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October 31, 2014 / 7 Heshvan, 5775
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Posts Tagged ‘Sandy Hook’

Ten Ways to Help Newtown’s Grieving Families

Friday, December 28th, 2012

Since the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School, several people have contacted me, asking how to help the families who lost young children because our family suffered its own tragedy. After my 13-year-old son Koby and his friend Yosef Ish Ran were murdered by terrorists here in Israel in 2001, I was sure that when I went outside, the whole world would have changed. That the sky would have turned red and the trees returned to rocks. I thought that there was no way that I or the world would survive my loss.

Grieving requires a new language.

Because the language once used to speak of art projects and homework and work and what’s for dinner no longer suffices. A new language must be learned instead that questions where God is and how such pain and sadness can exist in the world and how on earth we can contain this suffering and anger which threatens to undo us, as individuals and as a community. It asks: How can we live with the absence?

I can’t tell the families how to go on because at this point there is no going on. There is only the hard business of grieving. It is a job in itself. It requires courage and patience to face the emptiness and the longing and the loss and the horror and the might have been, and the if only. If only I had kept him home from school. If only we had never moved to this town. If only Lanzo had had no guns in his house.

There is no such thing as closure for the victims’ families. But there may eventually be disclosure, a sense of mission. My family began the Koby Mandell Foundation, which runs healing programs and camps for 500 bereaved children each summer. The only way to rise from tragedy is to create meaning. And the first step in the victims’ families’ journey toward creating meaning is to receive kindness.

When your life is torpedoed there is often no way to continue. The ship is sinking and you can’t bail out enough water to save yourself. No, you are dependent on the kindness of strangers. And here is the point: it’s the community that will save these families by keeping them afloat. Even when they feel that they would prefer to drown.

Everybody is talking about gun control, which is necessary. But what keeps communities safe is talking, knowing what is going on in each other’s homes, reaching out to each other because it’s okay to ask if the other is okay.

So I say this to the people of Newtown. Continue to reach out. The grieving families no doubt are receiving a lot of help right now. But eventually that help will go away. The families will be left alone. Stay with them for the long run.

I would give anything not to have learned the vital importance of loving words, helpful deeds and the embrace of community. But I hope my experience can provide guidance that will help ease the pain of others.

So here are ten ways to help Newtown’s grieving families:

1. Sometimes words can cheapen or even desecrate. It is important to use words sparingly. Let the mourning family set the tone.

2. Even if you missed the funeral, you can still visit or call the person, even if it is months or even a year later. It is better to make the connection. And the family needs ongoing support. They will receive a lot of attention at first, and then slowly, the attention and care fades away. Be there for the long run.

3. Even if you don’t know the person that well, the family will feel honored by your presence. It tells them that the person who is gone matters.

4. Every person has something to give to a person in pain. One person may not be good with words but can cook or bring drinks or pick up the other child from soccer. Know what you are good at and use that talent or skill to help the family.

5. Keep calling. Don’t tell the person that they should call you if they need you. You are responsible for calling them. You are there to support them. Don’t expect anything back from them.

Every Jew – a .22?

Tuesday, December 25th, 2012

I have not yet addressed the horrific tragedy that struck our nation a little over week ago in Newtown, Connecticut. The truth is that this is the kind of thing that I do not usually discuss since it is not a Jewish issue. Even though there was one Jewish victim, the tragedy is much larger than one victim.

But the fact is that the issues raised by this tragedy affects us all – Jew and Gentile alike.

On Friday morning, December 14th, 27 people were massacred at the Newtown’s Sandy Hook Elementary School by Adam Lanza, a mentally ill 20-year-old with easy access to four semi-automatic weapons. Twenty of the victims were very young children and at least two of the adults, one a teacher and the other the school principal were murdered while attempting to shield children from the hail of bullets.

Like just about everyone else I was stunned by it. I could not imagine the sudden grief that parents, friends, and families must have felt. The idea that a group of six-year-old children were so quickly massacred in this way is unimaginable. So terrible is this to me this that my mind is mentally blocked from putting myself into the shoes of those parents. I think I would have a mental breakdown if I did. I was basically numbed by it. The President was visibly moved to tears when he first made public comments about it.

My immediate thoughts were about the guns. I thought it was indeed the easy access to guns that was the problem here. Those guns were legally obtained by Lanza’s mother, an avid gun enthusiast. Unfortunately for her, that attitude cost her her life at the hands of her own son just before he went on his killing rampage and suicide. The state of Connecticut is reputed to have some of the strictest gun laws in the country. It didn’t matter. The guns were there at the disposal of a mentally deranged individual.

Personally, I wouldn’t go anywhere near a gun. Guns scare me, frankly. To me the dangers of someone getting accidentally shot far outweigh the improbability of my using it for protection, which would be the only reason for me to own one. I am reminded of a former employee of mine whose son was killed by a gun carelessly placed on a table in her home by a friend who was police trainee. The boy found it, started playing with it and he accidentally shot himself in the head.

I believe that the massacre in Newton would never have happened if guns were made illegal.

It happens to be the case that in England gun ownership is very strictly controlled. If I understand correctly the police don’t even carry guns. It also happens to be the case that the gun homicide rate there is one of the lowest in the world. If we could do the same here in America, this massacre would very likely never have happened.

The trouble is you can’t do that here. It is a constitutional right of every American citizen to bear arms. And there is some truth to the slogan of gun rights advocates that if guns are outlawed, only outlaws will have guns. It is therefore quite understandable that some people feel the need to own a gun for protection.

If I recall correctly the founding fathers believed that confiscating guns from the citizenry was a first step towards tyranny. Which is one reason they introduced the 2nd amendment. But is that still the case? In my view making all guns illegal would be a huge step towards solving this problem. But the only way that can be done is to repeal the second amendment to the constitution. That is not going to happen. Although using England as an example I think it should. Will outlaws still have guns? Of course they will. But I would differ with England in that I would still allow law enforcement to carry them.

Gun enthusiasts of course would vehemently protest any such move. They use guns as toys… for target practice and the like. And then there are hunters. Perhaps an exception could be made for single shot rifles for hunting purposes. But I would outlaw all private ownership of all handguns and assault type semi automatic weapons that can take a large magazine clip filled with bullets. I would certainly outlaw those large ammunition clips. This is the type of gun and clip used by Lanza to shoot and kill so many victims so quickly.

But then I had another thought that went in an entirely different direction. I couldn’t help thinking that if the principal who had encountered him at the beginning of his shooting rampage had a gun with a conceal/carry permit, was well trained and proficient with firearms – that she could have shot Lanza before he did so much damage. I don’t know if she would have gotten to him before he killed anyone. But she surely could have saved many of those children and herself. Lest anyone think this is ridiculous, there are schools in Texas where all or most of the teachers are trained in firearms and carry weapons.

But I have to admit that the thought of a teacher who carries a gun in the classroom teaching my child is a scary thought. Teachers can be – or become – deranged too. With a gun at the ready, there could just as easily be another shooting of this type. Only this time by a deranged teacher.

Then there is the proposal by the NRA. They want to station armed police guards in every school. While many people are outraged by this, I don’t see it that way. If properly trained they too could have prevented the Newtown massacre had they been there.

The NRA points to Israeli schools who have this exact situation. Israel as we all know has been frequently subjected to terrorist attacks by suicide bombers. I don’t blame them a bit for protecting their schools in this way.

It would put my mind at greater ease to know that Israeli trained sharpshooters were on alert in my child’s school for any terrorist that might enter. Israel’s attitude about guns is more along the lines of the NRA. It is also true that a civilian carrying a handgun is a fairly common sight there. I also believe there has never been an incident like this in Israel’s history… where in the US it seems like every Monday and Thursday we see one.

Are armed guards a viable option here in America? I don’t know. Counter claims are being made that it would be ineffective. Columbine had an armed guard that was somehow eluded and students were massacred there by other students.

But still you can’t argue with the success of such a program in Israel. I think it is therefore really a matter of better training. Something the Israelis could help us with.

What about a Jewish school? Should we have armed guards in every day school? That would make quite a sight… something we are all not used to here at all. Or maybe we should all carry guns the way Meir Kahane once suggested. He coined the phrase “Every Jew – 22.” Twenty-two is the caliber handgun he suggested we own. He claimed that had the Jewish people had guns at the beginning of the Holocaust they could have fight back effectively.

That of course is very debatable. It may have made the annihilation of six-million Jews more difficult – but I doubt it would have done anything more than delay it.

Rabbi Kahane said that a Holocaust could happen anywhere; anytime. And we should be ready for it by having our own weapons. That is of course ridiculous. But I understand where he was coming from. He did not want to see us to go like sheep to the slaughter – which is what happens when an armed tyrannical government starts rounding up its unarmed citizens like Germany did to the Jewish people during the Holocaust.

But still, if every Jew carried a handgun – that would include every teacher and Rebbe. That would surely prevent the kind of massacre that happened in Newtown.

Does this sound like a viable idea to anyone?

Some have also suggested that the real issue here is mental illness, not handguns. While I agree – that too is an issue that ought to be addressed here, I don’t think that mental Illness will be cured anytime soon. No matter how much time and energy we devote to it. Although I fully agree that we need to devote a lot more time and money to it than we do now it does not offer any real solutions in the short term.

One thing seems clear to me. One way or the other something needs to change here in a big way. Because if it doesn’t. We may not have seen the last of this kind of thing.

Visit Emes Ve-Emunah.

Saying America was Punished with Sandy Hook is Blasphemous

Tuesday, December 25th, 2012

On CNN last week, I was asked by Ashleigh Banfield to respond to the comments of Bryan Fischer of the American Family Association who suggested that Americans were to blame for the tragic shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, because they had abandoned God.

“The fact is that is the ultimate statement of heresy,” I said. “This is not a religious man… Not only is he [Bryan Fischer] wrong that we kicked God out of our lives, the United States and the American people are the most righteous people in the world. We have spent endless blood and treasure to defend complete strangers, women from being beaten up by the Taliban. Our soldiers died for those people. God is on our money. We give more charity than any nation on earth. We deserve better. I am tired of people maligning the American people and saying we deserve to suffer. This is the most religious country in the Western world.”

The Raw Story reported that this sentiment is becoming widespread. “Numerous figures on the Christian right, including James Dobson and Mike Huckabee, have linked the horrific mass killing of 20 young children to issues such as prayer in school, abortion and same sex marriage. They claim these issues prove the United States no longer respects God.”

A day later, Fischer struck back on his radio show, claiming I had ‘demonized’ God:

“Shmuley Boteach, a Jewish Rabbi and  [CNN] gives him ample air time to demonize both God and me! So he demonizes God, this whole thing is God’s fault. We need to defy God. We need to challenge God. We need to demand of God. We need to blame this on God. He’s all powerful, could have stopped it, and he didn’t do it, and its His fault.”

“It’s interesting,” Fischer continued in his attack, “that… the theology I’m drawing from is from the Old Testament… I wonder whether he has read his own bible.”

Well, Mr. Fischer, I have read. We don’t call it the Old Testament, as there is nothing old or outdated about it. We call it the Hebrew Bible and this is what it says: “The hidden things are for God to understand, but the revealed things are for us and our children.” Why God allows good people to suffer is a secret known to him. But we human beings ought to have no interest in knowing the secret. What we want, what we demand, is that the suffering stop completely so that God and humanity can finally be reconciled, after a long history of human travail and agony, in a bright and blessed future, bereft of suffering, absent of tragedy, and filled with blessing.

In the face of catastrophes there are always those who are trying to divine the mind of God when really their role as humans is to argue with God. That’s exactly what the name Israel means, He who wrestles with God. Isn’t that what Abraham does with the news of the impending destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, where he raises his fist to the heavens and proclaims, “Will the judge of the entire earth not Himself practice justice?” Would God really allow the righteous to die along with the wicked?

Is this not also what Moses says to God after he is told that the Jews will be annihilated for the sin of the Golden Calf? If you do so, says the great prophet, “then I beseech you, erase my name from the Torah You have written.”

And when God had earlier sent Moses to free the Jews from Egypt but Pharaoh had instead intensified their suffering and servitude, Moses, defiant, says to God, “Why have you behaved wickedly to this people, and why have you sent me… You have thus far not saved Your people.”

And, in the New Testament, as I argue in Kosher Jesus, Jesus does the same thing. Dying on the cross, he cries out in agony, “My God, my God. Why have you forsaken me?” He is defiant against the death sentence imposed on him by the brutal and wicked Romans. He asks why God has not intervened to rescue him.

The role of human beings in the face of seeming divine miscarriages of justice is to hold God accountable and demand clemency for humanity. God is all powerful. He does not need a defense attorney. But humans are fragile and vulnerable and they need all the protection they can get.

That’s the Way the World Is…

Sunday, December 23rd, 2012

I was talking to my son Elie about the Sandy Hook/Newtown tragedy and about some discussions I’ve been following on Twitter. The consensus of one group is that teachers should carry concealed weapons, making them better able to protect the children under their care.

“That’s stupid,” said Elie. “They need trained guards, and fences around the schools. And even if the security guard is killed…”

He continued but I got stuck at “even if the security guard is killed.” My sons are security guards. I can’t quite just walk past that statement of Elie’s without pausing but he was going on.

“And it would help the economy; give people jobs.”

He’s right. Securing schools in America so that they are all surrounded by fences and guarded by trained security would provide more jobs. But would America agree to live that way? The way we have been living for so long?

“That’s the way the world is,” Elie answered back. He’s too young to mourn the cynicism of that statement, too used to it being that way to know that it shouldn’t be natural to have to guard children with guns.

“I’m not even only talking about terrorism,” Elie continued while my brain took a quick trip down memory lane to when I was a child in the schools of America. “Even just against sick people.”

When I was a child, my school had a fence – around the playground area only – so that the balls didn’t go into neighboring properties. The schools were not locked; no guards, not metal detectors. There were no cameras, no monitors.

My children go to school behind fences, with an armed guard at the gates. A few times a year, and at times when security is heightened, policemen are added in front of the schools.

Part of me mourns that my children need to be protected in this way and part of me mourns that fact that it doesn’t bother them. The security guard is their friend; they know his name and greet him each day. That’s the way the world is…

Silly to wish it wasn’t but even sillier to ignore that it is. No, I do not believe teachers should be armed; that principals should be responsible for guarding children with their lives. If you put a security guard in front of a bank, then put one in front of your school. Your child should be the most precious part of your life.

In Israel, we have become accustomed to certain infringements on our lives. We go to a mall and do not hesitate to open the trunks of our cars, our purses. We empty our pockets. I sometimes feel “honored” to walk into the mall with Elie or Shmulik because they flash their ID and gun licenses and not only are they allowed to enter without being searched, but I get to go along for the ride.

The concept is logical – if he’s okay and he says you’re okay, go through. Years ago, an American security officer was explaining to an Israeli officer how they search every person. The Israeli answered, “if you search all, you search none.”

The goal here is not to be politically correct, it is to save lives. If a person who is acceptable and known to pose no security risk takes you through security, you are trusted too – but only so long as you are with them.

Actually, not really. Some of the people at the mall know that I am Elie and Shmulik’s mother and let me in without being checked – but it still feels like a privilege to me, something strange. For the most part, like all Israelis, I open my backpack or pocketbook; I walk through the metal detectors and answer the questions I am asked.

No, it is not a violation of my rights; it is a protection of my life and those around me. I can’t imagine the US putting security guards before their schools…and yet, I can’t avoid the reality that a security guard would have questioned and even blocked a young man who didn’t belong where he was going from entering the school.

Elie says, “that’s the way the world is.” I accepted long ago that this is the way we live here in Israel and it has never bothered me. I want that guard there because I have to know my children are being protected.

Where Was God When Sandy Hook’s Children Died?

Thursday, December 20th, 2012

I know he was trying to be comforting, but President Obama’s comments at Sandy Hook about God perpetuates the myth that we humans ought to always see God in the role of comforter. God is supposed to be our protector and, Biblically, we’re supposed to challenge God in the face of suffering rather than believe that innocent people dying is somehow His will.

After reading the first names of all the twenty children who were murdered, here is what President Obama said:

God has called them all home… May God bless and keep those we’ve lost in His heavenly place.  May He grace those we still have with His holy comfort.  And may He bless and watch over this community, and the United States of America. 

Called them home? What? Their home is with their parents in Connecticut, not at the divine throne in heaven.

“His holy comfort”? Who wants that? We want these kids alive and well, not in some substitute comfort.

May God “bless and watch over this community.” Wait a second. Was he watching when Adam Lanza shot each of these children multiple times? And if He was, which I, as a religious man firmly believe, then why didn’t He stop it?

Obviously, this isn’t about President Obama. It’s about a prevalent and fraudulent belief in world religion, captured in the President’s otherwise moving speech, that when tragedy strikes our first impulse should be to defend God rather than rail and thunder against the injustice of it all. God’s first role is not supposed to be as our consoler-in-chief. Rather, He’s supposed to be our foremost guardian. If He could split the Red Sea than He can stop a ‪.223-caliber Bushmaster AR-15 assault rifle’s bullets. If He could bring down the walls of Jericho then He could have made the walls of the Sandy Hook school impregnable to monsters. And if he could revive the dead with Elisha, then He could preserve the life of these small children.

Why God is silent and seemingly absent in the face of so much suffering is the real question about the Sandy Hook massacre. These kids were innocent. Does God not promise to protect the innocent? The Lord will protect you from 
all evil; 
He will keep your soul (Psalm 121). These kids were vulnerable. Does God not promise to guard the defenseless? The Lord is the keeper of little ones: I was humbled, and he delivered me (Psalm 116:6). These kids deserved long lives. Does God not promise to safeguard humanity? I long to dwell in your tent forever and take refuge in the shelter of your wings (Psalms 61:4).

Judaism gave rise to the defiant man of faith, the man who, like Jacob, spars with angels and defeats them. The Jew is a child of Abraham who went so far as to accuse God of injustice when the Almighty sought to the destruction of both the righteous and the wicked of Sodom and Gomorrah at the same time. The Jew is the disciple of Moses, who thundered to God that he wished his name to be taken out of God’s holy Torah if the Creator would proceed with His stated intention of wiping out the Jewish nation after the sin of the Golden Calf. The Jew is like King David, who declares in the Psalms, I shall not die for I shall live. The Jew has achieved immortality through an impudent insubordination in the face of historical inevitability, daring to defy fate and forge an audacious destiny.

Our role in life should not be to offer empty platitudes in the face of suffering, about how the murdered children are in heaven. Rather, we have a right to demand from God that He abide by the same values and rules that He commanded us to uphold. Through Moses, He commanded us to always choose life. This day I call heaven and earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live (Duet. 30:19). Must God not also choose life? Are we human beings just so much cosmic chaff that when our children are slaughtered? Are we meant just to bow our heads in silent submission?

No. The role of religion is not to make us compliant. Rather, faith galvanizes us to make the world a better place. That means fighting evil and protecting life. It means building hospitals and developing medicines. And it also means demanding of God that He show Himself in history and help us to make the world a safer place.

We can’t stop every monster-psycho like Adam Lanza. But He can. And spare me the arguments that say if God were to stop evil we would not have any freedom of choice. When Adam Lanza grabbed his mother’s guns and started over to the Sandy Hook school, he could easily have been hit by a bus and none would have been the wiser. It would not have compromised anyone’s freedom of choice.

Challenging God in the face of suffering is not blasphemous. Rather, it is deeply religious and the ultimate sign of faith. It means we believe that God controls the world, controls human fate, controls the world’s destiny, and has it in His unlimited power to make the world a happier place.

President Obama is an eloquent speaker. But rather than let God off the hook, in the face of tragedy, I would rather hear him say, “Lord, we Americans are a righteous people. We spend endless blood and treasure around the world to untie the hands of the oppressed, to protect the rights of women, and to safeguard children from terrorists. We give huge amounts of charity and Synagogues, Churches, and Mosques. We have Your holy name printed even on our money, and we have a national day of Thanksgiving to show our gratitude for Your bounty. We deserve better than to see twenty tiny, precious souls slaughtered so brutally. In the name of all that is righteous, and as the Chief Magistrate of this great nation, I ask You, I implore You, I demand of You, to protect our children, Your children, from harm, so that all the peoples of the world will see Your great hand in history and how the innocent are allowed to flourish, prosper, and grow old with children of their own.”

The Sandy Hook Tragedy

Wednesday, December 19th, 2012

The 26 murders at the Sandy Hook elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut last Friday have triggered yet another nationwide debate over how something so horrific could happen in the United States.

We’ve seen similar discussions after other mass killings, but usually they are forgotten in a matter of weeks. Perhaps the Newtown massacre, with its sheer number of dead and the heartbreakingly young age of most of the victims, will prove to be different.

In the immediate aftermath of the atrocity, most are still focused on the adequacy of gun control measures and the attention paid to the special threats posed by the mentally ill. And these concerns are obviously on point.

Yet far too little attention is being paid to the steady diet of violence and depravity – including depictions and even celebrations of murder, torture, dismemberment and rape – being served up to our young people in movies, song lyrics, video games and of course on the Internet.

While more details about the Newtown killer, Adam Lanza, are sure to become known in the days ahead, we already know he spent an inordinate amount of time behind closed doors playing violent Internet games.

Understandably, as a nation that revels in free speech we tend to be reluctant to dwell on these matters, but a clearer understanding of the long-term effects of this kind of exposure would seem to be crucial in understanding and possibly preventing such unthinkable violence.

In the meantime, we join our fellow Americans and indeed the rest of the world in expressing our deepest sorrow and sympathy to the families and friends of the children and teachers whose lives were so senselessly ended last week.

Israeli Pres. Peres Sends Condolence Letter to US Pres. Obama for Connecticut Slaying

Sunday, December 16th, 2012

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/news/israeli-pres-peres-sends-condolence-letter-to-us-pres-obama-for-connecticut-slaying/2012/12/16/

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