Homeless on Pico—Natalie Levine: Day 2 update


After we posted the video clip yesterday on Natalie Levine, a lot of people asked me: How can we help? What can we do? I felt a twinge of guilt that I told a very sad story without much hope. So this morning I decided to go back and see if I can find her. My heart sank when I saw that she wasn’t there. Because she had told me she “likes Jews,” I figured she was still in the neighborhood. So I drove around, very slowly, looking at sidewalks. Finally, I saw something from far that looked like it could be a homeless person sleeping. It was on the same side of Pico Boulevard where Natalie and I first met. I parked my car and walked over. It was hard to see her face, but as I got closer I realized it was her. She almost had a heart attack after I said her name.

“It’s David,” I said. “We met yesterday.”

“Oh hi,” she replied.

“A lot of people want to help you, Natalie. I posted that film we did yesterday and people want to help.”

She didn’t say much. She just gave me an easy smile and said, “Oh OK.”

But she had a very emotional reaction—a mix of excitement and tears– when I told her that her old Hebrew day school in Connecticut had seen the story and reached out to me. It was as if her childhood had come rushing back into her consciousness, cutting through the pain of the present.

I realized at that point that helping a homeless person takes tactical skill. So, first, I made her promise that she would not leave the spot for a few hours. I gave her water, 20 bucks and my cell number, and told her, “I’ll see you in a bit.”

The first thing was to find a safe place for the night. Actually, no, the very first thing was to clean her up. My amazing friend, Aliza Wiseman, offered to take her to her home until I found a place. She also went to Ross to buy some clean clothes. So, while Natalie was taking a hot shower, getting into new clothes and eating an omelette, I called around looking for motels that would take her. I made several calls, but had no luck until my friend Elaine Courtney, who saw the story on Facebook, suggested a place.

I called. A woman named Lucy answered. She said they had one room left, but it would be more expensive because it had a separate bathroom.

I booked the room. $70 a night, cash only.

As you can see in the photo above, Natalie is now in her room.

Meanwhile, my daughter Mia is setting up a crowdfunding page to give people a chance to help.

Next update on Monday.

Shabbat shalom.

Obama, wiping tears, makes new push to tighten gun rules


Wiping back tears as he remembered children who died in a mass shooting, President Barack Obama on Tuesday described new steps he is taking to tighten gun rules and urged Americans to vote for candidates willing to do more to prevent gun violence.

As Obama delivered a powerful address in the White House, surrounded by family members of people killed in shootings, his voice rose to a yell as he said the constitutional rights of Americans to bear arms needed to be balanced by the right to worship, gather peacefully and live their lives.

Obama has often said his toughest time in office was grappling with the December 2012 massacre of 20 children and six adults at an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut.

“Every time I think about those kids, it gets me mad,” Obama said, tears rolling down his cheek. 

“That changed me, that day,” he said, after being introduced by Mark Barden, whose 7-year-old son was killed in the shooting. “My hope earnestly has been that it would change the country.”

After that tragedy, the Democratic president failed to persuade Congress to toughen U.S. gun laws. He has blamed lawmakers for being in the thrall of the powerful National Rifle Association gun lobby group.

The stocks of gunmakers Smith & Wesson Holding Corp and Sturm Ruger & Co Inc have climbed since the announcement. On Tuesday, Smith & Wesson jumped 12 percent to $26.10 a share and Sturm Ruger was up nearly 7 percent at $65.62. 

Obama acknowledged that laws won't change during his remaining year in office, but said he will continue to raise the issue in the time he has left.

LEGAL CHALLENGES EXPECTED

The U.S. Constitution's 2nd Amendment gives Americans the right to have arms, a right that is fiercely defended.

Obama laid out executive action he is taking to require more gun sellers to get licenses and more gun buyers to undergo background checks. 

Under the changes, the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) is issuing guidelines intended to narrow exceptions to a system that requires sellers to check with the Federal Bureau of Investigation to determine whether buyers have criminal records, are charged with crimes or have mental health conditions that would bar them from owning a gun.

The proposal is “ripe for abuse” by the government, said Chris Cox, an official with the National Rifle Association in a statement, adding that the powerful gun lobby group will continue to fight to protect Americans' constitutional rights.

Legal challenges to the changes, which are contained in guidance from the ATF, are expected.

The crucial question in any direct legal challenge will be whether the ATF guidance creates new obligations, or merely clarifies existing law.

The more the Obama administration acts as though the guidance has created a new legal requirement, the more legal trouble it might invite, said Lisa Heinzerling, administrative law professor at Georgetown University.

REPUBLICANS VOW TO FIGHT

Republican leaders were quick to denounce Obama's gun changes, with most Republican candidates for the 2016 presidential race promising to reverse his actions if they win the White House.

Democratic candidates praised the moves.

Reince Priebus, the head of the Republican National Committee, called the changes “executive overreach” that “is all about burnishing the president's legacy and boosting Democrat enthusiasm in a presidential election year.”

Republicans who control Congress made it clear that they oppose the changes, although some downplayed their significance.

“Ultimately, this executive 'guidance' is only a weak gesture – a shell of what the president actually wants,” said Kevin McCarthy, leader of the Republican majority in the House of Representatives.

Florida university moving to fire professor who harrassed Sandy Hook parents


A Florida university is moving to fire a professor after the parents of the Jewish boy killed in the Sandy Hook school shooting accused him of harassment.

Florida Atlantic University told James Tracy on Wednesday that he is being recommended for termination, the Sun-Sentinel reported. The school did not say why Tracy was being fired, but his published conspiracy theories about the Newtown, Connecticut massacre, and accusations of harassment by the parents of Noah Pozner, appear to have prompted the action. Tracy has 10 days to appeal the termination.

Tracy has written on his personal blog, called Memory Hole, that Sandy Hook was staged and that several other attacks, including the Boston Marathon bombing in 2013, were hoaxes.

Veronique and Lenny Pozner, whose son, Noah, was killed in the Sandy Hook attack, wrote in a December 10 Op-Ed in the Sun Sentinel that Tracy is “among those who have personally sought to cause our family pain and anguish by publicly demonizing our attempts to keep cherished photos of our slain son from falling into the hands of conspiracy theorists.”

The Pozners say Tracy sent them a certified letter demanding proof that Noah once lived and that they were his parents, and that they owned the rights to family photographs of Noah published since his death.

“Veronique and I are relieved that truth and honor prevailed,” Lenny Pozner said in a statement, according to the newspaper. The couple said they filed a police report against Tracy for harassment.

Noah Pozner was one of the 20 children and six adult staffers killed on December 14, 2012, in one of the deadliest school shootings in American history.

Grandmother and parents of Noah Pozner, Jewish boy killed in Newtown shooting, slam gun control foes


The grandmother of the 6-year-old Jewish boy who was killed in the mass school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, criticized opponents of gun control legislation in a Washington Post Op-Ed on the event’s third anniversary.

“Guns don’t kill; people do. Yes, that’s true. An open society can never protect itself completely from evil or insanity,” Marie-Claude Duytshaever, grandmother of Noah Pozner, wrote in the Washington Post on Monday. “But it can start by preventing the distribution of the powerful weapons and ammunition that have been used to kill our grandson and so many other innocents.”

Duytshaever singled out and slammed Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson, an adamant defender of the uninhibited right to bear arms.

“A couple of months ago … Ben Carson, a neurosurgeon, wrote that he had never seen a body with bullet holes that was more devastating ‘than taking the right to arm ourselves away,’” she wrote. “Presumably Carson never saw one of his kids or grandkids bullet-ridden and forever stilled.”

Noah’s parents, Lenny and Veronique Pozner, also spoke out Thursday in advance of the anniversary of the shooting at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in an Op-Ed in the Florida Sun-Sentinel. The couple bashed a Florida Atlantic university professor, James Tracy, who has said that President Barack Obama staged the Newtown shooting to further his gun control agenda.

“Tracy has enjoyed tremendous success from this exposure and has since leveraged it into a popular Internet blog and radio program,” the Pozners wrote in the newspaper. “Worse yet, it has elevated his status and fame among the degenerates that revel in the pleasure of sadistically torturing victims’ families.”

The couple also said that Tracy caused them significant “pain and anguish” by harassing them with requests to prove that they were Noah’s biological parents and the “rightful owner of his photographic image.”

“Once Tracy realized we would not respond, he subjected us to ridicule and contempt on his blog, boasting to his readers that the ‘unfulfilled request’ was ‘noteworthy’ because we had used copyright claims to ‘thwart continued research of the Sandy Hook massacre event,’” the Pozners wrote.

The couple noted that Tracy’s comments were supported by his “frequent collaborator” James Fetzer, a known Holocaust denier.

Noah Pozner was one of the 20 children and six adult staffers killed by a lone gunman — Adam Lanza, 20 — on Dec. 14, 2012 in the deadliest mass shooting at a high school or elementary school in U.S. history.

Police, other NYC officials meet with Bukharians about rash of arsons


The president of the New York City borough of Queens, the New York Police Department’s chief of detectives and numerous other city officials met with Bukharian Jewish leaders about a string of arsons affecting the community of central Asian Jews.

At a meeting Tuesday morning at the Bukharian Jewish Community Center in Forest Hills, a neighborhood that has experienced seven arsons since October, officials promised heightened security measures, the Queens Times Ledger reported.

The previous day, the NYPD announced it sent several elite units to the neighborhood and published surveillance video showing the suspected arsonist.

All seven fires, the most recent one over the weekend, have been set at construction or renovation sites of Bukharian-owned homes. An estimated 50,000 Bukharians live in New York, the vast majority of them in Forest Hills, where community members’ construction of large, expensive homes, mostly on plots that once housed more modest residences, has sparked tensions with longtime residents in recent years.

“Today’s meeting was a very good sign that both the community and the Police Department, Fire Department and elected officials are all interested in solving the problem at hand,” Aron Borukhov, a Bukharian community leader, said at a news conference after the meeting.

Borukhov said his community is organizing security patrols that will work cooperatively with police.

Borough President Melinda Katz said: “This is something that we take extremely seriously and the community stands together in making sure that we find this arsonist that is out there destroying not only people’s homes, but people’s lives and people’s dreams.

NYPD Chief of Detectives Robert Boyce said the police do not believe the suspect has ties to terror groups, but that they have not yet determined his motives. While NYPD officials have told the media they do not believe the arsons are hate crimes, Boyce said Tuesday that the department’s Hate Crimes Task Force is among those investigating.

“We have a specific community that is being targeted here,” Boyce said. “That community is behind me today, and we need their support.”

Deputy Inspector Judith Harrison, commanding officer at the 112th Precinct including Forest Hills, said, “We are speculating about the motive, but that’s what it is, speculation. We aren’t ruling anything out. We don’t believe it is bias at this time, but everything could change.”

Harrison said police have a list of 29 buildings in the area that are under construction in the neighborhood and they plan to monitor the sites.

The NYPD is offering a $12,500 reward for information leading to the arrest of the arsonist; the Bukharian Jewish Community is offering a $50,000 reward.

At the news conference, State Sen. Toby Stavisky said, “It’s sad that [Bukharian Jews] cannot feel safe in their homes anymore, that they left a disturbing situation in the former Soviet Union and they have to face this in their new home.”

Yale student at Connecticut hospital being tested for Ebola


A Connecticut hospital is testing a Yale University student with Ebola-like symptoms who traveled to Liberia last month and a preliminary diagnosis could come in as little as two hours, Governor Dannel Malloy said on Thursday.

The patient is one of two Yale University graduate epidemiology students who traveled to Liberia last month to advise the health ministry on using computers to track Ebola, according to Laurence Grotheer, a spokesman for New Haven Mayor Toni Harp.

Mayor Harp told a press conference that it was doubtful the patient has Ebola, noting that flu season has started.

Yale University said the students had not traveled into areas in Liberia where Ebola was present. Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea are the West African countries hardest hit by the worst Ebola outbreak on record that has killed nearly 4,500 people. Ebola is transmitted by bodily fluids and is not airborne.

“We have not confirmed or ruled out any diagnosis at this point,” the Yale-New Haven Hospital where the student was admitted said in a statement.

The patient was in stable condition in isolation with a fever, Dr. Thomas Balcezak, the hospital's chief medical officer, said at a press conference.

Governor Malloy said a lab in Boston would have preliminary test results on the patient as early as 4 p.m. EDT (2000 GMT) and if it is negative, Ebola would be ruled out. If it is positive, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention laboratory in Atlanta would conduct further testing.

A final determination from the CDC could come by 11 a.m. on Friday, Malloy said.

The governor also enacted quarantine and isolation protocols to be used with anyone who is reasonably believed to have been exposed to or infected with the Ebola virus. He directed every hospital in Connecticut to perform an Ebola readiness drill with its teams and Emergency Medical Services crews within a week.

Yale initially asked the two students to quarantine themselves for 21 days but last week rescinded that request, according to the university.

“They have reported that they were not in contact with Ebola patients or caregivers in Liberia, that they carefully followed recommended travel and hygiene precautions during their stay in the country and that they have continued to do so since their return,” Yale University President Peter Salovey said in a statement.

Additional reporting by Scott Malone in Boston and Barbara Goldberg in New York; Editing by Susan Heavey, Grant McCool and Lisa Shumaker

Dying in vain in Santa Monica and Sandy Hook


This coming Friday, it will have been six months since a shooter armed with an assault rifle killed 26 people, including 20 children, at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. The same day also will mark one week since another gunman, using the same type of gun, killed five in a rampage that ended at Santa Monica College (SMC).

In recent months, despite the defeat of gun control legislation in the Senate, some have suggested that Newtown fundamentally changed the politics of gun control in this country. And yet, the shooting in Santa Monica appeared to go almost entirely unnoticed, barely being mentioned in the public conversation.

“This incident is not getting the attention that some of the other shootings have had,” Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Beverly Hills), whose district includes the entire city of Santa Monica, told me on Wednesday. “I think that people are getting to be inured to this kind of violence.”

Maybe. But it’s hard not to notice that even the strongest advocates of gun control legislation have been mostly silent in the aftermath of last week’s shooting.

Take Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.). In the wake of the Newtown massacre, Feinstein introduced an amendment that would have banned assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, which was voted down by the Senate in April. On June 7, while a deadly hail of bullets was flying in her home state, Feinstein was visiting Guantanamo Bay. Her office issued two press releases that day, neither of them about the shooting.

President Barack Obama told Congress in his State of the Union address in February that “The families of Newtown deserve a vote.” But last Friday he was a 10-minute drive away from SMC, and said nothing about the shooting — not that day, and not since. Obama’s advocacy group, Organizing for Action, has made gun control legislation a priority, but also made no public mention of the shooting in Santa Monica. Its Twitter feed was exclusively focused on the immigration reform bill making its way through the Senate.

Perhaps Waxman is right, that after Newtown (and Aurora and Virginia Tech and Columbine), five dead adults doesn't shock anyone anymore. Perhaps the seeming randomness of the violence made it harder to convey the horror of what happened in Santa Monica. Maybe the timing of the shooting (Friday afternoon, Pacific Time) and the ethnicities of the victims (three working-class Latinos and two members of the gunman’s family, both of Middle Eastern descent) helped bury the story.

But it’s also possible that Newtown hasn't changed the politics around gun control as much as advocates for stronger regulations would like to believe. The defeat of gun control legislation in the Senate earlier this year appears to have taken much of the energy out of the gun control movement nationally.

With no forward momentum in Washington, community leaders in Santa Monica have been left asking questions, and calling for unity and support.

“How do we make sense of the senseless? Comprehend the incomprehensible?” Assemblyman Richard Bloom (D-Santa Monica) said at a memorial service at a church on Sunday, according to Patch. The former mayor of Santa Monica, Bloom lives blocks away from the site of the shooting.

“Today, at this moment, we cannot know why,” Bloom said at the service. “Therefore it is today that we must be close to one another.”

Speakers delivered similar messages encouraging students to maintain hope in the face of tragedy at the SMC graduation on Tuesday evening, and the SMC foundation has set up memorial funds for the families of the victims who were killed on its campus.

But when it comes to passing laws that will reduce gun violence in this country, it’s hard to find reason for hope. There are a number of bills moving forward in the California legislature that will further strengthen gun control laws here, but the continued failure to pass national legislation makes it easier for illegal weapons to cross into the state. (Police are still tracing the Santa Monica shooter’s guns to determine how a person with a history of mental issues was able to obtain an assault weapon and high-capacity magazines that are already illegal in California.)

On Friday, in conjunction with the advocacy group Mayors Against Illegal Guns, members of families of victims of the Newtown shooting will begin a national bus tour to urge Senators to take a second look at the background check bill that they failed to pass this spring.

Waxman met with the families in Washington recently, and he said they’re right to focus their attention on a measure requiring universal background checks on gun sales — which 90 percent of Americans support, polls say.

They’re also right to focus on Congress’s upper chamber.

“The Senate should be easier than the House,” Waxman conceded, “because we don't even know if the Republicans that run the House will even take up the issue.”

Will the six-month anniversary of Newtown on Friday bring out news cameras? Will the family’s bus tour help revive the stalled Toomey-Manchin amendment in the Senate?

Maybe.

But if the absence of any national reaction to last Friday’s shooting spree is any indication of how much energy Americans are willing to devote to this issue, well, the Newtown families might as well stay home.

Gun violence in America: Scandal!


Two years after his mother was shot and killed, Dallas Sonnier received a phone call from the police: His father had just been shot and killed.

Sonnier’s parents had divorced long before. That both were murdered was sheer coincidence — as if gun violence in America isn’t common enough to strike one family twice.

On July 12, 2010, Juan Gallegos, 62, the new husband of Sonnier’s mother, Becky J. Gallegos, 55, fired two bullets into her chest, then turned the gun on himself.

On July 11, 2012, police discovered the body of Sonnier’s father, Dr. Joseph Sonnier III, inside his Lubbock, Texas, home. Dr. Sonnier, 57, was the much-loved chief pathologist for the Covenant Health Systems. Days later, police arrested another doctor, Dr. Thomas Michael Dixon, the ex-lover of Dr. Sonnier’s girlfriend. He paid a hit man $9,000 in silver bars to break into Sonnier’s home and shoot him. Dixon provided the gun.

Dallas Sonnier, 32, is now an L.A.-based film producer. Tall, trim and soft-spoken, he’s a reminder that gun violence is ubiquitous and random. He told me his story over mimosas at a benefit for Women Against Gun Violence last Sunday afternoon, May 19. The story would likely be considered too far-fetched to be believed — if you didn’t know anything about America’s self-inflicted plague of gun violence.

“I’m just kind of coming out of it now,” Sonnier told me. “To see how I can make a difference.”

Since the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., which claimed the lives of 20 first-graders and six educators, two things have happened: 1) The United States Senate voted against passing a bill that would, along with a handful of limited, thoughtful gun control measures, have instituted universal background checks for all gun purchases, and, 2) more than 4,266 more Americans have been killed by guns. Wait, a third thing has happened: Washington and the 24-hour media monster have become consumed with a series of scandals — Benghazi, the Associated Press, the IRS. Politicians and pundits are frothing to express their outrage as they pound the president against the ropes.

It’s certainly true that the press and Congress should investigate wrongdoings in the executive branch — the digging into reporters’ phone records is particularly worrisome.

But between the media’s desire for dramatic headlines — Scandal! — and partisan hacks looking, since 2008, for any and every reason to take down this president, what happens is those stories become the only story. The more difficult problems, the less black-and-white issues — in other words, the Things This Country Really Needs — get shoved aside.  

So immigration, sequestration, health care, jobs, Syria and, yes, gun control, all fell off the agenda.

To me, that’s the outrage.

At the Women Against Gun Violence event, I just got angrier.

Patricia Maisch and Daniel Hernandez Jr., two survivors of the Tucson, Ariz., shooting that claimed six lives and badly wounded Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, spoke about how 16 seconds damaged the lives not just of the victims, but of their friends and loved ones.

“Every shooting has a ripple effect,” Hernandez said.

Hernandez was the last person to see 9-year-old Christina Green alive that day.  That turned him into an activist.

“I’m not anti-gun,” he said, “I’m pro-common sense.”

The problem, of course, is that common sense is often trumped by passion and extremism, which is what fuels the minority of Americans who opposed the Senate background checks bill. The leadership of the National Rifle Association and its hard-core zombie army can still turn senators into hand puppets.

But the diversity of both the honorees and audience at Sunday’s event indicate, perhaps, that the tide has turned. The honorees ranged from Hernandez and Maisch to Ralphs Grocery Co., which funds a gun-buyback program; to Juliet Leftwich, an attorney who left a lucrative law practice to work for the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence; to my own parents, Sari and Aaron Eshman. My parents, thank God, haven’t been touched by gun violence, but, like the 90 percent of Americans who supported the bill the Senate voted against, they’ve had enough, they’re mad as hell and have become active in the cause. 

The audience was just as diverse: LAPD officers in uniform, South L.A. activists, Westside philanthropists and that film producer from Texas. If violence ripples outward like the rings of water when a pebble is thrown in, so does outrage.

Would such legislation have prevented the murders of Sonnier’s parents? Probably.

Sonnier told me that his mother’s husband had entered a paranoid tailspin in the year before the murder. Police found 100 guns on his property. He had purchased five to 10 each month in the year before he used one to kill Sonnier’s mother.

Common-sense federal legislation could limit the number of guns a single person could buy in a year, or tip off authorities when so many purchases are made. Common-sense legislation would require background checks on purchases made at gun shows or between private parties — something federal law doesn’t require today. The senators who stand in the way need to hear from you, today.

Washington is so caught up in scandal hunting, it has dropped the ball on these issues. To my mind, that’s the biggest scandal of them all.


Rob Eshman is publisher and editor-in-chief of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal. E-mail him at robe@jewishjournal.com. You can follow him on Twitter @foodaism.

Giffords: ‘Shame’ on senators who voted down gun checks


The U.S. senators who defeated a bill that would toughen background checks for gun purchasers “brought shame on themselves,” former congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords said.

“The senators who voted against background checks for online and gun-show sales, and those who voted against checks to screen out would-be gun buyers with mental illness, failed to do their job,” Giffords wrote in an Op-Ed appearing Thursday in The New York Times Thursday, a day after the measure earned 56 votes — four short of the necessary 60 in the 100-member chamber.

Giffords, who was shot in the head in January 2011 in an assault that took the lives of six others, had joined President Obama and the families of 20 first-graders and six adults massacred in December in Newtown, Conn., in condemning the vote.

After the Newtown massacre, Giffords, who retired in 2012 to focus on her recovery, launched a gun control group with her husband, former astronaut Mark Kelly.

“I’m furious,” she wrote. “I will not rest until we have righted the wrong these senators have done, and until we have changed our laws so we can look parents in the face and say: We are trying to keep your children safe. We cannot allow the status quo — desperately protected by the gun lobby so that they can make more money by spreading fear and misinformation — to go on.”

Giffords, who owns a gun, was scathing in her denunciation of the senators who once were her colleagues.

“Our democracy’s history is littered with names we neither remember nor celebrate — people who stood in the way of progress while protecting the powerful,” she said. “On Wednesday, a number of senators voted to join that list.”

Giffords, a conservative Democrat, was the first Jewish woman elected to federal office from Arizona.

Billboards calling for end to U.S. aid to Israel posted in N.Y., Conn.


Billboards calling for an end to U.S. aid to Israel were erected this week at 25 train stations in suburban New York and Connecticut.

The billboards that went up Tuesday, on the first day of Passover, in Metro North train stations are sponsored by a group called American Muslims for Palestine.

The ad also calls Israel's treatment of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza a form of apartheid, and features a quote by South African social rights activist Desmond Tutu.

They are scheduled to run for one month, and reportedly were timed to coincide with President Obama's visit to Israel.

“The campaign against U.S. aid for Israel targets neither Jews nor Passover, but rather Israeli apartheid and injustice. And the best way to honor Passover, which celebrates Jewish liberation from ancient oppression, is to champion Palestinian human rights today,” said Michael Letwin of Jews for Palestinian Right of Return, who spoke at Tuesday's launch of the billboards at the Metro North Harlem station.

The ads come several months after billboards that accused Israel of confiscating Palestinian land were displayed in some of the same stations, Those ads were posted under the auspices of The Committee for Peace in Israel and Palestine. There have been several exchanges of ads between pro-Israel and pro-Palestinian groups at Metro North train stations,

Newtown rabbi joins Muslim, Christian clergy in urging gun controls


Interfaith clergy from Newtown, Conn., in an open letter urged a leading Republican to back far-reaching gun controls.

Rabbi Shaul Praver of Congregation Adath Israel was among the 12 clergy from Newtown, the site of a school massacre last December, who signed the letter to Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) that was published Monday in the Des Moines Register in Grassley's home state.

The letter was hand-delivered to the offices of all 100 senators, but Grassley was singled out in the Register ad because he is the senior Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, which is about to vote on a range of gun control measures.

“We pray that you will vote for meaningful gun violence prevention laws that include a ban on assault weapons and high capacity magazines, enforceable universal background checks, an end to gun trafficking, and prosecution of straw purchasers,” the letter said.

Praver officiated at the funeral of Noah Pozner, the youngest victim of the murders at Sandy Hook Elementary School, where a gunman killed 20 first-graders and six adults  before killing himself. The gunman, Adam Lanza, had killed his mother at home before coming to the school.

Three religious action networks — the Reform movement's Religious Action Center, PICO National Network and Sojourners — distributed the letter, which garnered more than an additional 4,000 signatories nationally.

Garnering Republican support in the Democratic-controlled Senate for the gun-control measures could undercut GOP opposition in the Republican-controlled U.S. House of Representatives.

Former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords launches gun-control initiative


Former U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords, who was severely wounded two years ago in an Arizona shooting, is launching a group aimed at curbing gun violence and raising enough money to challenge the well-funded gun lobby.

Giffords, starting the effort called Americans for Responsible Solutions with her husband former astronaut Mark Kelly, told ABC News that Congress must do more to prevent gun violence.

The two are gun owners, but in the wake of a string of recent mass shootings, they said more must be done to push common-sense efforts to reduce such violence.

“Enough,” Giffords, who was shot in the head while meeting with constituents in Tucson, Arizona, told ABC in an interview aired on Tuesday.

The initiative aims to “encourage elected officials to stand up for solutions to prevent gun violence and protect responsible gun ownership,” the group said on its website, americansforresponsiblesolutions.org.

It will push for background checks for private gun sales and look at ways to better address mental illness, among other efforts, Kelly told ABC.

Gifford's group is set to take on the National Rifle Association, which in 2011 spent over eleven times more on lobbying than all gun control lobbyists combined.

Her group has set up a political action committee for donations to “raise the funds necessary to balance the influence of the gun lobby,” it said on its website.

“Until now, the gun lobby's political contributions, advertising and lobbying have dwarfed spending from anti-gun violence groups. No longer,” Giffords wrote in an opinion piece published Tuesday in USA Today

She added: “winning even the most common-sense reforms will require a fight … Achieving reforms to reduce gun violence and prevent mass shootings will mean matching gun lobbyists in their reach and resources.”

The announcement comes just days after Giffords visited Newtown, Connecticut, and met with families of the victims of last month's Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre in which 20 children and six teachers were killed.

Giffords also recently met with New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who heads his own mayors' initiative that is also pushing for what he calls “reasonable” gun controls.

In the wake of the Dec. 14 Connecticut shooting, President Barack Obama has pledged to take swift action to reduce gun violence and has tapped a task force due to report later this month with possible measures.

The task force, led by Vice President Joe Biden, is reportedly weighing action beyond reinstating a ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines to include universal background checks and a national gun sales database, among other steps.

The wave of shootings and the threat of tighter gun restrictions has spurred intense reaction on both sides.

Consumer demand for guns appears to have soared in recent weeks, according to FBI data.

Gun control supporters worry that other looming issues such as the nation's debt crisis could hamper efforts in Congress to push through new legislation.

Bloomberg's group launched its own new ad on Tuesday with the mother of child who was killed in the Arizona shooting.

Giffords meets with Newtown officials to talk gun control


Former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords traveled to Newtown, Conn., to discuss gun control with local and state officials.

Giffords and her husband, retired astronaut Mark Kelly, spoke with the officials last Friday about such issues as gun control legislation and identifying and treating the mentally ill, according to several news accounts of the 45-minute meeting. They also talked about the many forces in the United States that can desensitize people to violence.

The meeting came just days before the second anniversary of the attack on a constituents' event that critically injured Giffords, who had represented Arizona in the House of Representatives, and killed six people.

Attending the meeting were several Newtown selectmen and officials, as well as newly elected U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman, according to USA Today.

Newtown is home to Sandy Hook Elementary School, where a gunman last month killed 26 people, including 20 children, before turning the gun on himself. The gunman, Adam Lanza, had killed his mother before the school rampage.

Since Giffords was shot in the head outside a Tucson, Ariz., grocery on Jan. 8, 2011, in an attack that left her partially blind with a paralyzed arm and a brain injury, Kelly has been speaking out for gun control. Nineteen people were shot at the Tucson event.

Giffords stepped down from the Congress to continue her rehabilitation.

After Newtown, some gun owners ready to consider control measures


The day Eric Schaefer learned that a .233 caliber semiautomatic Bushmaster rifle — a type of weapon he owned — was used to kill 26 people in Newtown, Conn., he sold his rifle to local law enforcement near his home in Scottsdale, Ariz.

Schaefer, a 40-year-old commercial real estate agent, says he has been hit by an unshakable feeling of shame, and he no longer wants his two children exposed to the many weapons he owns for sporting purposes — guns he keeps locked up and away from the house.

“There’s a sense of embarrassment now to being a gun owner, I don’t feel proud of it,” Schaefer told JTA. “I have my guns as a personal enthusiast, but I can’t say I support all the language and laws associated with guns. It’s far too easy to come across them in this country.”

The mass shooting at a suburban elementary school that left 20 children and six adults dead two weeks ago has reignited the country’s longstanding debate over gun control, pitting supporters of tighter restrictions against those who fear any infringement on their Second Amendment rights.

But while the gun-rights lobby has made clear that it opposes any measures to limit the availability of deadly weapons, some Jewish gun owners acknowledge that they are uncomfortable with the current regulations on firearms sales.

Schaefer says authorities should constantly check the mental state of gun owners and he would like to see the wait time for gun purchases extended — a measure that could buy time for those acting on instinct to reconsider their actions.

“I feel like it ought to be excruciatingly difficult to own a gun, and those who really want one should be able to tough through a more rigorous, difficult process to get one,” Schaefer told JTA. “Law-abiding citizens that want guns for safe reasons like myself should want to tether gun restrictions, so the country can use weapons properly.”

Rabbi Jonathan Siger, a law enforcement chaplain and former NRA shooting instructor from Spring, Tex., says bearing weapons is a God-given right — especially for Jews. But Siger says he would support tighter controls, like requiring two character witnesses to acquire a carry permit and closing the so-called gun show loophole that enables buyers to circumvent a federal background check.

“I don’t understand how some people get their hands on guns,” Siger said. “It seems to me the glaring problem is there is not enough control over who is selling what to whom.”

Such measures, widely touted in the wake of Newtown, were opposed by the National Rifle Association, the country’s premier gun-rights lobby. Wayne LaPierre, the group’s executive vice president, responded to the Newtown shooting by proposing a number of new measures, such as placing armed guards in each of the nation’s public schools and focusing on mental health issues.

The NRA’s response was widely criticized — even by some noteworthy conservatives such as the columnist Ann Coulter and media mogul Rupert Murdoch. But some Jewish gun owners said LaPierre didn’t go far enough.

“The NRA is way too soft on the issue,” said Charles Heller, the executive director of the Jews for the Preservation of Firearms Ownership, an advocacy group. “We should be increasing the layers of security in our school by training teachers and administrators who want to work also as security.”

Heller, whose organization has linked gun control to genocide, recommended offering tax breaks to veteran special-forces soldiers and retired policemen in exchange for protecting schools. A society with fewer guns, he said, would be more violent.

“Don’t punish the innocent for the acts of the guilty,” Heller said. “That’s not very Jewish.”

After the Newtown shooting, a broad range of Jewish groups — the Religious Action Center, the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, B’nai Brith International and the National Council of Jewish Women, among others — threw their support behind measures to limit the availability of guns.

To many Jewish gun enthusiasts, however, history provides ample justification for arming civilians and refusing to rely solely on police protection. They routinely invoke the powerlessness of Jews during the Holocaust and the current security threats to Jewish institutions, and are dumbfounded by Jews who favor gun control.

“It is one of the most frustrating feelings to watch those who have been and continue to be the most persecuted people on the planet deny themselves the inherent right of self-defense,” said Zev Nadler, an NRA-certified instructor in Arizona. “A firearm is a great equalizer in that those who wish to do a Jew harm know that they may be armed. And suddenly we are not the easy prey we used to be.”

But the Newtown shooting, with its grisly details and 20 dead children, has left some gun owners ready for change. President Obama has conveyed his support for a reinstatement of the federal assault weapons ban that expired in 2004 and the restricting of high-capacity gun magazines. The outright refusal to even discuss such an approach, these gun owners say, isn’t viable.

“To me, this is a clear example that something needs to be done,” said a criminal defense attorney from Michigan who did not want his name printed as a gun owner. “An assault ban on certain weapons wouldn’t help because a gun is a gun, and they are dangerous. But the NRA needs to be open to sitting down and talking because now is when we need an open debate about realistic measures of change.”

Reform, Conservative, Orthodox leaders join gun control call


Top figures from the Reform, Conservative and Orthodox movements joined an interfaith call for greater gun controls in the wake of last week's school massacre in Connecticut.

Rabbi David Saperstein, who directs the Reform movement's Religious Action Center, and Rabbi Julie Schonfeld, who directs the Conservative movement's Rabbinical Assembly, appeared at a press conference Friday outside the National Cathedral in Washington D.C. along with mainline Protestant, Evangelical, Roman Catholic and Muslim leaders.

Also appearing at the press conference was Nathan Diament, who directs the Orthodox Union's Washington office.

“We must come together as people of faith, representing the range of religious traditions throughout our country, in a collective call to action to end this crisis,” Saperstein said in a release ahead of the press conference. “The time to end senseless gun violence is now, and as religious leaders, the responsibility to provide moral leadership is ours.”

At the press conferemce, Saperstein said: “Our worship of guns is a form of idolatry.”

President Obama this week appointed a commission to be helmed by his vice president, Joe Biden, to address controls on assault weapons and large-capacity magazines, as well as broader questions of culture and mental health treatment.

Adam Lanza last week killed his mother and then, armed with weapons registered in her name, continued to Sandy Hook elementary school in Newtown, Conn., and murdered 20 first-graders and six adults before killing himself.

Fraudulent website seeking donations for Pozner family removed


A fraudulent website soliciting donations in memory of Sandy Hook Elementary School victim Noah Pozner was removed and redirected to the family's official website.

The fraudulent site offered details about the murdered six year old and his family, and about the funeral, and asked for donations to be sent to a New York address, which the family is not familiar with, according to reports. The site also included a petition on gun control.

The family's official site is noahpozner.org. It is soliciting funds for Noah's Ark of Hope, which a disclaimer at the bottom of the page says “is the only official website for payment to directly and solely benefit the siblings of Noah Pozner.” The donations reportedly will go to pay for counseling for Noah's four surviving siblings, one of whom is his twin sister.

The fake site was exposed in the Daily Mail and by CNN's Anderson Cooper.

Noah's uncle, Alexis Haller told Cooper Wednesday night that he has spent so much time trying to stop fake websites using the family name, that “instead of doing things with our family, I am running around trying to protect the family.”

Pozner was one of 27 people, including 20 children, shot and killed on Dec.14 by a 20-year-old lone gunman at the elementary school in Newton, Conn.

A prayer of healing from the tragedy in Newtown


Our hearts are breaking, God,
As our nation buries innocent children and brave teachers.
The loss is overwhelming.
Send comfort and strength, God, to grieving parents,
To siblings, family and friends in this time of shock and mourning.
Shield them from despair.
Send healing to the schoolchildren who are lost and frightened
Whose eyes witnessed unfathomable horrors.
Ease their pain, God,
Let their fears give way to hope.
Let their cries give way once more to laughter.

Bless us, God,
Work through us.
Turn our helplessness into action.
Teach us to believe that we can rise up from this tragedy
With a renewed faith in the goodness of our society.
Shield us from indifference
And from our tendency to forget.
Open our hearts, open our hands.
Innocent blood is calling out to us to act.
Remind us that we must commit ourselves to prevent further bloodshed
With all our hearts and souls.
Teach us perseverance and dedication.
Let us rise up as one in a time of soul-searching and repair
So that all children can go to school in peace, God,
Let them be safe.

God of the brokenhearted,
God of the living, God of the dead,
Gather the souls of the victims
Into Your eternal shelter.
Let them find peace in Your presence, God.
Their lives have ended
But their lights can never be extinguished.
May they shine on us always
And illuminate our way.
Amen.


Rabbi Naomi Levy is the founder and spiritual leader of Nashuva: The Jewish Spiritual Outreach Center. Her books include Talking to God: Personal Prayers for Times of Joy, Sadness, Struggle, and Celebration.

Jewish parent power tools can help kids cope with the tragedy at Sandy Hook and beyond


There’s been a lot of talk in the news about what to say to children about the massacre at Sandy Hook.  A steady stream of experts attempting to provide some sort of parental protocol for addressing this unimaginable tragedy with our kids: Find out what our child knows before divulging too many details. Limit our kids’ exposure to scary news reports. Reassure them that they are safe and that the adults in their lives know how to keep them from harm’s way. But even the best advice seems to fall short in this case as it’s ultimately impossible for anyone – our children or ourselves – to make sense of that which doesn’t. 

Thankfully, our rich Jewish tradition offers a unique set of resources to help us find our way over this most daunting of parental hurdles.  The following Jewish Parent Power Tools – when embraced for all their worth – can help our children cope with the harsh realities of Sandy Hook while gearing them with strength, courage and compassion for the uncertain road ahead.

The Shema.  “Hear, Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is One.” The Shema is considered the most important prayer in the Jewish religion as it perfectly and succinctly reaffirms of our faith and connection with God twice a day. The news out of Newtown that our kids might have seen on the TV, Internet, and social media can make their world feel frightening and out of control.  By saying the Shema, this sense of powerless is replaced by spirituality and belief in a higher power that will help guide and sustain them through good times and bad.

The Haggadah.  The word haggadah means a storytelling.  Sharing tales of overcoming hardship is part of our religion by design.  The Center for Myth and Ritual in American Life (MARIAL) at Emory University has shown this premise on a more scientific level.  A long-term study by MARIAL’s found that children whose parents told family stories at the dinner table had significantly better coping skills than those whose parents did not.  From Passover to Purim and everything in between, our Jewish narrative reassures our children of the power of perseverance and the ultimate triumph of good over evil.

Tikkun Olam (Repairing the World).  Senseless acts of violence like that which occurred in Newtown confirm that our world is indeed in need of repair.  Joining forces with our children to pick up litter in a park, volunteer in a soup kitchen, or doing other acts of Tikkun Olam can feel like our own little triumph over evil – a tiny step toward restoring that which was broken and tilting the balance scales toward good.

Tzedakah and Gemilut Chasadim (Acts of Loving Kindness).   There’s no doubt that the school shootings in Newtown shake us to the core.  But rather than focusing on the horror of what’s transpired, we should encourage our children (and ourselves) to channel our energies into feeling compassion for the families that were affected by this tragedies. Collecting Tzedakah or making cards for the students at Sandy Hook school can help facilitate this cognitive shift from fear to a much healthier compassion.

Jewish Courage.  There is a beautiful Hebrew song based on the sage words of Rav Nachman of Breslov. Kol ha-olam kulo gesher tzar m’od v’ha-ikkar lo l’fahed klal.  The world is a very narrow bridge, but the main thing is not to fear. “Courage is not the absence of fear; it is the overcoming of fear,” writes Rabbi Harold Kushner in his book Conquering Fear: Living Boldly in an Uncertain World.  This is not to suggest that we encourage our kids to throw caution to the wind altogether.  They should, of course, be sensible and vigilant. But then it’s time to move forward: Skipping into their classrooms, laughing with friends on the schoolyard, walking that inevitably narrow bridge with a zest for life and faith in the world’s ultimate goodness.  Enjoy the journey together.


Sharon Duke Estroff is an award-winning educator and author of “Can I Have a Cell Phone for Hanukkah?” (Random House). Her parenting articles appear in over 100 publications including Parents, Good Housekeeping, Woman's Day, Huffington Post and the Jerusalem Post. Her four children give her an endless supply of parenting fodder.

White House readies gun-control plan as more children laid to rest


The White House revealed the first steps of a gun-control plan on Wednesday as the United States grieved for victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre in another wave of funerals.

President Barack Obama's initiative addressed national outrage over the shootings in Connecticut, which prompted longtime gun-rights supporters to reconsider their positions and a major private equity to put its gunmaking business up for sale.

The funerals scheduled for Wednesday included those of four children, a teacher and the principal of the school stormed by 20-year-old gunman Adam Lanza on Friday. After killing his mother at home, Lanza drove to the school and used a semi-automatic assault rifle to kill 20 children and six women.

Obama tapped Vice President Joe Biden to lead an effort to craft policies to reduce gun violence. Specific steps Biden recommends will be unveiled in Obama's State of the Union address, which is typically given towards the end of January, bu t Obama indicated some priorities.

“We're going to need making access to mental health at least as easy as access to a gun,” Obama told reporters.

He said he hoped the powerful gun-industry lobby, the National Rifle Association, would reflect on the tragedy as it anticipates Biden's recommendations.

“The vast majority of responsible law-abiding gun owners would be some of the first to say that we should be able to keep an irresponsible, law-breaking few from buying a weapon of war,” Obama said.

Biden's leadership of the task force was applauded by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a long-time gun control advocate, who urged immediate steps such as appointing a new director for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, a federal crackdown on illegal gun purchases, and the lifting a federal gag order that keeps the public in the dark about gun traffickers.

“The task force must move quickly with its work, as 34 Americans will be murdered with guns every day that passes without common sense reforms to our laws,” Bloomberg said in a statement.

The massacre of so many children in Connecticut, all of whom were just 6 or 7 years old, shocked the United States and the world and renewed debate over gun control in a nation where the right to bear arms is protected by the Constitution and fiercely defended by many.

Around the globe, newspaper editorials from the Philippines to South Africa urged U.S. gun-control efforts and said they were long overdue.

“It takes no great deductive genius to understand the link: a violent individual with a gun will be more able to kill, and can kill more people, than a violent individual without a gun. Elsewhere in the world, tighter gun laws have been shown to save lives,” said an editorial in the Indian newspaper, The Hindu.

After the shooting spree at the school in Newtown, Connecticut, Lanza killed himself.

The family of the school's slain principal, Dawn Hochsprung, invited mourners to visit at a local funeral home on Wednesday afternoon, though her burial was due to be private at an undisclosed time.

Another of the teachers, Victoria Soto, was among those to be buried on Wednesday.

At the funeral of Daniel Barden, 7, a bagpipe played “America the Beautiful” as hundreds of police officers and firefighters, some from New York City and distant towns, lined the driveway outside the service. The little boy loved his family, riding waves at the beach, playing drums, foosball, reading, and making s'mores around a bonfire at his grandfather's house, said an obituary in the Newtown Bee newspaper.

Funerals also were scheduled for Charlotte Bacon and Caroline Previdi, both 6, and Chase Kowalski, 7.

Across the nation, Americans joined Newtown's grieving, one woman traveling from Iowa to bake and deliver apple pies to residents, another woman from outside Albany, New York, posting daily to Facebook the latest of 26 watercolor flower paintings she is creating, each with a different victim's name.

“I wanted to memorialize the victims,” said artist Pamela Hollinde, 60, of Delmar, New York, who also substitute teaches at an elementary school. “In a way, it's therapy for me too. I'm having a difficult time. Our students are our kids too.”

While most students in Newtown were back at school on Wednesday, the surviving children from Sandy Hook Elementary stayed home as school authorities made plans to relocate to a different location – the unused Chalk Hill School in nearby Monroe – when classes resume in January after the winter break.

The impact of the shooting was felt in the business world on Tuesday when private equity firm Cerberus Capital Management LP said it would sell its investment in the company that makes the AR-15-type Bushmaster rifle that was used by Lanza.

The NRA gun lobby broke its silence on Tuesday for the first time since the shootings, saying it was “prepared to offer meaningful contributions” to prevent such massacres. A news conference was called for Friday.

The massacre prompted some Republican lawmakers to open the door to a national debate about gun control, a small sign of easing in Washington's entrenched reluctance to seriously consider new federal restrictions.

Jewish groups push for action on gun control


In the wake of the shooting rampage in Newtown, Conn., Jewish groups are looking to build alliances and back legislation to strengthen gun control laws.

Rabbi David Saperstein, director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism (RAC), said his group is assembling a coalition that would be ready to act once the right legislation comes along.

“The point now is to create the atmosphere in which there is a demand for action, using our voices, organizing the parents in our pews,” Saperstein said in an interview. “When the parents across America start crying out for effective action, if there’s religious leadership, it will galvanize the community to create the moral demand that moves toward sensible legislation.”

Staff at the RAC, the locus in the Jewish community for gun control initiatives in past decades, spent Dec. 17 reaching out to other Jewish leaders, as well as to leaders of other faith communities.

“The best way is to rally the faith community and come together around shared policy,” said RAC spokeswoman Rachel Laser.

A number of Jewish groups have indicated that they will back a gun control bill proposed Monday by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), the first since the Newtown shooting. It would ban more than 100 assault weapons and ammunition clips that contain more than 10 rounds.

The Newtown killer, Adam Lanza, used a Bushmaster AR-15 assault rifle registered in the name of his mother, whom he killed before heading to Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, where he murdered 20 children and six adults before killing himself. Police have said he used multiple clips, although their capacity has not been publicly reported.

Jared Loughner, the gunman in the January 2011 attack in Tucson, Ariz., that grievously wounded Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) and killed six others, had a 33-round magazine.

The legislation, Feinstein said in a statement Monday, “will be carefully focused on the most dangerous guns that have killed so many people over the years while protecting the rights of gun owners by exempting hundreds of weapons that fall outside the bill’s scope.”

Feinstein helped draft the last iteration of an assault weapons ban, in 1994. It lapsed in 2004, after the National Rifle Association fought against its renewal.

B’nai B’rith International on Monday demanded the reinstatement of the assault weapons ban.

“Assault weapons enable a shooter to fire multiple rounds without stopping to reload as they automatically expel and load ammunition with each trigger-pull,” B’nai B’rith said in a statement. “There is no sane, acceptable, reasonable need in a civilian setting to fire off large rounds of ammunition.”

The Jewish Council for Public Affairs circulated a petition through its constituent Jewish community relations councils that calls for “meaningful legislation to limit access to assault weapons and high capacity ammunition magazines, aggressive enforcement of firearm regulations, robust efforts to ensure that every person in need has access to quality mental health care, and a serious national conversation about violence in media and games.”

Officials of Jewish groups planning on action said the likeliest vehicle would be Feinstein’s legislation, which she plans to introduce as soon as Congress reconvenes, in January.

“We have been in touch with Sen. Feinstein,” said Susan Turnbull, who chairs Jewish Women International, a group that has as a principal focus combating domestic violence. “We support her bill.”

The National Council of Jewish Women (NCJW), which has also taken a leading role in the Jewish community on gun control initiatives in the past, announced its support on Dec. 18 for the Feinstein legislation and for legislation proposed by Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) that would tighten background checks. The NCJW has in the past mobilized a grass-roots network of activists to push for gun control legislation. Hadassah also called on Congress to introduce reforms.

The United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism and the Conservative movement’s Rabbinical Assembly on Monday called not only for a ban on assault weapons, but for longer purchase times, deeper background checks, coding ammunition for identification and banning online sales of ammunition.

President Barack Obama, attending a prayer vigil in Newtown on Dec. 16, said that he was ready to back action that would address such violence.

“Are we really prepared to say that we’re powerless in the face of such carnage, that the politics are too hard?” he said.  “Are we prepared to say that such violence visited on our children year after year after year is somehow the price of our freedom?” Although he was short on specifics, a number of observers said that Obama’s strong language suggested he was ready to do what he had avoided in his first term: advance assault weapons restrictions.

In addition to Feinstein and Schumer, a number of other Jewish lawmakers also have weighed in. Rep. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.), who in the next Congress will be the top Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee, said in a statement that “expressions of sympathy must be matched by concrete actions.”

Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.), who is retiring, expressed support for an assault weapons ban and proposed a national commission on mass shootings.

In addition to banning assault weapons, Jewish groups also are seeking broader initiatives to address violence.

Rabbi Levi Shemtov, who directs American Friends of Lubavitch, said he would bring to the attention of lawmakers a study that links mandatory moments of silence to drops in juvenile violence.

Turnbull of Jewish Women International said that any legislation also should deal with identifying and treating individuals whose mental health should preclude access to weapons.

“We will back any legislation that bans assault weapons and the ammunition as well as giving families what they need to treat individuals with a proclivity toward violence,” said Turnbull, a former vice chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee. “I think this will be the ‘big idea,’ that the president is not going to limit the conversation to just guns.”

Jewish schools respond to Newtown with discussion and security additions


Like every other mother in the United States, Patti Weiss Levy’s heart broke when she heard about last Friday’s school shooting in Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.

The longtime Connecticut resident lives an hour away from Newtown, so she assumed she wouldn’t know anyone involved. But as details of the massacre began to emerge, Weiss Levy said she realized just how small Connecticut is.

“We later found out my daughter babysat for one of the children killed,” Weiss Levy told JTA. “And the drummer in my daughter’s band could not attend a concert that night because his sister was one of the teachers killed, too. They were the nicest people, and this whole thing is horrid, just unspeakable.”

As the funerals began Monday for the 20 children and six adults gunned down last Friday by 20-year-old Adam Lanzo, Jewish schools around the country grappled with how to discuss the tragedy appropriately with students and whether there were ways to improve security at their own schools.

Administration at the Bicultural Day School in Stamford, Conn., some 30 miles from Newtown, spent all of Monday combing the grounds buildings with security experts, one faculty member told JTA. The entire staff arrived at the school early in the morning for a meeting about how to discuss the tragedy with their students.

The Bicultural community felt particularly close to the Newtown shooting since the rabbi who led the funeral service for one of the victims, 6-year-old Noah Pozner, is married to a BCDS teacher. In the days after the shooting, the staff’s main concern was to make sure their building had the best security system possible.

Around the country, parents at Jewish schools conveyed their concerns about security. At the Hillel Day School in Boca Raton, Fla., school officials received an influx of emails from parents requesting they update their security system and emergency procedures. Head of School Rabbi Samuel Levine said the school was considering its options.

“Our school building is on the Jewish federation campus, so you would have to pass through a security,” Levine said. “But that doesn’t mean that if someone wanted to get on campus, they couldn’t. We’re sitting down with campus security this afternoon to review our security procedures and drills and see if there are any changes we can make.”

David Finell, head of school at the Rockwern Academy in Cincinnati, Ohio, said the shooting generated a new sense of urgency to review security precautions.

“When you have this type of tragedy, it makes people revisit their procedures,” Finell said. “We run plenty of emergency drills, but after this, we are going to start having more and we’re going to implement some new security changes, though I can’t share what they are right now.”

When facing their students, Jewish administrators took different approaches to bringing up the Newtown shooting. Educators said they wanted to talk to their students in a way that’s effective and appropriate, while also taking care not to unnecessarily alarm younger students.

Ramaz, a Modern Orthodox school in New York, ran an extensive program for the middle and high school students and made faculty members available to speak with anyone who requested it. But Ramaz did not provide the program for younger children.

“A lot of our students seem to have been taken with the tragic events, so we encouraged feelings of sympathy for the victims and their families, and made sure the students felt our school was safe,” said Rabbi Paul Shaviv, adding that Ramaz teachers were prepared to talk to the younger children if they asked questions.

Boca’s Hillel School addressed the tragedy in a morning assembly for the middle school and dispatched school psychologists to talk to the lower grades.

“We need to be sensitive to the younger children,” Levine said. “I’m sure there was plenty of discussion about this over the shabbos table, and there were probably kids present.”

At the Levine Academy in Dallas, Head of School Mark Stolovitsky said he sought to find an age-appropriate manner in which to discuss the shooting with students. The events in Connecticut were explained in terms of bible or Disney stories. Like the stories of Purim or Passover, the children understand the concept of a “bad guy,” he said.

“We want kids to feel safe in school, but we also need to tell kids that there are bad men who do bad things,” he said.

Levine Academy is also deciding on a new school entrance strategy. As of now, only one of the school’s two entrances is guarded by armed security. But after the shooting, Stolovitsky and his staff will explore ways for all all students to enter through the same door.

“I also think we need to change our mindset and be more vigilant,” Stolovitsky added. “Make sure you stop people wandering around your school you don’t recognize, even if they are smiling. And we need to keep practicing emergency drills, where children know how to hide out of plain sight. This is why we have drill. It’s unlikely it will happen but we need to be prepared.”

While hiring armed guards and improving security systems are obvious steps to consider, school administrators say they want to be careful not to to turn their facilities into fortified prisons. Levine noted that Sandy Hook Elementary School had an impressive security system in place. Lanza, the shooter, forced his way inside.

“The Connecticut school was locked. They did all the right things, and this somehow happened,” Levine said.

“We have security cameras, we feel safe,” Stolovitsky added. “And we could choose to have metal detectors, and provide a whole new stage of security. But we live in an open, free society and this is a school. The security needs to be appropriate.”

Finell believes the most important role for educators or parents briefing kids about the shooting is to remain calm. At his school, teachers led discussions about the shooting, but waited for children in younger grades to initiate. The school is also planning an optional memorial service. But Finell stressed the importance of maintaining collected emotions.

“These kids are looking to us for their emotional cues,” he said. “We can’t show any fear or let them know how upset we are by all of this. We need to be reassuring at times like these and talk to them about all the safety precautions we are doing, show them that our number one goal is to take care of them.”

Wilshire Boulevard Temple target of bomb threats


UPDATE (DEC. 20): Man arrested in connection with L.A. synagogue bomb threats

DEC. 18: Police responded to multiple bomb threats targeting the Koreatown home of Wilshire Boulevard Temple (WBT) and a police squad car parked adjacent to the campus on Dec. 18, disrupting life for much of the workday at one of Los Angeles’ largest synagogues and its surrounding neighborhood.

No evidence was found of any explosives following an investigation that included a visit from the bomb squad, robotic devices and the BatCat, a large forklift-like device formally called the Bomb Assault Tactical Control Assessment Tool. At press time on Tuesday, a suspect was in police custody, according to a statement sent by WBT to congregants. However police said the man in custody was not the primary suspect in the squad car threats.

The car “was rendered safe. No device was found in or around the vehicle,” said police spokesman Sgt. Rudy Lopez. “The investigation is ongoing.”

The first threatening call, which according to police was from a male voice and made from a public phone, was received by police at about 2 a.m. It indicated that there was an explosive device on the synagogue’s grounds, but an initial search failed to turn up anything suspicious, Lopez said.

[TIMELINE: LAPD investigating bomb threat near Wilshire Blvd. Temple]

About six hours later, two more calls self-reported that a device had been planted in a police vehicle nearby, which authorities identified on Harvard Boulevard north of Wilshire Boulevard. The car had been sitting there for several days as part of an effort in which vehicles are planted in areas to deter crime, Lopez said.

WBT, which is undergoing renovations, and its adjacent school and parking lot take up an entire block between Wilshire Boulevard and Sixth Street and Harvard and Hobart boulevards.

WBT

Wilshire Boulevard Temple was being investigated following several bomb threats on Dec. 18. Photo by Lynn Pelkey

No one was in the building during the police investigation, according to a statement WBT released in the late morning, while police efforts were still under way.

Cory Wenter, the congregation’s director of safety and security, explained that following the 2 a.m. call, the temple used its mass notification system to cancel all activities. WBT has a nursery school, elementary school and a charter school, Camino Nuevo Charter Academy, operating at the campus, totaling about 600 students in all, he said.

As for the temple’s West L.A. campus at Olympic Boulevard and Barrington Avenue, Wenter said life continued as normal.

[MORE: Statement from Wilshire Blvd. Temple on bomb threat]

“We have escalated threat levels, so we have more people on-site, but we’re still running,” he said.

In the Koreatown neighborhood surrounding WBT, however, things were far from normal for much of the day. Police cordoned off the streets around the building with yellow tape, and helicopters circled overhead. Some residents were evacuated from nearby apartments, and others were asked to stay put, Lopez said.

Enforcement agents spent hours assessing the squad car situation as traffic snarled through surrounding streets. While canine units searched the area for secondary threats, a robotic unit offered a better view of the car itself.

After the robot found nothing — a loud crack of breaking glass could be heard when it gained access to the interior of the vehicle for better visual access — the squad car was lifted into the air by the BatCat, providing a look at its undercarriage.

Next, bomb technicians inspected areas that couldn’t be seen by the robot, including the engine and trunk. No explosives were found, and streets were reopened about 2 p.m.

As for the motive behind the threats, Lopez said it seems unlikely to be related to the recent shootings in Newtown, Conn.

“At this point, we have no reason to believe it’s connected to the events in Connecticut,” he said. The arrest “was based largely on video footage supplied by our security team from the temple’s surveillance cameras,” the WBT e-mail said.

Jewish Journal staff writer Ryan Torok contributed to this article.

Schools amp up safety precautions following Sandy Hook tragedy


When Sarah Shulkind, head of school at Sinai Akiba Academy in Westwood, was a child in Winnetka, Ill., a woman walked into the elementary school four blocks from Shulkind’s house and opened fire, killing one student and injuring five, as well as a college student. Shulkind was enrolled at another school, but she knew the second-grader who was killed. Even 25 years later, Shulkind said, the town has not really recovered.

The massacre of 20 first-graders and six adults at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn., last week brought back chilling memories for Shulkind.

“Personally, and as a school leader, I take the safety of our kids so seriously,” said Shulkind, who assumed the job as head of school at Sinai Akiba this year. “I have my own child in the Sinai Akiba preschool, so I know what it is to give over your most precious possession to an educational institution. It is a very scared responsibility, and we have to take it very seriously.”

As the news of the killings unfolded on Dec. 14, schools across Los Angeles quickly sent out e-mails to parents, assuring them that their children were safe.

“We have invested heavily over the past few years in upgrading our surveillance system and the guards are trained to be diligent in the safety of our campus,” Rabbi Mitch Malkus, head of school at Pressman Academy, wrote to parents. “We are in direct communication with the LAPD and the ADL [Anti-Defamation League] about potential threats and we have procedures in place to lock down the building if needed.”

Many Jewish schools locally had already enacted strong security measures following the 1999 shooting at the North Valley JCC, in which white supremacist Buford Furrow Jr. wounded five people and later murdered a mail carrier. Even tighter security measures were put in place at many schools following the tragedies of Sept. 11, 2001.

The Newtown massacre has schools reviewing those measures anew.

Sinai Akiba and the attached Sinai Temple have multiple security guards and a locked facility. The school also has a lock-down plan to address the kind of scenario that unfolded in Newtown. Sinai Akiba held emergency drills just last week, before the shooting, Shulkind said.

“Adults need to know what they need to do in an emergency, and the best way to do that is to practice, so they can shift into muscle memory,” Shulkind said.

The ADL holds regular briefings with schools and community organizations about security, and facilitates relationships between institutions and local law enforcement.

The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles is preparing to launch a Communal Security Initiative in January, with a security-vendors fair for Jewish institutions. Federation recently brought on staff Jason Periard, who has both military and law enforcement experience, in a new post as director of communal security. Periard will act as a liaison between the Jewish community and local law enforcement and provide training to private security guards at Jewish institutions. The newly created department also will have an emergency alert system and a closed-data sharing site where registered institutions can log on to view potential security threats.

Working in conjunction with the Bureau of Jewish Education of Los Angeles (BJE), Federation and officials for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security recently visited local day schools to field test software that will allow users to conduct their own thorough security assessments. The visits included a briefing on emergency response.

“Part of that debrief included discussions on active shooters and precautions to be taken,” said Miriam Prum Hess, director of Centers for Excellence in Day School Education and Educational Engagement at BJE.

BJE has worked over the last several years to help schools win millions of dollars in Homeland Security grants for measures such as installing surveillance systems, replacing gates and fences, or changing locks so classes could be locked from the inside. There has also been training to teach staff to be vigilant, according to Prum Hess.

The Beverly Hills Police Department invited school leaders to a meeting on Dec. 17, where they discussed measures put in place to make sure schools are secure. The Los Angeles Police Department also this week announced a new program in which an officer will visit each of the city’s schools once a day, an offer it extended to private schools as well.

Throughout the day on Dec. 14, as the news from Newtown was being reported, the Jewish Federation of North America’s Secure Community Network kept Jewish organizations and schools briefed about developments.

Beyond assuring parents that children were safe, schools also sought to give parents guidance on how to help their children work through their feelings about the tragedy.

Schools advised parents not to expose their children to the saturation coverage in the media, and to assure them that they were safe. Schools circulated articles from psychologists to help parents guide their children through the tragedy.

As did many schools, Sinai Akiba held a program for older kids after prayer services, followed by smaller group discussions.

For younger kids, Sinai Akiba chose to let the children lead, opening discussions in classrooms by letting the children ask their own questions.

Teachers had been prepped before those discussions, and at the end of the day they again met with administrators and school psychologist to process what the kids had said. That meeting also gave teachers a chance to air their own emotions.

“In some ways, our teachers and administrators are experiencing this in a more profound way than the student body, because the kids are so young,” Shulkind said. “We wanted to make sure we’re taking care of our teachers, too.”

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 students return to class after Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre


Students returned to school in the shattered Connecticut town of Newtown on Tuesday, accompanied by police and counselors to help them cope with grief and fear after a gunman's rampage killed 26 people in an elementary school and altered attitudes about gun control in Washington.

Sandy Hook Elementary, where 20-year-old Adam Lanza gunned down a score of 6- and 7-year-olds and six adults on Friday, will remain closed. It is an active crime scene, with police coming and going past a line of 26 Christmas trees put up by visitors and decorated with ornaments, stuffed animals and balloons in the school colors of green and white as a memorial.

The rest of Newtown's schools were set to reopen.

“We are ready to open our doors and give them everything they need to feel safe,” said Julie Shull, a social studies teacher at Reed Intermediate School. “I could not be prouder to be a part of this amazing group of individuals that devote their lives to children.”

Sandy Hook pupils will later resume class at an unused school in another town.

The massacre of young children shocked Americans who had grown accustomed to mass shootings, prompting some U.S. lawmakers to call for tighter gun restrictions and pressuring one private equity firm to sell its investment in a gunmaker.

President Barack Obama, who called for action at a Sunday night prayer vigil in Newtown, held talks with Vice President Joe Biden and three Cabinet members on Monday in what a White House official said was an effort to “begin looking at ways the country can respond to the tragedy in Newtown.”

Several Democratic lawmakers have called for a new push for U.S. gun restrictions, including a ban on assault weapons such as the Bushmaster AR-15 used by Lanza, who carried hundreds of rounds of ammunition in extra clips and shot all of his victims repeatedly, one of them 11 times. Lanza also shot dead his mother before driving to the school, and then killed himself to end the massacre with a death toll of 28.

The nation's powerful gun industry lobby, the National Rifle Association, has remained silent on the Newtown shooting.

U.S. private equity firm Cerberus Capital Management announced it was selling its investment in gunmaker Freedom Group following pressure from a major investor, the California State Teachers' Retirement System (CalSTRS) said on Monday it was reviewing its investment with Cerberus.

CalSTRS, the second largest pension fund in the United States, had invested $751.4 million with Cerberus by the end of March 2012, according to its website. Cerberus bought firearms maker Bushmaster in 2006 and later merged it with other gun companies to create Freedom Group.

NEWTOWN BURIES ITS CHILDREN

While politicians and investors grappled with the future of the U.S. gun industry, police and educators in Newtown tried to ease their bucolic town back to normal. At least two more funerals were set for Tuesday after the first two children were buried on Monday.

Newtown police plan to have officers at the six schools scheduled to reopen on Tuesday, and police Lieutenant George Sinko acknowledged it may be difficult to ease the worries of the roughly 4,700 returning students and their families.

“Obviously, there's going to be a lot of apprehension. We just had a horrific tragedy. We had babies sent to school that should be safe and they weren't,” Sinko said. “You can't help but think … if this could happen again.”

Older students were volunteering at a support center for those stricken with grief.

“It all seemed so unreal, and then today it hit me. This is reality and something we're going to have to deal with,” said Jamie Calandro, 14, a freshman at Newtown High School. “Right now, with Christmas coming up, it's most important to make the homey feel of Newtown come back.”

When Sandy Hook students return, it will be at the unused Chalk Hill School in the nearby Monroe, where a sign across the street form the school read, “Welcome Sandy Hook Elementary!”

Police have warned it could take months for them to finish their investigation.

The first two victims, Noah Pozner and Jack Pinto, both 6, were buried on Monday, with the boys' bodies laid out in white coffins. Jack was dressed in a New York Giants jersey with his favorite player's number, while mourners left a teddy bear outside Noah's service.

Funerals were expected on Tuesday for victims including James Mattioli and Jessica Rekos. Each was 6 years old.

Funerals for Newtown victims Noah Pozner and Jack Pinto begin as schools confront tragedy


Mourners in Newtown, Connecticut, headed for the first two of 20 funerals of schoolchildren massacred in their classroom as the rest of the nation on Monday anxiously sent children back to school with tightened security.

Tiny caskets marked the first wave of funerals for the 20 children and six adults killed in the shooting rampage at Sandy Hook Elementary School on Friday. Noah Pozner and Jack Pinto, both 6 years old, will be laid to rest on Monday afternoon.

President Barack Obama, who said in Newtown on Sunday that the 20-year-old gunman acted out of “unconscionable evil,” was heralded by the family of teacher Victoria Soto, 27, who was slain as she tried to protect her first-grade students.

“He really made us feel like she really was a hero and that everyone should know it,” her brother, Carlos Soto, said on CBS on Monday.

Obama, addressing an interfaith vigil in the small Connecticut town on Sunday night, spoke forcefully on the country's failings in protecting its children and demanded changes in response to the mass shootings of the last few months.

“We can't tolerate this anymore. These tragedies must end. And to end them, we must change,” he said, adding that he would bring together law enforcement, teachers, mental health professionals and others to study how to stop the violence.

But before those changes, the families of the victims will grieve.

Noah, 6 years old just last month, was the youngest victim. Reports describe him as “inquisitive” and as particularly mature for his age. The family's rabbi has said he encouraged Noah's mother to focus on her other four children amid the grief.

Jack, also 6, was a wrestler who loved sports. The New York Giants receiver Victor Cruz played Sunday's football game with the boy's name written all over his cleats and gloves.

All the dead children were 6 or 7 years old. The school principal of Sandy Hook Elementary, the school psychologist and four teachers were also gunned down.

At Sunday night's memorial, Obama offered words of hope and promises of action to stop any further tragedies.

“We bear responsibility for every child … This is our first task, caring for our children. It's our first job. If we don't get that right, we don't get anything right,” he said.

The president kept his emotions in tighter check than he did on Friday, when he cried openly while addressing the shooting. But his tears were matched by the packed crowd in the high school auditorium, who wailed when he read the names of the adults and children who were killed.

SCHOOLS READY TO OPEN

While the two boys are laid to rest and the other families prepare their own memorials, schools across the country will attempt to return to business as usual, though there will be signs everywhere of how unusual the situation has become.

Some schools will put on extra security guards. Others will begin their day with a moment of silence. On Twitter, young people nationwide have urged their classmates to wear green and white, the colors of Sandy Hook Elementary School.

“I'm struggling with if I should bring it up at all. And if I do, what am I going to say about it? I'm just praying about it, because I don't know,” said Molli Falgout, a first-grade teacher in Kernersville, North Carolina.

In Newtown, schools will not reopen on Monday. The district has said teachers need time to prepare for the students' return.

Instead, the town's youth sports groups have set up a field day of sorts to keep children occupied with athletics, board games and arts and crafts. Schools superintendent Janet Robinson described it as an effort “to help provide some small level of comfort and support to the children in our community.”

The community will also have to make a decision about what to do with the bullet-ridden Sandy Hook Elementary, whose students will for now attend classes in an empty school in a neighboring town.

“I think we have to go back into that building at some point. That's how you heal. It doesn't have to be immediately but I sure wouldn't want to give up on it,” said local resident Tim Northrop.

A more detailed picture of 20-year-old Adam Lanza's stunning attack emerged on Sunday.

After killing his mother, Nancy Lanza, at home, Adam Lanza shot his way into the school. He had attended Sandy Hook as a child, according to former classmates.

Police said Lanza was armed with hundreds of bullets in high-capacity magazines of about 30 rounds each for the Bushmaster AR 15 rifle and two handguns he carried into the school, and had a fourth weapon, a shotgun, in his car outside. He killed himself in the school.

Investigators are examining forensic evidence and scouring the crime scene in a process likely to extend for weeks.

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.

The NRA’s Wayne LaPierre has the blood of Connecticut students on his hands


Looking for ways to explain America’s epidemic of mass shootings — including Friday’s murder of 27 people, including 20 children, at a Newtown, Connecticut elementary school – many pundits are blaming the country’s “culture of violence” and its preference for “protecting guns over children.” But the majority of Americans favor strict gun control laws.  No, let's not burden Americans with collective guilt.  The problem is more narrow — and more fixable — than that.

The U.S. leads the world in gun-related deaths primarily because of the political influence of the National Rifle Association and, in particular, Wayne LaPierre, who for the past 21 years has been the NRA's CEO and chief political strategist, orchestrating its opposition to any kind of gun control.

The blood of the victims of the Connecticut shooting is on LaPierre's hands. Of course, LaPierre didn't pull the trigger, but he's the NRA's hit man when it comes to intimidating elected officials.

Although LaPierre likes to portray the NRA as representing grassroots gun owners, the bulk of its money comes from gun manufacturers.  LaPierre is a corporate lobbyist.  He doesn’t speak for most gun owners, a majority of whom favor stricter gun laws, according to surveys.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, in 2011 there were 15,953 murders in the United States and 11,101 (30 a day) were caused by firearms. Suicides and unintentional shootings account for another 20,000 deaths by guns each year. Of course, many more people are injured—some seriously and permanently—by gun violence.

Most gun-related deaths are committed by people who purchase their weapons legally. Others purchase or steal them illegally, but their ability to get access to guns is due to our lax laws on gun ownership. LaPierre's job is to make it easier for people to buy and use guns. And so far he's been very successful. Since the 1994 assault-weapon ban expired in 2004, Congress hasn't enacted any major gun regulations.

LaPierre likes to fulminate about gun owners' rights. But so far he's has been silent about the nation's most recent gun massacre.  LaPierre and the NRA are bullies and, like most bullies, they will cower if confronted.  It is now time for an outraged and mobilized public  to put pressure Congress and President Obama to put strong limits on guns and beat the NRA.

Adam Lanza—the 20-year old man who walked into the Connecticut school with two firearms (a Glock and a Sig Saurer) and had another gun (a 223 Bushmaster) in his car—is no doubt deranged. He's not alone. There are lots of crazy people around. But if we make it easy for them to obtain guns, they are more likely to translate their psychological problems into dangerous and deadly anti-social behavior.

The shooting in the Connecticut school was not an isolated incident. We've almost become used to a regular diet of gun-toting rampages. The most visible of them—like Columbine, the Virginia Tech killings, the murders in the Aurora, Colorado movie theater, and the Arizona shooting that nearly claimed the life of former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and left six others dead—stick in our minds, but there are many others.  It was only a matter of good luck that Buford Furrow – the mentally ill white supremicist who entered the North Valley Jewish Community Center in Granada Hills in August 1999 and opened fire with a semiautomatic weapon, wounding five people – didn’t kill anyone.

The NRA has two knee-jerk responses to these and other gun massacres. The first is that the Second Amendment gives all Americans the right to possess guns of all kinds—not just hunting rifles but machine guns and semi-automatics. Efforts to restrict gun sales and ownership is, according to the NRA, an assault on our constitutional freedoms.

The second is the cliché that “guns don't kill people, people kill people.” To the NRA, gun laws have nothing to do with the epidemic of gun-related killings.

Both of these arguments are bogus, but the NRA has the money and membership (4 million) to translate these idiot ideas into political clout to thwart even reasonable gun-control laws. The NRA not only lobbies on behalf of “stand your ground” laws, but also offers insurance to members to pay for the legal costs of shooting people in “self-defense.” The NRA also defends the right of Americans to carry concealed weapons, including handguns.

It is no accident that the United States ranks first in the world—by a wide margin—in gun-related civilian deaths and injuries. Compared with every other democracy, we have the most guns per capita and the weakest gun laws. But the danger isn't simply the number of guns; it is the type of guns we allow people to legally purchase. Other countries permit hunting rifles. But many Americans believe it is their right to own an assault weapon.

Even in countries with strong gun-control laws, some people will get their hands on a weapon and destroy others' lives. The tragic killing in Norway last year is testament to this reality. (Although let's recall that Anders Breivik bought $550 worth of 30-round ammunition clips from an American gun supplier for the rifle he used to kill 69 Norwegian kids at a summer camp. Thanks to American laws, it was a legal online purchase.) But the shooting in Norway was an infrequent occurrence; it is, in fact, one of the safest countries in the world. In contrast, the U.S. is off the charts in terms of murder rates.   America's murder rate is more than eight times greater than Norway's.

The news media will spend an inordinate amount of effort trying to figure out what was in Adam Lanza's head before he put on his protective gear, carried two guns into the Connecticut school, and began his shooting rampage. Although the psychology and motives of the murderer may be fascinating, it should not be the major focus. There are plenty of deranged people in the world, but in most well-off countries they can't easily get their hands on a firearm.

Here's where the NRA comes in. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, since 1990, the gun rights lobby, led by the NRA, has contributed $29.2 million to candidates for Congress and the White House, 87% of it to Republicans. In the most recent election cycle, gun rights groups donated $3.1 million to political candidates and spent another $5.5 million in lobbying.

In contrast, since 1990 gun control groups have donated only $1.9 million to politicians, 94% to Democrats. In the most recent election cycle, these groups contributed only $4,000 to candidates and spent only $420,00 on lobbying.

Of course, Democrats are not immune from the NRA's influence. This summer, 17 House Democrats recently voted in favor of criminal contempt for Attorney General Eric Holder for his oversight of 'Operation Fast and Furious'. Not surprisingly, each of them received campaign contributions from the NRA in the previous two election cycles.

At the top of the gun rights food-chain is the NRA's Wayne LaPierre. It is hard to know if he's mentally unstable but he's certainly crazy like a fox (and Fox News).  Under LaPierre’s leadership, the NRA has aligned itself with the most reactionary forces in American politics. For example, LaPierre gave a speech earlier this year to the Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington in which he said that President Obama was part of a “conspiracy to ensure re-election by lulling gun owners to sleep.”

LaPierre added: “All that first term, lip service to gun owners is just part of a massive Obama conspiracy to deceive voters and hide his true intentions to destroy the Second Amendment during his second term.” He also warned that everything that “gun owners across America have fought to achieve over the past three decades could be lost” if Obama won a second term.

Well, Obama did win a second term. In a statement soon after the Connecticut massacre, Obama called for “meaningful action” to curb gun violence. “Meaningful action” does not mean educating young people about bullying and violence. It does not mean instructing gun owners to be more responsible. It does not mean, as Mike Huckabee suggested on Friday, restoring God in our schools. It means pushing for strong gun control laws.

If Obama does take this kind of leadership, he will have the backing of an overwhelming proportion of Americans who support stricter guns laws. For example, 82% of Americans support limiting the sales of military-style assault weapons. Also, 87% of Americans support background checks on private sales of guns, including sales at gun shows. And 79% support requiring a police permit before the purchase of a gun. A majority of Americans oppose the NRA's top federal legislative priority—national reciprocity for concealed carry permits—which would allow people to enter any state with a concealed, loaded gun even if they fail to meet local permitting requirements. Not surprising, almost all (94%) police chiefs favor requiring criminal background checks for all handgun sales.

Every American grieves for the families and friends of the people killed and injured in the Connecticut shooting. But until we tame the power of the NRA, we can expect more killings like this, as well as the deadly daily diet of murders throughout America committed by angry and in some cases crazy gun-toting people whose “freedom” to own weapons of mass destruction that  LaPierre and the NRA defends.

Peter Dreier is E.P. Clapp Distinguished Professor of Politics, and director of the Urban & Environmental Policy program, at Occidental College. His most recent book is The 100 Greatest Americans of the 20th Century: A Social Justice Hall of Fame (2012, Nation Books).

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.

Israeli leaders send condolence messages in Newtown massacre


Israeli leaders sent letters of condolence to President Barack Obama over the mass killing at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.

“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. “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, including a Jewish boy — 6-year-old Noah Pozner — and six school employees, were killed Friday when Adam Lanza, 20, forced his way into the building and opened fire. Lanza, who had attended the Sandy Hook school, also killed his mother, Nancy, in the home they shared.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu wrote in a letter sent Friday that he was “shocked and horrified by today's savage massacre of innocent children and adults” at the school.

“We in Israel have experienced such cruel acts of slaughter and we know the shock and agony they bring,” Netanyahu wrote. “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.”

In a video message posted on YouTube, Netanyahu addressed the American people, saying, “The people of Israel grieve with you. I can only pray that God will give you the strength, as he has given us, to overcome the tragedy and go on living.”