We were asked to pause for a few moments this morning to remember, or pray for, the 26 precious souls lost in last week's horrific shooting. I turned on the television and listened to the bells of the Newtown church tolling slowly, majestically, 26 times.
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 (firstname.lastname@example.org) as is our Kesher social worker, Andrea Epstein (email@example.com).
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.
Rabbi Amy Levin
has been Torat Yisrael's rabbi since the summer of 2004 and serves as President of the Board of Rabbis of Greater Rhode Island.