It was a eulogy for a life that had only just begun.
Veronique Pozner remembered her son Noah as a rambunctious, video-game loving “little man,” a boy with a perpetual smile and twinkly blue eyes who dreamed of becoming a doctor, a soldier and manager of a factory that makes tacos – his favorite food.
Noah Samuel Pozner, age 6, was the youngest victim of the massacre last week at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. He was laid to rest Monday, his miniature wooden casket set beneath the podium where his mother stood.
“The sky is crying,” Veronique said.
So were hundreds more, mourners who lined the walls of a small Jewish chapel in this coastal Connecticut city for one of two funerals held Monday – the first of 26 that will be carried out over the coming days. Among them were Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Sen.-elect Chris Murphy, and Governor Dan Malloy, who personally had delivered the awful news to parents last week after the shooting. Malloy spent much of the service with his eyes cast down and hands clenched under his chin.
With abundant tears and a gathering resolve, the eulogizers offered tributes to a loving boy whose death, they said, should inspire the living to acts of love and compassion.
Days after one of the deadliest mass killings in American history, one that claimed the lives of 20 children and six adults in a suburban school, a sense of shock is still palpable on the leafy streets of southwest Connecticut. In Newtown and surrounding communities, schools were on lockdown as children returned to class on Monday.
In nearby Ridgefield, Chana Deitsch, the local Chabad emissary, had the uncomfortable task of telling her children the news and comforting the mothers who come to her weekly Mommy and Me program on Monday.
Her husband, Rabbi Sholom Deitsch, had an even grimmer obligation. After news of the shooting broke on Friday, he hurried to the old fire station in Newtown where the families of the fallen were informed by the governor that their children were never coming home.
“It was a horrifying scene, watching how the parents were hearing what was going on,” Rabbi Deitsch said.
On Monday, residents here and around the country were still groping for answers and pledging to do something – anything – to stem what seems like a rising tide of gun violence. But in remembering Noah Pozner, speakers steered clear of the swirling political debate about gun control, enjoining mourners only to live better lives in memory of the fallen.
Rabbi Shaul Praver, spiritual leader of Congregation Adath Israel of Newtown, who has been cast into the national spotlight since the killings, presided over Noah’s funeral. On Sunday, he chanted the Jewish mourner’s prayer at the nationally televised memorial service attended by President Obama. At the funeral, he said the secret of Jewish survival was to meet tragedy with resolve.
Rabbi Yisroel Deren and his wife, Vivi, of Chabad of Fairfield County in Stamford were called on to help the families. In fact, the Derens received two phone calls: one from a friend of Noah Pozner’s father, Lenny, and one from Gov. Malloy, a close friend of the Derens since his years as mayor of Stamford.
Malloy asked the Derens to meet with the bereaved families prior to Sunday’s interfaith service.
The couple traveled to the house where the Pozners were staying.
“I walked in with a prayer on my lips that whatever we say will bring comfort,” Vivi Deren said. “We were brought to a quiet room to speak with Noah’s family.”
Noah’s mother told Vivi Deren that her son loved rainbows.
“Rainbows!” said Vivi Deren. “The sign of God’s promise never, ever to bring a flood on the whole world again. A symbol of healing, promise, and optimism.”
Later, at the interfaith service, the Derens were present when Obama and Malloy met with each family. Malloy introduced Rabbi Deren as his “very good friend.”