Sandy Hook Now and Going Forward

Dear Friends,

Incredibly, it has been a week since the unthinkable tragedy in Newtown.  For so many, the world is still topsy-turvy even as we carry on. There has been an outpouring of emotions and very soon after, actions, as people are scrambling to help on every level from changing national gun laws to offering children stuffed toys.  This too is how we cope, even through our tears.  I would like to humbly offer the following thoughts based on my meetings this last week:

1) Newtown is absolutely inundated with this overwhelming outpouring and the primary task of those families and their town is to grieve at this time.  Grief is a very private process and we must respect that fact.  There are some very specific ways to help which are based on their requests and we can play that helping role through the appropriate channels. Stay tuned for specific details and sign-up opportunities in January.

2) Our rawness and desire to help can also be channeled in some very positive ways that do not flood this tiny town, but which will redound to much goodness.  For example, if you would like to send toys, please remember the many children all over Connecticut who need donations and make a gift in their honor.  If you would like to send food, please remember our local food pantries and make a donation in their memory.  If you would like to make a financial donation, the United Way of Western Connecticut is the central point and you can mark it for Newtown.  If you are so moved, please consider the many first responders and teachers who, not only on that horrific day, but 365 days a year, serve our communities.  Perhaps this might be a good time to donate to your local school or police/ambulance/hospital associations.  Remember that we are local and there will be opportunities for many weeks and months to help. 

3) If you have been moved on the issue of gun laws please click here to visit the Union for Reform Judaism’s website section related to the aftermath of the Sandy Hook tragedy and bereavement. The URJ, along with many faith communities, civic organizations, politicians and many others have taken this tragedy as a wake-up call to examine the role of guns in our nation and to evaluate how we can best make our society safe and protect not only our 2nd amendment rights, but our precious children too.

4) Finally, there is an almost unbearable tension that we must bear.  In some ways, this is our biggest task.  We must go back to normal and not go back to normal at the same time.  How so?  We, and only we, can make our families and communities feel safe again.  We do this with consistent small acts of reassurance and by continuing our tiny daily task – the naive, the mundane, the tedious. At the same time, we must not go back to normal. How dare we squander the extreme discomfort that this tragedy has caused as if nothing was lost?  The only sliver of hope is that we are so horrified, saddened, enraged that we change.  It is up to each of us to consider what that change means.  How do we grapple with the isolated kid in our school?  How do we help families with mental illness?  What needs to change in our relationship with guns? How can you make your voice heard in this conversation? What is your definition of fun?  What is your child’s definition of fun? In short, what are your values and what are you doing to transmit them to the next generation and make them part of our larger society?

The tension is almost unbearable, and for some, the pain and grief is profound.  We may feel numbed and paralyzed, and at the same time want to rush to do the right thing.  Judaism teaches us how to grapple with loss, a topic with which we are too familiar.  First, we allow ourselves to feel the pain. We sit in our grief, surrounded by others.  Let us not skip this step, as we are just reaching the end of shiva.  Then we begin to discern; we sift through all our feelings and options in order that our responses are intentional and a force for goodness. Finally, we act.  We take the steps we need to do, in order to bring healing to our families, communities and country and to make this a better world for all.


Rabbi Leah Cohen
Georgetown, CT – December 2012