with the belief that “few are guilty, but all are responsible.” That, to me, encompasses the spirit in which we should reflect upon the Newtown murders-

But for me, all of these questions are- not yet…There is community still in mourning, can you imagine that a week has gone by and there has not been time to even bury all those innocents, and all those heros who tried to protect them,,, there is a nation in mourning..And so at least for shabbat , let’s not be so eager to get political,,,rather, let’s join with this community of Newtown Connecticut in their grief and in their pain…..there will be plenty more time for political posturing, of that I can assure you.

There is a line in this week’s Torah Parsha that comes to mind…it was pointed out this past week during a conference call with Conservative, Reform and Reconstructionist Rabbis from around the country The person who pointed it out is Rabbi Jeffrey Silberman _ who is the Jewish chaplain at Danbury Hosptial, just 10 miles from where all this violence shattered the day . These are the words that haunted him all this week.

The sentence in the Torah is the moment when a messenger is sent to Joseph with news of his father—The messenger enters the room- and seeing the expression on his face, Joseph just knew…something must be terribly wrong… Joseph says Ho-ode avi chai? “Is my Father still Alive” and, without even waiting for the answer drops everything and goes…

Can any of us dare to imagine that moment in Newton, when the news began to spread in the community…something terrible has happened at the Sandy Hook school…How many parents, how many relatives, how many neighbors must have called or run to the school with that question hidden in the back of their minds, not daring to think it too strongly, not daring to say it outloud “Is my little boy or little girl alive”, “Is my wife, my sister, my cousin still alive”? And as each parent found their child, and swept them up and away, but you were still there, you were still waiting—is my child alive??? As each husband or boyfriend or parent of a teacher waited at that firehouse to embrace them, but they did not come—

Did you ever see the movie Kindergarten Cop, The star is Arnold Schwarthagger, and the principal is played by Penelope Miller who is very short and petite She stands all of about five two in her tippy toes and there is a scene in the movie where she sees Shwarzenneger hit a parent who has been abusing a little one in his charge. The principal, who may be of small stature really knows her stuff and really cares about the students and she has a passion for teaching……she calls Arnold into the office and as he is leaving she wishes she knew what it felt like to punch the guy out and she makes a fist and smacks him out with great satisfaction.

Oddly enough, the principal of Sandy Hook Elementary, Dawn Hochsprung stood all of 5’2”…what’s more, this petite administrator so wanted the students at the school to learn to love to read that she became the Sandy Hook Book Fairy….this is a woman who would do whatever it took to make her students learn and grow.

And when a gunman came into the halls of her school, she protected her students not like a fairy or even a mother hen…no, she protected them like a lion, as she literally ran out into the hallway and straight at the gunman to try to save as many lives as possible. She may no longer be with us on this earth….but we know how she died……you see, she died as one who was really alive…she was doing what she had always done…..she was fulfilling what she saw as her mission on this earth…

And then there is the school psychologist, Mary Sherlach. Mary was heading toward retirement…but she was not ready to stop doing what she loved to do…she was not ready to stop fulfilling her passion for helping students in trouble….and she too would make the ultimate sacrifice as she too lunged directly at the shooter. We know how she died…….she died really living… she was fulfilling her mission on this earth, protecting students in trouble.

Victoria Soto. Victoria hid a group of students in a closet and when the gunman approached she died shielding them from bullets. We know how she died…..she died dedicated to her students and her profession.

In the meantime, the parent’s calls came through, “Is my child alive?”.

So many of us want answers when tragedy strikes, .and, it doesn’t much matter if the loved one is 6 or 106….the question, Why, always comes up. If you were to ask me, “Why did this happen?” I would tell you that I do not know. There is no possible reason I can comprehend that would explain these murders

The truth is, the hardest lesson in life is knowing that there is much over which we have no control. Storms happen. There are bad people. We cannot stop these things from happening.

Can you tell story? One of the children in our religious school couldn’t sleep the day after these events. He woke up in the middle of the night and wrote something to show to his mom—she shared with me the next day— this is what he wrote:

While we live our lives, we must always keep in mind that we are under the mercy of others’ stupidity”

what do we say to this child, to our children—their  world is already so different from the one that I grew up in—they live a world of locked school buildings where you have to get buzzed in—they live in a world of monthly lock down drills—

In a world where there is so much uncertainty, we need to remind our children that that our love is unchanging; that we will do everything in our power to protect them.

We might not be able to answer why…..but we can ask, what can we do to help?
We can affirm the values and teachings of Judaism. Judaism teaches us “to choose life.” It teaches us that all human beings are created in the image of God, and we must search for the best in ourselves and in others.

One thing that we can do is to set aside some time to contribute to the community of Newton, Connecticut, perhaps financially, but equally importantly by sending cards, notes

Let me share with you  just two such examples (See Above)

As importantly, Don’t let them be forgotten by us when the rest of the world forgets about them. While their lives may have been taken by someone else, let’s not forget that the responsibility for perpetuating their memories belongs to us.

So, did the Mayans did get it right? The Jewish answer is yes and no. No, the world did not end yesterday,,but yes, the world as we know it ended last week, with the deaths of all those innocent children and their brave teachers

So, For this shabbat, , We grieve with the parents, grandparents, brothers and sisters of the children, teachers and others who were so senselessly killed.

For this shabbat, , We stand in awe of the teachers, the first – first responders in this crisis, for the amazing strength and courage and yes, sacrifices they made to protect those children.

We thank the first responders who rushed into danger.

I am sure that all of us who are parents hugged our children a little tighter as they went off to school this week, , school, a place where we should be able to send our children with a sense that everything will be safe…

For this shabbat, let’s pledge to support the people of this community in every way we can.

Those who study the Mayans understand that yesterday was really not supposed to be the end of the world, it was just supposed to be the end of one epoch of history and today is the beginning of a new one.

So let today be such a new beginning, a re-visioning of the world where this kind of senseless violence will not happen again.

Let’s remember the names of those who were so senselessly taken from their families

In Memory of those who perished in Newtown:

Charlotte Bacon, 6

Daniel Barden, 7

Olivia Engel, 6

Josephine Gay, 7

Ana Marquez-Greene, 6

Dylan Hockley, 6

Madeleine Hsu, 6

Catherine Hubbard, 6

Chase Kowalski, 7

Jesse Lewis, 6

James Mattioli, 6

Grace McDonnell, 7

Emilie Parker, 6

Jack Pinto, 6

Noah Pozner, 6

Caroline Previdi, 6

Jessica Rekos, 6

Avielle Richman, 6

Benjamin Wheeler, 6

Allison N. Wyatt, 6

Rachel Davino, 29 Teacher

Dawn Hochsprung, 47 School principal

Anne Marie Murphy, 52 Teacher

Lauren Rousseau, 30 Teacher

Mary Sherlach, 56 School psychologist

Victoria Soto, 27 Teacher

Nancy Lanza, 52 Mother of gunman

And let me offer you this prayer, a prayer for G-d, the protector of children’s

In Memory of the Children

Our God, God of our ancestors, God of Avraham, Yitzak and Yaakov, God of Sarah, Rivkah, Rachel & Leah.

Look down, from your holy dwelling in Heaven, and see our pain and our suffering. Hear our cries, see our tears, have mercy and answer us, guard us and protect us.

For to you our eyes are turned, Adonai our God; do not turn us back empty-handed.
Please, God, have mercy on us, and guard our children! Distance their souls from all danger, their eyes from tears, and their feet from faltering.
Healer of all flesh, heal the mentally ill before they lose their way.
Strengthen those who protect our children, and whenever someone arises to do evil to innocents, quickly foil their plans and thwart their designs.
Our Parent, our Sovereign! Act for the sake of schoolchildren who never yet sinned – and are gone; act for the sake of the bereaved parents who cannot find comfort. Treasure their tears forever, and sanctify your name in your world.
Shelter us with your benevolent protection, and let us walk before you in the light of life. Amen.  ( Rabbi Hillel Israeli)

Shabbat Shalom