In Response to Friday’s Tragic School Shooting

I cannot post to this forum about anything else today, but my utter sadness, dismay, anger, frustration and bafflement over the tragedy that took place this past Friday at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.

As a rabbi, a Jew, a human being, but especially as a parent, my heart is in pieces for the victims and their families.

I spent this past weekend with my congregation’s third grade families at a retreat. While we didn’t address the tragedy with the third graders directly, I did sit down with their parents. A planned text study on Parashat Miketz was understandably thrown out the window as parents asked for time and space to delve into how the tragedy affected them and how they were going to talk with their children about it.

Some had already had the conversation while others had not. Since the children that we were discussing were third graders, we reasoned that their children would eventually hear of the tragedy (if not in homes then from fellow students on the bus on Monday morning) and that parents should be the ones framing the conversation rather re-framing it later on.

We talked about how they know their children the best and should be the ultimate arbiters of the content of the conversation.

We talked about being honest and factual while not divulging more than needed.

We talked about the power of listening to our children’s concerns rather than assuming what those concerns might be. We emphasized together the need to listen over the need to talk.

We acknowledged that it is okay to say that we don’t know to all of the questions on the table and that it is okay to show grief. We must stand firm, not wither before our children, but that does not mean we must be stoic and hide our natural human emotions from them. They learn from us.  As adults, we don’t shut our eyes and our hearts to the pain around us and neither should they.

We also realized that this is a time for mourning and sadness, but it does not and should not preclude us from trying to enact change to protect other families from the pain that those in Newtown, CT must be experiencing. This includes security and safety issues, a more thorough conversation about the support needed for the mentally ill, and, of course, gun safety and control.

One of the most meaningful responses to the events of Friday was an old quotation dug up on a parenting site that I found. It was Fred Rogers who said, “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’ To this day, especially in times of ‘disaster,’ I remember my mother’s words and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers – so many caring people in this world.”

Mister Rogers always knew how to say it just right. For me, this seemingly simple statement sums up my incomplete theological response to the shooting. One man carried out so much evil and he will leave a mark that can never be erased. But so many have come out to help and to hold and to simply shed tears along with the families. Those of us spread across the country may not be able to hold each family personally, but we can be those helpers that Mister Rogers talked about by taking action.

One of the ways in which I choose to honor the memories of the twenty six fallen at Sandy Hook is by taking a stand on gun control. I have signed onto a clergy petition called Clergy Against Bullets, which supports legislation to restore the prohibition on large capacity ammunition feeding devices in the United States, which no one needs. You can find the petition here: http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/clergyagainstbullets/

I encourage all of us to find ways to raise our voices. Consider signing the petition on the White House’s We the People site, which calls on Congress to create tighter restrictions on gun ownership. You can sign that petition here: https://petitions.whitehouse.gov/petition/immediately-address-issue-gun-control-through-introduction-legislation-congress/2tgcXzQC

Las night, when President Obama  addressed our nation, he said that “someone once described the joy and anxiety of parenthood as the equivalent of having your heart outside of your body all the time, walking around.”

We are all aching and we are all vulnerable. And even more so in these days following Friday’s attack. I am a mother with two 2-year-old sons and I can not fathom the staggering pain that those closest to this attack must be undergoing. We must strive to prevent it in the future with whatever strength we have – not just for our own children, but for all of our children.

I join with our nation and with our world in sending our prayers to the families of Newtown, Connecticut. My God grant you strength. In these difficult times, may God grant all of us strength.

Rabbi Jill Perlman is the assistant rabbi at Temple Isaiah in Lexington, Massachusetts and the mother of two 2-year-old sons whom she loves with all of her heart and soul.

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