Op-Ed: Thoughts on the Tragic Connecticut School Massacre
Rabbi Lazer GurkowRabbi Eliezer (Lazer) Gurkow, currently serving as rabbi of congregation Beth Tefilah in London, Ontario, is a well-known speaker and writer on Torah issues and current affairs.
It is a terrible tragedy, a heinous crime, words cannot describe it and the camera dare not capture it.
The horror plastered on grim faces of devastated fathers, the haunted look in the eyes of howling mothers, children screaming, teachers herding, police officers protecting and the most horrific of all, twenty - six broken bodies, shattered and torn, lying still in pools of their own blood.
This could be a war zone in Bosnia or a grade school in the sleepy town of Newtown, Connecticut. The entire world grieves today and does its best to offer comfort as images, real and imagined, parade across its collective conscience. Our heartfelt prayers are for the souls of the victims and for the wellbeing of the survivors.
Our minds and hearts are with the parents who bury their children today and those whose children’s innocence, as President Obama so eloquently put it, has been shattered.
It is a school building, for goodness sake, a place we come to associate with serenity, learning and security. Even hardened criminals are softened at the sight of devoted teachers bending over desks of eager little faces striving to absorb the vast knowledge of the world and life.
Yet, time and again we are reminded that our schools are not safe. They have become a haven for the desperate and deranged, who are convinced that their path to salvation leads through the mayhem of shattered school halls.
From Colombine to Virginia Tech and from Virginia Tech to Sandy Hook, the shooters turned their guns on themselves, compounding the tragedy. These mass killers, perhaps, were themselves victims in one way or another and could only conceive of taking their lives along with others.
What convinces a mind in distress that this is a path to relief – only G-d knows. What we know is that the tragedy is so much more painful, the tears so much more bitter and the devastation so much more crushing. There are no words. Only pain.
But can we imagine that this unspeakable tragedy of innocent children cut down in their prime could become the foundation on which we build the solution to combat the plague of school massacres?
I do believe there is a way to do this, to learn from the tragedy. I really, truly, want us to think out of the box to try and prevent this from happening again, to the extent that it can possibly be prevented in the future.
Suppose G-d was put back into our schools. In the interest of protecting our rights, we have made the word G-d a profanity in USA classrooms and we fire our teachers for mentioning it.
Suppose we put G-d back into our classrooms. I am not talking about putting religion back into our schools. I don’t want to see us teaching Judaism to a class full of Catholic students or Catholicism to a class full of Muslim children.
I suggest that teachers begin each school day with a moment of silence every day devoted to reflecting on a higher power under whose authority we live and under whose control the events of life are constructed.
Each parent would tell his or her own children who this power is. Whether this power has a name or not is of little import to me in this context. Whether He comes packaged in a particular religion, gender or stripe is of little relevance. One parent might call it G-d, another, the collective moral conscience and yet another, the laws of nature.
The teacher would not get into the particulars of this higher power’s identity; the teacher would simply begin each day with a moment of silence devoted to this higher power and its presence in our lives.
Parents can take the time in the evening to coach their children on what to think during this time and each child will reflect and meditate in the privacy of his or her mind. The gist of the message will be that we are grateful to this higher power for the gift of life and for the universe. We are cognizant of our responsibility as custodians of this awesome planet. We are responsible for each other and for the upkeep of society and we are beholden to the ethical and moral rules of the higher power.
If children begin their day with this brief reflection, it might instill in them an awareness of our mutual responsibility to each other and to the planet. It might inculcate the importance of moral laws and sanctity of life.
For those children whose parents teach them about G-d, it would help them feel connected to His exquisite beauty and awesome power – for them, G-d will be brought back into the classroom, but by the parent, not the teacher.
During weekends and non school days parents can administer this moment at home, but on school days, home life is hectic in the early morning. Between dressing, eating and packing lunches, parents have their hands full. In addition, the journey from home to school will serve as a distraction between the moment of silence and the rest of the day. The right time for this moment is the beginning of the school day.
I am not naïve enough to believe that this will end violence and put an end to school shootings. G-d knows how many murderers have killed in His name.
All I am saying is that this will shape our children’s mindset to be cognizant of a greater good that is larger than us and our problems.
A child who knows that we are responsible for each other will be less likely to take lives indiscriminately. There may indeed be cases of psychosis, but they might be tempered by a sense of obligation toward another.
This is not a catch-all solution to the problem and those who might criticize the idea because it does not solve all problems may well hold their fire. I acknowledge that it won’t solve the entire problem, but I submit that it will minimize much of it.
People don’t tend to steal and murder on their way out of spiritual meditational sessions. Spirituality refines us and helps us view the world from a higher standpoint. Life never seems desperate through the eyes of the spirit and suicide, let alone homicide, never seems attractive from this viewpoint.
Let us give our children a fighting chance. Let us raise them the best way we know how. Let us give them the chance to believe that life is worthwhile and that giving life a chance despite the cruelest challenges is the best gift we can give to ourselves and to those whose lives we might otherwise snuff out.
May this be the last time we experience such pain and may we and the bereaved families be comforted and know happiness and health, may they have the strength to continue going forward from here - forevermore.