Tomorrow marks the one year anniversary of the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. It was a day of fear and confusion, and those feelings hung heavily over all of us in the days and weeks that followed.
And in the midst of the national debate on gun control that began almost immediately and continues to rage today, there was a town. A community. A group of families shattered with grief, wondering how the world could possibly keep spinning in the face of such wrenching tragedy.
It was those families I couldn't get out of my mind, even as I wrote about my own feelings on gun violence and gun control. And it is those families that I am thinking about today. I hope that they have found some peace in the 364 days since their lives changed forever. I hope they have found some happiness in the arms of the ones who love them. And I hope they have found some comfort from an entire nation whose tears fell - and continue to fall - along with theirs.
Three days after the shooting, the funerals began for its tiniest victims. One of the first funerals was that of Noah Pozner, a six year old first grader at Sandy Hook Elementary. And while I couldn't be exactly sure what all the other funerals would be like, I knew what would happen at Noah's, because Noah is Jewish and so am I. And the day after the funeral, thinking about Noah's family, I sat down in front of my computer and I wrote, trying to make sense where there was none. Trying to understand that which was beyond comprehension.
In honor of this one year anniversary, and in memory of those twenty-six lives lost, I am re-posting the essay I wrote on that day about funerals and Jewish tradition
May Noah's memory, and the memory of all of those lost, be a blessing.
The Comfort of Sameness and Jewish Tradition
I couldn't settle down yesterday. I couldn't settle down because I was thinking about what was going on in a town just forty miles to the north of where I sat. In that town, there was a funeral. The funeral of Noah Pozner, one of the victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting.
I knew that, at about the same time, there was another funeral too. And there are more today, and there will be countless others in the days ahead. But it was Noah's that was on my mind as I went about my business yesterday. It was Noah's that I couldn't get out of my mind. Not because he is more important than all the rest; of course he isn't. But because Noah is Jewish, and so am I.
So while I couldn't be quite sure what the other funerals would look like, what the order of the services would be, for Noah's, I knew. I knew because Jewish funerals are generally all the same. And there is a solace in that sameness. In a format that has changed little in over four thousand years. A format designed to offer direction in this moment of intense crisis and confusion.
I knew that his funeral was on Monday because Jewish law commands that the funeral be held as soon as possible after death. I knew that he had not been left alone for even a second from the time of his death until the time he was buried; that someone had been watching over him since Friday afternoon.
I knew that there would be a tiny closed casket at the front of the room. A simple wood box adorned with a Star of David. I knew that before the funeral his family would gather in a room and each would tear a piece of their clothing, and I knew what that tearing would sound like. I knew that they would sit in the front row and prop each other up as eulogies were given. I knew that before the funeral's end someone would recite "E-l Malei Rachamim," a haunting prayer asking God to grant eternal resting to the soul.
I knew that at the burial Noah's family would take turns shoveling the dirt onto his casket themselves, and I knew that when the burial was over the community would form two lines leading away from the grave for the family to walk through; a symbol of solidarity. I knew they would go straight home to start sitting shiva, and I knew that family and friends would be waiting for them when they arrived. I knew that those same family and friends and even some strangers would pay visits over the next days, attempting to relieve the burden of the Pozners' crushing loneliness.
I don't presume to know what it is like to lose a child in such a violent and shattering way. But it is my greatest hope that these ancient traditions offered a bit of comfort as Noah's family struggles to find light in the darkness.
I couldn't get Noah out of my mind yesterday. And I am still thinking about him today.
Hamakom yenachem etchem b'toch she'ar avelai Tziyon Vi'yerushalayim.*
May God comfort you among the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.
*A hebrew prayer that visitors to a shiva house offer to the mourners