By Aviva Deren
Until this weekend I had never heard of Noah Pozner or of his family. But Noah’s father, Lenny, has a friend, and the friend had heard of us and called.
“They need you. You can speak to them, you can relate to them. Come, please come.”
There isn’t much to say to a request like that. I knew why we had been called. It was not only because my husband is a compassionate and caring rabbi who has brought comfort to so many hurting people. We were being asked to help because as bereaved parents ourselves, several times over, perhaps we had something more to offer–if only to be evidence that it is possible to breathe after the breath has literally been knocked out of you. With much trepidation, I traveled with my husband to the house where the Pozners were. I walked in with a prayer on my lips that whatever we say will bring comfort, and not, Gâ€‘d forbid, add to the unbearable burden these people were already carrying.
We were brought to a quiet room, away from the hustle and bustle, to speak with Noah’s family. I found myself listening to a brokenhearted mother describing her little boy, Noah, one of the first-graders at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, who was the youngest of the victims in the shootings last Friday. Those are, and should remain, private conversations, the kind of conversations that no one should have to have, ever.
What I do want to share are some thoughts that came to me as the day wore on.
Noah. The themes of the biblical story kept playing in my mind. Noah. Someone described in the Torah as a tzaddik, a righteous person, “complete.” All of humanity is considered to be his descendants, bound in a covenant with Gâ€‘d, to partner with Him to create a world of peace and harmony, of justice, goodness and kindness. The almost universal symbols of peace, a dove and an olive branch, trace back to Noah and his story.
Lenny’s friend is not Jewish, but he is passionately committed to the Noahide Code, the covenant that the Torah teaches was entered into by Gâ€‘d and Noah after the Flood, a covenant that binds Gâ€‘d and Noah’s descendants for all time. These universal commandments are the antecedent of any formal religion. The Noahide code is based not on clergy or houses of worship, but on the covenant between the Creator and humanity, the foundation for all human endeavor. Seven principles, seven commandments, that if they were implemented would bring about a virtual utopia of human existence.
“Noah loved rainbows,” his mother is telling someone. Rainbows! The sign of Gâ€‘d’s promise never, ever to bring a flood on the whole world again. A symbol of healing, promise, and optimism.
We have moved to the high school, where the president is going to meet with each of the families. Governor Malloy and his wife, Cathy, come into the room first. The governor speaks gently with each family member. He embraces my husband warmly, turning to the family–“This is my very good friend.” They speak briefly about how we go forward after this overwhelming tragedy. The governor asks my husband to be in touch within the next 24—48 hours.
The president enters with no fanfare or even an announcement and, without being told to do so, everyone rises. I am moved to tears watching him with these grief-stricken people. The power of this gesture is immense; he truly does convey the sense that the whole country is mourning alongside these anguished families. The way he bends down to speak with Noah’s twin sister, the way he comforts the grandparents and gently joshes the teenage siblings, the way he makes a point of saying, as he did later, that “we will be with you,” not just now, but for the long haul. The president met privately with every single family, and took time to speak at length with each bereaved parent.
Noah’s family did not stay for the vigil; we left the high school with them and the caring, close-knit circle of family and friends that surround them so tightly. On the way home, we listened to the president. I found his speech stirring, and even more than that, heartfelt. There was an authenticity in this speech that one does not often encounter in public life. In my opinion, the speech was simply magnificent. I hope that every classroom in our country will study those words and figure out how to translate them into real life. I hope that adults will hold those same conversations. Most of all, I feel that his words were a call to action to all of us, to access the best within us individually and as a country, to really, truly, once and for all do what has to be done so that our world is a place where things like this can never happen again. To take those words of “never happen again” out of the fairy tales and put them where they can make a difference.
Late in the afternoon it hit me: We need a flood! Not, Gâ€‘d forbid, a destructive flood–we’ve had more than enough of that. What we need is a good flood–a flood of kindness, of caring, of compassion, of goodness, of warmth, of benevolence, of support, of reaching out. There are, thank Gâ€‘d, enough of us on this planet to make sure that not one human being ever feels lost. We need a flood of connections. Not just the trickles that come from time to time, but everywhere, all the time.
We need to be at least as aware of the ecology of human behavior as we are of the ecology of the physical resources of the planet. It has to penetrate all aspects of our world–the worlds of business, the media, education, culture, science, the arts, medicine–we need a flood, a good flood. Every single one of us has to know that we can make a difference, and we need to put serious thought to how we can best do that. “Noah’s Flood” could take on a whole new meaning.
My husband made a suggestion to the president, that in the effort to draw good from the unfathomable evil that occurred we should offer a “moment of silence” at the beginning of each school day. This “moment of silence” will allow those children who want to pray the opportunity to do so; it will foster discussion between parents and children of the spiritual values they hold dear as a family. This suggestion was first made years ago by the Rebbe, who always held the clear vision of a world perfected by the partnership of Gâ€‘d and human beings.
And here, Mr. President, if I may respectfully offer one change–no, make that one addition–to your words. Yes, Gâ€‘d has taken them home. But now it’s time for the rest of us to make sure that Gâ€‘d’s home is right here on earth, to make sure that we, all of us together, bring heaven down to earth.
And Newtown will then forever be known as the place where light triumphed over darkness, the place where the healing of our aching world finally began for real.