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Exploring the Roots of the Newtown Tragedy

Exploring the Roots of the Newtown Tragedy

Lessons from the 10th of Tevet

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When tragedy strikes, we seek answers. Answers help us make sense of things. They provide reason, explanation, meaning. And more so, they allows us the false sense of security that if something happened in a particular place for a particular reason, it means I am safe and it could never happen to me.

Making things black and white, good or bad, might be easier for us to process. But rarely are things so clearcut. Rarely is something inherently one way or the other. More often than not, the issue is not the object or the action itself, but why it is being used, who is using it and what it is being used for.

When tragedy strikes, we seek answers

This Sunday is a day of mourning in Judaism. It is the 10th day of the month of Tevet, the day in the Jewish year 3336 (425 BCE) that the armies of King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylonia laid siege to the walls of Jerusalem. Thirty months after this happened, on the 9th of Av, the Holy Temple was destroyed. But the process began on the 10th of Tevet, two and a half years earlier.

We all have walls in our lives. Some need to be there, others need to be strengthened, some need to be destroyed. The wall, in and of itself, is not the issue. The question to be looked at is what purpose the wall is serving. Walls can protect. Walls give privacy. Walls create borders. There are many reasons that walls are not only necessary, but healthy.

Then there are the walls that keep us out where we should be allowed in. The walls that block our heart from feeling or letting us to connect to others. There are walls we put up around ourselves not for protection, but to hide. Those walls need to come down. Those walls create only pain and distance.

Almost anything can be used either for good or bad. And in many cases, the timing and circumstances make all the difference. Eating challah on Shabbat is a mitzvah. Eating challah on Passover is absolutely forbidden. One can have the most kosher of meat and the most kosher of milk, but put the two together and the food must be discarded. Love and intimacy in a marriage is beautiful and holy, but love and intimacy that strays from the marriage is destructive. There are endless examples. But in all of these cases, to put blame on the challah or the meat or the love would be ludicrous. They are not the problem. The problem is how one chooses to use them. When one chooses to use them. In what ways that person chooses to use them.

That first move was the first step in the death and destruction that followed

The 10th of Tevet teaches us something else as well. Judaism recognizes not only the end result, but the process. We do not only mourn the actual destruction; we go to the source, we figure out how it began, when it began, and mourn that as well. When the walls were besieged, it might not have seemed that alarming. But that first move was the first step in the death and destruction that followed.

The Temple was not destroyed in one day. The 9th of Av took 30 months to happen. So, too, we have a responsibility when tragedy strikes to search for the root causes. Were there signs? Were there symptoms? Were there things that could have been addressed that might have possibly prevented that horrific end result?

While it would be so much easier to lay blame, what we must do is create solutions and change. We have three fast days dedicated to mourning the process and ultimate destruction of the Holy Temple (the 10th of Tevet, the 17th of Tammuz and the 9th of Av). But the rest of the year we do not focus on the destruction, but on rebuilding.

Our country is now in mourning. We lost 26 precious lives in the Sandy Hook elementary school, as well as the life of the killer’s mother. Something must change. But that change won’t come from blame, but from deep searching. While we most definitely need to discuss who should own guns, where they should be, where they shouldn’t be and the entire debate, we cannot end there. We know what ultimately happened with those guns, but we need to see when those outer walls were first besieged. We need to know what signs and symptoms were there that should have been addressed.

And just like we cannot put all the blame on a weapon, we cannot put all the blame on a condition. The killer may have been mentally ill. But being mentally ill did not make him a killer. We need to take a hard look at the influences to which we expose our children. We must take responsibility for the violence that is embedded in our culture through music, media and gaming. And when we address mental health, we need to reevaluate what resources we have available to our children, and provide help and support when they are young. The help that can be given to a 10-year-old is vastly different than what one can do with a 20-year-old.

The killer may have been mentally ill. But being mentally ill did not make him a killer

We cannot ignore signs or symptoms of depression or anxiety out of fear that we will be labeled or looked down upon. There is a great need to get rid of the stigma attached to mental illness, but one of the ways of doing that is being open and willing to seek help when needed. The more we directly address these needs, and refuse to hide or be embarrassed of them, the quicker our children will recognize that it is okay if they need counseling or medication, or both. They need to know that angry or unhealthy thoughts can happen. What cannot happen is continuing to suppress, ignore or hide these feelings when they arise.

Furthermore, we need to view each other and ourselves not just as a person, but as an entire world. Judaism teaches us how each and every soul is precious and was brought into existence by our Creator for a specific mission and purpose. No one is here accidentally. And each and every person has something that only he or she can accomplish. When we view each other as invaluable, when we recognize that we have a reason for being here, it helps combat the feelings of being useless or having nothing to offer in life.

There is no one answer or reason for why such a tragedy happened. But we owe it to ourselves, our children, and those children whose lives were snuffed out at Sandy Hook to explore each and every possibility. We need to stop looking for something or someone to blame, and start looking at what we can change. Because only through change do we truly honor the victims, and help prevent a tragedy of this sort from ever happening again.

Sara Esther Crispe, a writer, inspirational speaker and mother of four, is the co-director of Interinclusion, a nonprofit multi-layered educational initiative celebrating the convergence between contemporary arts and sciences and timeless Jewish wisdom. Prior to that she was the editor of TheJewishWoman.org, and wrote the popular weekly blog Musing for Meaning. To book Sara Esther for a speaking engagement, please click here.
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Anonymous midwest USA December 28, 2012

mother's death just as important I appreciate the point of the article to emphasize that we all have a purpose and that we are all invaluable. However, take a closer look at how the killer's mother is- and is not- mentioned in the article:
"we owe it to...those children whose lives were snuffed out"
"26 precious lives...as well as the life of the killer’s mother"
If we truly regard every human life as the whole world, we should be equally devastated by this woman's death. A grown woman, murdered, is not any less a tragedy than a small child, murdered, if we are all equally precious in the eyes of G-d. Reply

Anonymous West hartford December 27, 2012

Where is the love? So many focus on the means, and the end becomes a debate on gun control. But those damaged by lack of love (in this case, maybe because it was hard for the child lanza was to feel it or anything.. Due to his mental issues and perhaps his family's inability to get passed them) can always find other ways to kill. Knives, bombs. In the aftermath of this tragedy, afew have focused on love v.supporting gun control but the chatter has the latter for the most part. I appreciated the comment about the UK health care working for the greater good of society, not just the individuals who can pay the price, as in the USA. I think this general lack of societal caring is the source of our high rate of crime, mass murders, robberies, even sexual violence... In our dog eat dog world, contempt for the individual is bred... Signed, a 47 %'er who thinks the number of people who need help from each other, society and the world, beyond their ability to pay cost is probably closer to 100% Reply

Galit December 26, 2012

gun ban in Britain I live in Adelaide a small Australian city. Last year we had 2000 reorted knifings. wePrivate citizens cannot legally keep guns except under special circumstances. Incidentally my father was stabbed to death in 1961 when violence was very rare. I would like to see large knives banned....like gun bans it probably just see the increase of another form of violence. Reply

Carmine R. Fragione New Smyrna Beach December 26, 2012

Roots of Newtown Massacre We live in a diverse nation of 330 million people, and anything at all can and will happen. The American Nation is also 50 states , varying in lifestyles from agrarian to city folk. There is no one way to summarize what causes anything to happen. The people are not a homogeneous culture, there is no way to control people into some cult like behavior, suited for a Utopian outcome . Yet for the State of Connecticut, the Governor had the legal purpose or restricting certain guns from anyone other than the most qualified of all applicants for a military style weapon, It was the State of Connecticut's call, not the Federal Government's purview to regulate who could have an advanced weapon , and what psychological testing for the owner or a profiling of family members might be within the rights of the State, regarding applicants of any state's own constitutional powers, that exist apart from the central government's concern. Reply

LES HOLLANDER spring hill fl December 26, 2012

very interesting. Reply

Isaac Bensussen San Diego, California December 26, 2012

What a beautiful and well written article on this terrible tragedy. Reply

Bernie Siegel, MD CT December 26, 2012

why it happens with the lack of love of the child their brain is affected structurally. indifference, rejection and abuse are the opposite of love. they then desire revenge and with revenge comes guilt and as john steinbeck said in east of eden "and that is the story of mankind." Reply

John Smith London December 25, 2012

William, gun crime went down and knife crime went up Reply

William London December 24, 2012

Ban the guns with stiff sanctions We banned guns in Britain 16 years ago and gun crime fell . It works!! Try it!! :) Reply

Julie UK December 24, 2012

Looking in from UK Looking in from outside the US culture and having discussed what happened with others, a few points have arisen. First and formost is that if you are overcome by violent emotion and there is a fire arm in reach, one may be tempted to use it - if it isn't there one cannot use it! Secondly I think that many cases of mental illness are picked up in UK because of the national health service which screens children, families with problems, anti-social behaviour, mental illness, criminal tendancies etc and ideally gets help to people when they need it. Our present government is however making huge cuts in the social worker section. It is not a fail safe solution of course and cases do slip through the net but at least you don't have to have an insurance policy to see a doctor. Our health service serves society not individuals. Reply

Robin Cohen Los Angeles December 24, 2012

To Trisha I'm so sorry to hear of the loss of your son. No mother should ever have to endure such heartbreak. However, I do want to share my perspective as well. There is a very big difference between suicide and homicide. Yes, in both cases the person is suffering. However, when one chooses to take his or her own life, as tragic as that is, the person did not make the choice to rob other innocent people of theirs. If he had killed himself it would have been tragic. But he instead he chose to murder. And while suicide is self murder, murder of others is a whole different level. And yes, the killer's name was Adam Lanza, but once he chose (and this was very planned out) to murder 27 innocent people, he earned the name "killer." May our society recognize the incredible need for mental health awareness and treatment, and my we know no more of such suffering... Reply

Trisha the mom of the boy who didn't live Nampa December 24, 2012

Changes I would have made to this article and "wisdom" from someone that studies mental health and lost a son to suicide Changes I would have made to this point: He was not born with the name "killer" he was born Adam Lanza. His mother didn't bring up a killer. Mental illness is a complicated chemical undermining of one's better inclinations that can cause for death... self-imposed ... death. Stigma and shame have definitely been an issue in the past... but even today less people are stigmatized and shamed to get medical help but cannot afford it and the institute of medicine is not uniform in the quality of people and services. Why are we continuously as a society okay with suicide but not okay with homicide? Both involve killing and I believe it is a false sense of security to uphold suicide as a "lesser evil" to homicide. Obviously people that kill are not well. Certainly there are complexes values and reasons that disrupt people from achieving health and betterment that we define as autonomic and a standard of existence. If we truly want to understand how to protect ourselves, our schools and treat mental illness perhaps we should refrain from using subjective terms like killer which are a permanent, ascribed label designed to stigmatize, shame and ostracize the act of the person from others ... as if no one else has ever had a suicidal or homicidal thought in the worst of moments of their lives. Reply

terrie Bend Oregon December 24, 2012

We humbly beseech Hashem To look beyond the veil of the heart...to not be afraid of the leper...to know WE through G-d's Spirit can touch and heal is what I see you saying so beautifully. Very good article. Thank you. Reply

Anonymous NMB December 23, 2012

WELL DONE! Your article covered a lot of valid points. It is not the gun, or the mental illness that is the cause. We need to improve our awareness of what is happening around us and stop making killing and crime a subject for games that children play. Reply

Catherine ny December 23, 2012

I think you brought up very relevant issues. Our society is filled with brokenness. When children are brought up in this environment there are the more sensitive ones who suffer. Then ad a result other innocent people suffer. The school system is broken. Take it from me. As a thirty year experienced teacher I have seen it gone down hill. So what now. We are certainly in a dilemma. We have a choice. Do we bring G-d back into schools or guns into schools.the sad truth is our society would rather bring in guns. That will only bring in more problems. G-d help us. Reply

Dorothy Bienen RPB FLA December 23, 2012

An amazing piece..... Extremely well written and sooooo heartfelt! Thank you Sara, as always for a magnificent article which states the absolute truth ... let us hope and prAY that moving forward...this is the model! If you are writing...I am reading your work! Reply

Virginia M. Mitchell Mi December 23, 2012

For starters we need to get rid of semi automatic assault weapons and oversized gun clips. Reply

Lorena Benchimol Rio de Janeiro, Brazil December 23, 2012

Great text and analogies. Congratulations, ms Crispe. Reply

William London,UK December 23, 2012

Our first question could be: are we all taking responsibility for the wellbeing of our families and our neighbours.

Are we looking out for each other ? Are we?

Do we smile at our neighbours before they have a chance to even say hello?

None of us knows why this tragedy happened. But we can choose to believe that we have a responsibility to build better societies. Reply

Arsene December 23, 2012

What an amazing write up. Every crisis brings opportunity. We get to assign what opportunities we pursue. I agree with every point you mentioned. We love to blame but we hate to improve. My hope and prayer is that we look at what went wrong and find innovative ways to prevent tragedies like this from happening again.

America doesn't have a gun control problem, we have a responsibility problem. Over 100 people die every day from auto related accidents but we don't create laws restricting car ownership. We have a culture that glorifies violence over peace and death over life. Where purpose is unknown, abuse is inevitable. Where th fruit is bad, you don't curse the tree, you destroy the root._ Reply