At first Newtown funeral, Noah Pozner remembered as loving ‘little man’


It was a eulogy for a life that had only just begun.

In a small Jewish chapel in Fairfield, Conn., Veronique Pozner remembered her son Noah as a rambunctious, video-game-loving “little man,” a boy with a perpetual smile and twinkly blue eyes who dreamed of becoming a doctor, a soldier and manager of a factory that makes tacos — his favorite food.

Noah Samuel Pozner, 6, was the youngest victim of the massacre last week at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. He was laid to rest on Dec. 17, his miniature wooden casket set beneath the podium where his mother stood.

“The sky is crying,” Veronique said.

So were hundreds more, mourners who lined the walls of the chapel in this coastal city for one of two funerals held on Monday — the first of 26 that would be carried out over the coming days. Among the mourners were Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Sen.-elect Chris Murphy and Connecticut’s Gov. Dannel Malloy, who personally delivered the awful news to parents last week after the shooting. Malloy spent much of the service with his eyes cast down and hands clenched under his chin.

With abundant tears and a gathering resolve, the eulogizers offered tributes to a loving boy whose death, they said, should inspire the living to acts of love and compassion. 

“Noah, you will not pass through this way again,” Veronique said. “I can only believe that you were planted on earth to bloom in heaven. Take flight, my boy. Soar. You now have the wings you always wanted. Go to that peaceful valley that we will all one day come to know.”

Days after one of the deadliest mass killings in American history, one that claimed the lives of 20 children and six adults in a suburban school, a sense of shock is still palpable on the leafy streets of southwest Connecticut. In Newtown and surrounding communities, schools were on lockdown as children returned to class on Monday.

In nearby Ridgefield, Chana Deitsch, the local Chabad emissary, had the uncomfortable task of telling her children the news and comforting the mothers who come to her weekly Mommy and Me program on Monday. Her husband, Rabbi Sholom Deitsch, had an even grimmer obligation. After news of the shooting broke on Dec. 14, he hurried to the old fire station in Newtown, where the families of the fallen were informed by the governor that their children were never coming home.

“It was a horrifying scene, watching how the parents were hearing what was going on,” Deitsch said.

At one point, Malloy, spotting Deitsch in the scrum, recalled that Friday was the sixth day of Chanukah. “It’s supposed to be a brighter day,” Deitsch recalled the governor saying.

On Monday, residents here and around the country were still groping for answers and pledging to do something — anything — to stem what seems like a rising tide of gun violence.

But in remembering Noah Pozner, speakers steered clear of the swirling political debate about gun control, enjoining mourners only to live better lives in memory of the fallen.

“Let us not be lost in sorrow,” said Noah’s brother, Michael. “Let us remember the beauty, laughter, smiles and happiness little Noah brought us. Let us live our lives as healthily, righteously and happily as we can. Let’s do it for our little man, who would have wanted that.”

Rabbi Shaul Praver, the leader of Congregation Adath Israel of Newtown, who has been cast into the national spotlight since the killings, presided over Noah’s funeral. On Dec. 16, he chanted the El Maleh Rachamim, the Jewish mourner’s prayer, at a nationally televised memorial service attended by President Barack Obama. At the funeral, he said that the secret of Jewish survival was to meet tragedy with resolve.

“We can, and we will, thrive in honor of Noah Pozner,” Praver said on Monday. “Let us all make that vow, that we will thrive. We will do something extra in our life, in this world, while we’re here, in his honor. And we can expect the light found in this tremendous sorrow can change the world.”

At the close of the funeral, Praver asked whether any teachers from Sandy Hook were present, and a number of hands were raised. Six educators lost their lives in an attempt to confront the gunman, and their sacrifice has been widely praised.

“There is something in Hebrew called a kiddush ha-Shem, a sanctification of God’s name,” Praver told them. “And we have done that.”

Newtown temple opens fund for family of Noah Pozner


Noah Pozner, the youngest victim of the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre, was remembered at his funeral as a child who liked to explore how things worked mechanically.

Monday afternoon's funeral for Noah, a Jewish boy who turned 6 in late November, was the first among the 26 victims of Friday's massacre at the school in Newtown, Conn. The Associated Press reported on memories of Noah's inquisitiveness about things mechanical.

Teddy bears and a bouquet of white flowers accented by a single red rose were placed at the base of a maple tree outside the Abraham L. Green and Son Funeral Home in Fairfield, Conn., Fox News reported.

In advance of the funeral, the family's synagogue began collecting money for the Pozners.

[Related: Funerals begin for Newtown victims as schools confront tragedy]

Congregation Adath Israel of Newtown, Conn., posted a notice on its website announcing that it was accepting money to help support the Pozners “during this terrible time.” It also recommended two charities for the other victims: United Way of Western Connecticut and Everribbon.com.

Among the messages of condolence pouring in for the victims of the school shooting were letters from Israeli leaders.

“On behalf of the people of Israel, as friends and as parents, 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,” Israeli President Shimon Peres wrote to President Obama. “No experience with death can be likened to that of a parents’ loss of their child. No crime is more heinous than the killing of a child.”

Twenty children and six school employees were killed when Adam Lanza, 20, forced his way into the school building and opened fire. Lanza killed himself at the school.

Prior to the school shootings, Lanza, who had attended the Sandy Hook school, killed his mother, Nancy, in the Newtown home they shared.

Sandy Hook, Sandy and the politics of learned helplessness


“We have got to get Michelle to make this her priority.”

It was my friend Judith, a wise woman, a mother and grandmother, on the phone from across the country, the evening of the day of the Newtown massacre, trying to figure out how to enlist the first lady in a campaign against gun violence.

From the email Judith wrote her: “Unless from the top with unyielding outrage we rein in and destroy the gun lobby – unless we stigmatize the NRA as we stigmatized the Ku Klux Klan – we will be robbed of any claim we have to our children's and grandchildren's respect.”

She was calling to get my help to get Michelle Obama's attention. I was appalled by how effortlessly cynical was the response that came out of my mouth.

This one is different, I said. That's what everyone is saying, and it's true. Mowing down first-graders with a ” target=”_hplink”>Associated Press-Gfk poll was released; it found that 4 out of 5 Americans say global warming will be a serious U.S. problem unless action is taken to reduce it. “Belief and worry about climate change,” said the AP, “are inching up among Americans in general, but concern is growing faster among people who don't often trust scientists on the environment. In follow-up interviews, some of those doubters said they believe their own eyes as they've watched thermometers rise, New York City subway tunnels flood, polar ice melt and Midwestern farm fields dry up.”

” target=”_hplink”>350.org will continue to gain traction on college campuses. I have no doubt that the more stories about climate change that Americans hear and see, the more they will demand action from their representatives.

But as things stand, it is virtually inconceivable to me that our lawmakers will rise to the challenge. The petroleum industry swings as big a bat in Washington as the gun lobby. Even if the president has the second-term courage to propose it, our corrupt campaign finance system won't make an enlightened exception for a cap-and-trade bill. The fear of losing a race exceeds the fear of losing a planet.

Are special interests invincible? No, and each counter-example is a ray of hope, something we could all use this season. Last August, in the heat of the campaign, President Obama courageously doubled ” target=”_hplink”>it was called “a blow to the credibility and power of the nation's gun lobby,” proof that the “NRA is no longer bullet proof.” Still, I can't help noting that the CAFE standards were raised by executive action, and didn't require the assent of the Tea Party Congress. Or that the 1994 assault weapons ban was able to pass the House (by a razor-thin margin of 216 votes) because the NRA suffered 38 Republican defections, led by GOP leader Bob Michel of Illinois, who arguably was able to reverse his previous opposition to the ban because he – like several NRA-friendly Democrats who also voted for it – was about to retire from Congress. That fall, when Newt Gingrich and the Republicans took over the House, the narrative was born, and persists to this day, that bucking the NRA is political suicide.

This time around, I'd love my pessimism to be proven wrong. I'd be thrilled if Michelle Obama were the answer. I'd be grateful to rekindle my confidence in democracy. Learned helplessness is the status quo's most pernicious enabler, and I welcome any ladder out of this pit. But whether it's guns or climate change, poverty or plutocracy, war or water: whatever problem most troubles any of us, I'm convinced that the way forward requires a transformational solution to the power of money and fear to determine our national fate.


Marty Kaplan is the ” target=”_hplink”> USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. Reach him at martyk@jewishjournal.com.

Sandy Hook: The cultural phenomenon behind mass shootings


It has been 13 years since the murders at Columbine High School, when two teenagers killed 13 people and wounded 21 others.  Since that time, ABC reports, there have been 31 school shootings.   In the wake of the Columbine calamity, law enforcement doctrine changed dramatically: Formerly, first responders would stop to give aid and comfort to the wounded; now they bypass the wounded, heading straight towards the perpetrator(s).

“Senseless” seems to be the most frequently used word to describe the awful events at Newtown’s Sandy Hook Elementary School, and senseless it surely was.  Still, we hunger for explanation.  What can it be that possesses a man to gun down little children, each child shot multiple times?  What can we do to protect against such insanity?

Guns, we hear repeatedly, don’t kill people; people kill people.  But the weapon of choice for people bent on killing people is a gun.  Guns are used in more than two-thirds of the murders in this country.  A simple thought exercise: Absent guns, would the number of murders go up or go down?  Knives, hands and blunt instruments are inherently less lethal, more intimate and, perhaps most important, more time-consuming.

Some statistics: US homicide rates are 6.9 times higher than rates in the other high-income countries, driven by firearm homicide rates that are 19.5 times higher. For 15-year olds to 24-year olds, firearm homicide rates in the United States are 42.7 times higher than in the other countries. For US males, firearm homicide rates are 22.0 times higher, and for US females, firearm homicide rates are 11.4 times higher. The US firearm suicide rates are 5.8 times higher than in the other countries, though overall suicide rates are 30 percent lower.  US unintentional firearm deaths are 5.2 times higher than in the other countries. Among the 23 countries of the OECD, 80 percent of all firearm deaths occur in the United States, 86 percent of women killed by firearms are US women, and 87 percent of all children aged 0 to 14 killed by firearms are US children.

Yet the easy availability of guns in America is not the whole story. True, the rate of people killed by guns in the US is 19.5 times higher than in similar high-income countries in the world, and true also that 45 percent of Americans say they have a gun in their homes, also a rate not approached in comparable countries.  But these figures reflect a cultural difference at least as much as they signify inadequate gun control legislation and enforcement.  Consider, for example, that in Israel, where young men and women – soldiers – move about openly with semi-automatic weapons, there has never been a mass murder.  In fact, picking up an armed hitch-hiker there is perfectly routine.  Hence it is reasonable to suppose that we are dealing here with a cultural phenomenon and not merely with lax gun controls.  As New York’s Mayor Michael Bloomberg said in the aftermath, this “only happens in America.”

But identifying that cultural phenomenon is a challenge we have not yet met.  Is violence promoted by what we see on television and in movies and video games?  The same video games are available in Israel.  Is it that our sense of social solidarity is wanting?  But explain how a more pervasive sense of social solidarity might have inhibited the deranged Adam Lanza, the slaughterer of Newtown (who used his mother’s legally purchased guns, and shot his mother in the face multiple times).  Or James Holmes, who killed 12 people and wounded 58 in a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado.  Or Jared Loughner, who murdered six people and gravely wounded then-Representative Gaby Giffords in Tucson and twelve others.  Or Seung-Hui Choi, who murdered 32 people and wounded 24 more at Virginia Tech.  And so on, and so on, and so on.

What rivets our attention and magnifies our sadness in the case of Newtown is, obviously, the tender age of the victim children.  It is that which renders the event utterly inexplicable.  We may more or less understand the aggrieved employee who opens fire in his place of work or even the perpetrator of lethal domestic violence.  But here, no such understanding is available.  No comprehensible end justifies such evil means.  Nor can we readily suppose that a less porous mental health system might earlier have identified Adam Lanza as a prospective killer.

Is there, then, nothing we can do?  Unfortunately, many of the things we can do are either trivial or distasteful.  We can amplify security systems, rendering access to schools more difficult.  But Lanza, so far as we know, shot his way into Sandy Hook.  We can, and should, ban assault weapons, bearing in mind that there is already a vast supply of them.  Perhaps we can somehow forbid the NRA from contributing to political campaigns, freedom of speech requirements notwithstanding.

There is no panacea.   At the same time, there is no 2nd Amendment right to bear any kind of arms or use any kind of ammunition.  It is time and then some for all three branches of government to reflect that in their policies and their judgments.  It is already too late for the 20 children of Newtown; it is not too late for what will otherwise be the next grotesque tragedy.

Jewish 6-year-old youngest of Newtown shooting victims


A Jewish child was identified as the youngest of the 26 victims killed in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting massacre in Newtown, Conn.

First grade student Noah Pozner, the youngest of the victims murdered on Friday, had just turned 6 years old Nov. 20; he will be laid to rest on Sunday.

Israeli news site Ynet reported that Pozner's twin sister is also a student at Sandy Hook but survived the shooting.

Rabbi Shaul Praver of Temple Adath Israel in Newtown told NPR Weekend Edition host Scott Simon that he spent Friday — which he termed “the day from Hell” — consoling Pozner'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 was among the clergy, social workers and psychologists who arrived at a firehouse near the school where many of the victims and their families congregated after the shooting. On Saturday morning, Adath Israel held a community prayer service.

In response to the question of why such tragedies hapen, 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.”

Praver, who ended his NPR interview with a plea for listeners to pray for the families affected, also said that another friend of the congregation was killed.