How indescribably, inexplicably tragic.
For the families, for the communities of Newtown, the mourning, the pain--once the shock wears off-- are beyond imagining. They fell victim to a severely mentally ill young man who had access to a powerfully dangerous weapon.
Humans have vivid imaginations and like it or not we project ourselves into situations like this and can't help but touch the edges of the emotions felt by those truly affected.
We are vulnerable at times like this and I find the rhetoric emanating from news media and a wide range of organizations to be disturbing.
This is not a "time of crisis." No movement or trend was highlighted by the Newtown shooting. Yes, some weak patches in the fabric of our society were exposed, but no one outside of Sandy Hook came under a direct, or even indirect, threat when that young man shot his way into that school. It is terribly disturbing that a school following all reasonable security precautions (as is the case with Sandy Hook School) cannot anticipate and defend themselves against an attack like this. Therein, of course, lies our terror.
This may be a moment for some facts. Last Friday, elementary school children in about 67,000 public elementary schools around the United States and perhaps another 25,000 or so private elementary schools around the United States all got up, ate breakfast (I wish....), went to school and got home safely. There was a heart-stopping tragedy in one school.
It's a little harder to figure out how many legally-owned firearms there are in the United States. A little Googling yielded these two (unverified) statements:
The Small Arms Survey in 2007 by the Graduate Institute of International Studies in Geneva estimated 270 million firearms in the US.
There have been 156,577,620 gun registry applications submitted to the National Firearms Administration (NFA) from Nov 1998 to Nov 2012.
So, last Friday, approximately 200 million legally-owned weapons were not used to kill 26 innocent and defenseless people.
Concerns about responsibility and treatment of the mentally ill in our country are also raised in the context of the Sandy Hook shootings. It is even harder to come up with a statistic for the number of "mentally ill" in the United States because the term "mental illness" is comprised of a wide range of diagnoses while a legally owned weapon is a legally owned weapon. It is clear, though, that the percentage of the mentally ill who are prone to violence (against others, not themselves) is minuscule. So, last Friday, many, many thousands of people suffering from significant mental disease did not harm to others or to themselves last Friday morning.
So where does this leave us? I hope none of us here, in Rhode Island, are experiencing a sense of immediate personal threat to ourselves or our families. If you feel that your level of anxiety or that or your children is more intense, more sustained than an object review of the facts might suggest, I encourage you to reach out for help. For those not affiliated with Torat Yisrael, you will find, I hope, many resources readily at hand through school systems and faith community structures, Jewish Family Services organizations and local mental health facilities. For our TY family, I am always available to you (email@example.com) as is our Kesher social worker, Andrea Epstein (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Our tradition teaches us that God is our most consistent, eternal source of strength and perspective at times like this. I offer you two resources for prayer and contemplation: Psalm 121 and a prayer I composed especially with families with children in mind.
I lift up my eyes to the mountains, from where my help comes.
My help comes from Adonay, Maker of heaven and earth.
God will not allow your foot to falter; your Guardian will not slumber.
Behold, the Guardian of Israel neither slumbers nor sleeps.
The Lord is your Guardian;
The Lord is the shade upon your right hand.
The sun shall not strike you by day, nor the moon by night.
Adonay will keep you from all evil; will protect your soul.
Adonay will guard your going out and your coming in from this time forth and forever.
for the Sandy Hook School Victims
Adonay, our Creator
Most days we look around us and find our world as it should be: the sun You created is shining, the trees and grass You created help make our street look beautiful. We share breakfast with people who love us. We go to school with our friends and come home with stories about new things we have learned or made or enjoyed.
This week, we learned that not everyone has a day like every other. This week we learned that one person, who had an illness in his mind, can bring terrible sadness to other people for no reason at all.
When we learn about events that scare us, our parents and our teachers show us we are safe.
When we learn about events that scare us, You, Adonay, are always here to love us and help us feel peaceful.
Today is just the right day to read this prayer to You, Adonay:
Spread over us Your shelter of peace, Adonay.
Keep us safe and shelter us in the shadow of Your wings.
Guard our going out and our coming in.
Please, God, love forever the souls of the people who were killed at the Sandy Hook School. Please comfort all the sad people who loved those children and those teachers. We are praying that You will help them to be strong and to feel that they are not alone.
Todah Adonay . . . Thank You God for helping us on a sad day.
Rabbi Amy Levin, December 2012 / Tevet 5773