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Driving Home from Newtown

Driving Home from Newtown

A call to action from Sandy Hook

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Mrs. Vivi Deren
Mrs. Vivi Deren

Until this weekend I had never heard of Noah Pozner, or of his family. But Noah’s father, Lenny, has a friend, and the friend had heard of us and called.

“They need you. You can speak to them, you can relate to them. Come, please come.”

There isn’t much to say to a request like that. I knew why we had been called. It was not only because my husband is a compassionate and caring rabbi, who has brought comfort to so many hurting people. We were being asked to help because as bereaved parents ourselves, several times over, perhaps we had something more to offer—if only to be evidence that it is possible to breathe after the breath has literally been knocked out of you. With much trepidation, I traveled with my husband to the house where the Pozners were. I walked in with a prayer on my lips that whatever we say will bring comfort, and not, G‑d forbid, add to the unbearable burden these people were already carrying.

We were asked to help because as bereaved parents ourselves, several times over, perhaps we had something more to offer

We were brought to a quiet room, away from the hustle and bustle, to speak with Noah’s family. I found myself listening to a brokenhearted mother describing her little boy, Noah, one of the first-graders at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, who was the youngest of the victims in the shootings last Friday. Those are, and should remain, private conversations, the kind of conversations that no one should have to have, ever.

What I do want to share are some thoughts that came to me as the day wore on.

Noah. The themes of the biblical story kept playing in my mind. Noah. Someone described in the Torah as a tzaddik, a righteous person, “complete.” All of humanity are considered to be his descendants, bound in a covenant with G‑d, to partner with Him to create a world of peace and harmony, of justice, goodness and kindness. The almost universal symbols of peace, a dove and an olive branch, trace back to Noah and his story.

Lenny’s friend is not Jewish, but he is passionately committed to the Noahide Code, the covenant that the Torah teaches was entered into by G‑d and Noah after the Flood, a covenant that binds G‑d and Noah’s descendants for all time. These universal commandments are the antecedent of any formal religion. The Noahide code is based not on clergy or houses of worship, but on the covenant between the Creator and humanity, the foundation for all human endeavor. Seven principles, seven commandments, that if they were implemented would bring about a virtual utopia of human existence.

“Noah loved rainbows,” his mother is telling someone

“Noah loved rainbows,” his mother is telling someone. Rainbows! The sign of G‑d’s promise never, ever to bring a flood on the whole world again. A symbol of healing, promise, and optimism.

We have moved to the high school, where the president is going to meet with each of the families. Governor Malloy and his wife, Cathy, come into the room first. The governor speaks gently with each family member. He embraces my husband warmly, turning to the family—“This is my very good friend.” They speak briefly about how we go forward after this overwhelming tragedy. The governor asks my husband to be in touch within the next 24–48 hours.

The president enters with no fanfare or even an announcement, and without being told to do so, everyone rises. I am moved to tears watching him with these grief-stricken people. The power of this gesture is immense; he truly does convey the sense that the whole country is mourning alongside these anguished families. The way he bends down to speak with Noah’s twin sister, the way he comforts the grandparents and gently joshes the teenage siblings, the way he makes a point of saying, as he did later, that “we will be with you,” not just now, but for the long haul. The president met privately with every single family, and took time to speak at length with each bereaved parent.

I am moved to tears watching him with these grief-stricken people

Noah’s family did not stay for the vigil; we left the high school with them and the caring, close-knit circle of family and friends that surround them so tightly. On the way home, we listened to the president. I found his speech stirring, and even more than that, heartfelt. There was an authenticity in this speech that one does not often encounter in public life. In my opinion, the speech was simply magnificent. I hope that every classroom in our country will study those words and figure out how to translate them into real life. I hope that adults will hold those same conversations. Most of all, I feel that his words were a call to action to all of us, to access the best within us individually and as a country, to really, truly, once and for all do what has to be done so that our world is a place where things like this can never happen again. To take those words of “never happen again” out of the fairy tales and put them where they can make a difference.

There are, thank G‑d, enough of us on this planet to make sure that not one human being ever feels lost

Late in the afternoon it hit me: We need a flood! Not, G‑d forbid, a destructive flood—we’ve had more than enough of that. What we need is a good flood—a flood of kindness, of caring, of compassion, of goodness, of warmth, of benevolence, of support, of reaching out. There are, thank G‑d, enough of us on this planet to make sure that not one human being ever feels lost. We need a flood of connections. Not just the trickles that come from time to time, but everywhere, all the time. We need to be at least as aware of the ecology of human behavior as we are of the ecology of the physical resources of the planet. It has to penetrate all aspects of our world—the worlds of business, the media, education, culture, science, the arts, medicine—we need a flood, a good flood. Every single one of us has to know that we can make a difference, and we need to put serious thought to how we can best do that. “Noah’s Flood” could take on a whole new meaning.

My husband made a suggestion to the president, that in the effort to draw good from the unfathomable evil that occurred we should offer a “moment of silence” at the beginning of each school day. This “moment of silence” will allow those children who want to pray the opportunity to do so; it will foster discussion between parents and children of the spiritual values they hold dear as a family. This suggestion was first made years ago by the Rebbe, who always held the clear vision of a world perfected by the partnership of G‑d and human beings.

And here, Mr. President, if I may respectfully offer one change—no, make that one addition—to your words. Yes, G‑d has taken them home. But now it’s time for the rest of us to make sure that G‑d’s home is right here on earth; to make sure that we, all of us together, bring heaven down to earth.

And Newtown will then forever be known as the place where light triumphed over darkness, the place where the healing of our aching world finally began for real.

Mrs. Shifra Aviva Deren is co-director of Chabad-Lubavitch of Connecticut and Western Massachusetts. With a passion for education, Mrs. Deren is the founding director of the award-winning Gan Yeladim Early Childhood Center in Stamford, Connecticut. She is a sought-after speaker on the role of women in Jewish life, and a mentor to many.
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Discussion (85)
January 3, 2013
USA is not Israel
" We need to impose these sanctions now and soon!" If I may, Dr. Amy Austin, your opinion is only permitted by the Constitution. The Constitution does not permit a heinous violation of the 4th Amendment for any reason except extreme measures in war. I pray for the lost loved one's families, like many, to over react on emotion to relinquish all freedoms is insane. If the perverted muslims that attack Israel, are in the USA attacking the USA citizens, that is something different, that is where a more stronger criminal enforcement measures are required. SH is not that. It is a tragic sick person that could have committed the same crime with any weapon. Armed guards at the schools are what was done in Israel from > 70's and it will work in the USA.
tarawa1943
USA
January 2, 2013
Noah
Although I a not Jewish, I thank you for the beautifully written articles. I am completely devastated by the Sandy Hook massacre. I have children of my own, and yes, I see Noah in one of my own. Like Karen said. I still have faith, but no understanding....Veronique, my prayer's are with you and Noah everyday, my heart is aching for you, every day...
Craig
Roswell, NM, USA
December 24, 2012
Security...
In 1970 I attended the University of Tel Aviv. When I went to the mall, the movies, or any public place, my purse was searched. I didn't give it a thought then and don't now. I understood that giving up some of my pesonal freedom for the safety and security of society at large was needed, accepted, and appreciated. We need to impose these sanctions now and soon!
Dr. Amy Austin
Rancho Mirage, CA/USA
chabadrm.com
December 24, 2012
Screening gun owners
Your work with regard to the Sandy Hook tragedy is invaluable. The mitzva of remembering that children are innocent and holy is important. This is one of the reasons prayer is said. If you can put the word in that gun owners should be given a psychological evaluation, I and others would appreciate it. The reason for the screening is that every gun owner should be good guy not a bad guy. In the next life guns will be irrelevant, but for this life we must do with what we have.
Jose R. Luna
December 23, 2012
Dear Mrs. Deren,
Your husband's words to the media when standing beside the Congregationalist minister, were the most consoling and transcending words I heard in all of this: "Noah is with G-d". i will keep those words and Noah Posner's sweet face in my heart forever. As a non-Jew friend of a number of Jewish friends, I also have turned to Chabad in their times of need for spiritual comfort, and I have never been disappointed. Thank you Rabbi Deren, and thank you Rabbi Hecht the rabbi here in Sunnyvale, California, for living your faith.
Sharon Braun
December 23, 2012
Protecting our children
Since parents can't be with their children 24/7, they must depend upon others to do this job. My issue in real time is that most schools in the USA are set up to fail. All or close to all of these terrible tragedies take place in "gun free" zones. Only the killer(s) are armed and they know it. the victims are defenseless. I live near the City of Chicago. Every Chicago Public School has either one or two Chicago Police officers in or patrolling the school grounds. Although Chicago is becoming the murder capital of the USA. The students are protected while in school. You need to demand that all schools be required to have thiis common sense measure put in place.
Sheldon H. Steinlauf
Park Ridge, IL
December 22, 2012
I agree hope is not strategy
The government must tighten up schools security (guards, bullet proof doors, metal detectors). When parents send children to school the children should be safe and not turn into a vulnerable target. Anybody accesing school must go through security an scanning. It should be made impossible for anybody to just brake in and have access to pure innocent children.
I once visited a Jewish center where guards behind bullet proof windows asked visitor for ID and reason for visit. If authorized to enter and after going through metal detectors, they buzzed him into first door. When that door locked second door opened. The government has the obligation to protect its citizens until society changes and improves.
Anonymous
December 22, 2012
A Rabbi for the Pozner family
Thank you for being there for this Jewish family
Nohra M. Leff
Valley Cottage, NY
chabadjec.org
December 21, 2012
Noah's flood
In my humble way I will try to keep Noah's Flood of good ness flowing.Thank you for giving us something positive to take away from this horrendous tragedy.Our hears are with all those who lost family and friends
Lynda
Kelowna, Canada
chabadstamford.org
December 21, 2012
I was shocked to learn of the horrible tragedy that happened in Newtown. G_D has 20 new angels. I hope the family will find some comfort from all our prayers. I have grandchildren that are three and seven years old. The minute I heard this I quickly called to make sure they were alright. My heart goes out to all the people that have to go through this. When I heard about this I cried thinking about these little ones.
sally
florida
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