By: Fern Sidman
In the heinous massacre that has rocked the nation to its core, it has been reported that among the 20 children that were killed at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut on Friday morning, December 14th, was six-year-old Noah Posner, a Jewish boy. His twin sister, also a student at the Sandy Hook school, escaped with her life. Upon receiving the news that her son had been one of the first graders killed, Noah’s mother, Veronique, a nurse at a local hospital, completely broke down, according to Rabbi Shaul Praver of Temple Adath Israel in Newtown.
The youngest of all of the victims, Noah celebrated his 6th birthday on November 20th and was remembered in a deeply emotional Sabbath service led by Rabbi Praver at the Adath Israel synagogue. Telling his congregants that the “culture of violence” would have to change, at a community prayer session on Saturday, Rabbi Praver said, “We live in a culture of violence. All of our culture is based on violence and we need to teach the kids about the ways of peace. We need to change everything. There’s too much war, too much violence in our streets.”
Speaking of the ephemeral aspects of life, Rabbi Praver said, “Don’t think that life is somewhere over the rainbow. What you’ve got right now, with your family, your friends, your house: This might be as good as life is ever going to be. So hug your children, love your children… Life is not happening on the other side of the rainbow. We are on the other side of the rainbow.”
Rabbi Praver advised his congregation not to back away from facing reality. “We need to walk back into that school and as soon as the doors open up and go right back to school and continue on with our lives,” he said. After the prayer services, the rabbi told reporters, “I don’t buy the notion that only violence sells. Violence sells because someone chose to sell that product, meaning violent video games and movies. We can sell the product of peace.” He added that, little Noah “was at the wrong place at the wrong time and his little body could not endure so many bullets like that.”
Earlier, Rabbi Praver told National Public Radio Weekend Edition host Scott Simon that he spent Friday — which he termed “the day from Hell” — consoling Posner’s mother, who is a member of the synagogue. “I told the mother that was grieving that I personally believe in the eternity of the soul, and I believe that she will see her son again,” Praver said. “Other than that theological comment, the rest of it was getting her to think about taking a breath and not trying to plan the rest of her life out right now, because she says, ‘What am I going to do without my baby?’”
Praver also spoke about a second victim, six-year-old Benjamin Wheeler, who he called “a very spirited boy.” He and his parents, David and Francine Wheeler, were not members of the synagogue, but they attended its Chanukah celebration. There’s always some brave individual who goes up to the dance floor to get everybody involved. That was Ben Wheeler,” he said. “Just delightful people.”
Praver was among the group of assorted clergy, social workers and psychologists who arrived at the firehouse near the school where many of the victims and their families congregated after the shooting.
In response to the question of why such tragedies happen, Praver replied: “I don’t know the answer to that. I never try to present a theological answer to that. I think what’s more important is to have compassion, humanity and hold someone’s hand and hug them and cry with them.”
The horrific drama unfolded on Friday morning, a little after 9:30 a.m. when a lone gunman identified as Adam Lanza, 20, of Newtown, burst through the school’s security system and headed for a classroom of first graders. Possessing hundreds of rounds of ammunition, Lanza used a Bushmaster .233 semi-automatic rifle, killing 18 of the children on site, with two being rushed to the local hospital where they were pronounced dead on arrival.
He also killed their teacher, 27-year-old Victoria Soto, along with the school principal Dawn Lafferty Hochsprung, 47, school psychologist, Mary Sherlach, 56, permanent substitute teacher Lauren Rousseau, 30, and teachers Rachel Davino, 29, and Anne Marie Murphy, 25. Lanza then turned the gun on himself, taking his own life, when he heard the first responders approaching. All together, he snuffed out the lives of 26 individuals in the second largest school shooting in US history.
Before carrying out the gruesome massacre at the Sandy Hook school, Lanza, using guns legally registered to his mother Nancy, fatally shot her in the face in the family home in Newtown. In addition to the Bushmaster semi-automatic rifle, he was armed with two automatic handguns.
A relative told ABC News that Adam was “obviously not well.” Family friends in Newtown also described the young man as troubled and described Nancy as rigid. “Adam was not connected with the other kids,” said Barbara Frey, who also said he was “a little bit different, kind of repressed.”
Nancy and her husband Peter, Adam’s father, divorced in 2009. Peter Lanza, who drove to northern New Jersey to talk to police and the FBI, is a vice president at GE Capital and had been a partner at global accounting giant Ernst & Young.
In a condolence letter to President Obama following the massacre, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu drew a parallel to the acts of barbaric Arab terrorism Israel has to deal with. “I was shocked and horrified by today’s savage massacre of innocent children and adults at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut,” Netanyahu wrote. “We in Israel have experienced such cruel acts of slaughter and we know the shock and agony they bring. I want to express my profound grief, and that of all the people in Israel, to the families that lost their loved ones. May you and the American people find the strength to overcome this unspeakable tragedy.”
Israeli President Shimon Peres on Saturday called the massacre “atrocious” and “incomprehensible” and said that Israelis’ hearts were with the bereaved families. In his own letter of condolence to the US President, Peres said there was no experience that could be likened to that of a parent losing a child. “We stand with you today in contemplation and grief over the atrocious, incomprehensible massacre of 20 children and six adults — educators – at Sandy Hook Elementary School,” he wrote. “No crime is more heinous than the killing of a child,” he added. “Our thoughts and prayers are with you.”
Earlier, Tzipi Livni, head of the newly formed centrist party Hatnuah and a former foreign minister, sent a message to US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. “On this sad day, all Israelis share the deep sorrow of the Americans over the loss of so many lives of women, men and innocent children,” she said.