What kind of reaction does the heinous murder of 20 school children require? How do we make peace with what happened last Friday and how do we move on?
Area rabbis addressed these questions and others in sermons last Shabbat. The following are excerpts from their talks:
Rabbi Dana Saroken
Beth El Congregation
As rabbis, we work hard to feel the pulse of a community when our community is suffering. We try to figure out what message to deliver, what it is that we can offer that will provide answers or insights or hope. But this time, it feels different. This time, we’re back in that very same place that we’ve been before — too many times. And we know — I would imagine that all of us know this time — it’s not about God. It’s not about God’s intervention, it’s not about the question of whether people are fundamentally good or evil, and it’s not about waiting for some person or day to come — a messianic appearance — to transform the world that we are living into a better world. No, the message is this…. It’s time. It’s time for the U.S. to learn the lessons of the Maccabees. …
For the real miracles, we need to not only pray for them but to work toward them. Just as the brave and valiant Maccabees took up the challenge by putting together an army that through their strength, passion and dedication, and with the help of the Almighty, defeated the large Assyrian or Greek army, and just as in 1948 an assortment of individuals from various war-torn lands joined the pioneers in the land of Israel and fought together for their shared dream, which they miraculously made a miracle, we too have the power to help perform miracles. But the opposite also holds true: God tells us in the Torah that we have before us the choice of blessing and curse, life and death … choose life in order that you and your children can live! (Deuteronomy 30:19).
It is up to us now to choose life! To put a stop to random violence, to not stand idly as powerless victims, but rather to become activists who take matters into our own hands to change the world for the better.
Rabbi Ronald Shuman
Chizuk Amuno Congregation
Parents ask me how to respond. What should we tell our children? Hug your children close, I answer first. Assure them they are safe, as necessary and depending on their ages. Tell them how much they are loved, how truly precious they are. Embrace your children with a love of life and goodness, a love of learning and light, a love of right and meaning.
As for the more difficult, larger questions as to why, my instinct is to redirect kids, and adults, too. Let’s focus on what we can control, not on what we can’t. Since we know there are some people out there who do evil, we have to do good. Since we know that sometimes people are hurt by other people, we have to be kind and caring to everyone we meet. We have to live the values we believe in and let those ideals be more important to us, and to the world, than the bad ones.
… I would acknowledge that all of us are sad. We feel so deeply for the victims and their families. Help your children express those feelings, too. Let them say what they are thinking. Hear them, comfort them, and assure them. It may be useful to make a card or write a note or a prayer with your children to send to Newtown. It depends on what you sense your kids need.
I always believe in telling children the truth, but also sharing only what seems directly relevant to what they are asking or saying. Less is more, as long as it is honest and coming from a place of caring for them.
Responding to this sorrow, we must raise ourselves up, lifting up our culture and our children out of the depths. It has to be possible.
Rabbi John Franken
Bolton Street Synagogue
Our response must be to blot out the darkness that time and again swallows whole the lives of teachers, principals, psychologists, aides and countless children. The darkness needs to be exposed and the forces behind it shamed. There simply is no place in a civilized country for laws that permit the sale and distribution of weapons of mass destruction. Let us pray for the victims, to be sure. But let us also act for life and justice by demanding a ban on the kind of weapons that just took at least 26 precious lives.
Ours is a complicated time. [On Friday] we saw a tragedy. But every day, too, we see miracles. If thereís some lesson to be drawn from the story of our people, it’s that we refuse to let the light go out. We don’t give in to darkness. We insist on a world illuminated by justice, hope and peace. And so, even today, the lights will shine brightly.
Rabbi Elizabeth Bolton
Congregation Beit Tikvah
It is distressing to try to figure out in which category to place this howl of outrage and pain regarding the desperate need we have for limits on access to firearms in the United States. I felt it earlier this fall when a friend was murdered outside his home — and received much news coverage for it — and again, more recently, when two 16-year-olds were shot in separate incidents, one in broad daylight. … I [am] praying that the day will soon come when no more adults or children, white or black, urban or rural, in any public or private setting, need fall victim to the lack of leadership that translates into rampant American gun violence.