Newtown rabbi sees Passover lesson in wake of tragedy
NEWTOWN, Conn. • Nothing is the same in this devastated town these days, and this week's religious holidays will be overshadowed, as is the rest of life, by the deaths of 26 first-graders and staff members at Sandy Hook Elementary School on Dec. 14.
Passover, which begins at sundown Monday, is an intensely family-oriented Jewish celebration, and although just one of the victims, Noah Pozner, was Jewish, all of the families will be on the minds of the members of Congregation Adath Israel, the one synagogue in town.
"From my point of view it's family time; it's time for us to be together, and unfortunately, that day the Pozner family will have one less person at their table,' said Andrew Paley, president of the congregation.
Noah will be missed by his mother, Veronique, his father, Lenny, and his siblings, Danielle, Michael, Sophia and his twin sister, Arielle.
Of course all the victims are on Paley's mind in the tight-knit section of Sandy Hook. Being part of the school, Cub Scouts and other groups made it easy to know many of the families involved.
Just Friday, Anna Mattioli, sister of James Mattioli, one of the victims, led her fourth-grade class on a walk to celebrate James' birthday, because he loved walking.
"As a big group, as a Sandy Hook family, we all took a walk in his honor' at Fairfield Hills, Paley said.
Rabbi Shaul Praver, spiritual leader of the Conservative synagogue, will deliver the Passover sermon. He said the links between the Hebrews' escape from Pharaoh and modern-day Newtown are not obvious, but there are lessons to be drawn.
"We're talking about freedom, and I think that's the big common denominator here,' Praver said. "In Egypt, we had a situation of slavery,' which is "quite different' from living in the aftermath of the Sandy Hook tragedy but can serve as a lesson.
"There are several things that impinge on our complete freedoms in America,' said Praver, who has been active in seeking tougher gun-control laws.
"In a free society ... you would think that if the majority of people want legislation to be passed' that it would happen. But our representatives have been "compromised by special interests, in this case the NRA.'
While pro-gun control Americans have been apathetic and developed an attitude "akin to that feeling of helplessness and despair' that the Hebrews must have felt, their leaders, Moses, Aaron and Miriam, "didn't give up, and ultimately, they won.'
In our day, he said, we need to fight the forces of media violence, the gaming industry and the NRA, "because if we do, we'll win.'
"The NRA is just counting on us breaking our spirit and waiting for the ' Newtown effect' to dissipate,' Praver said.
(The Pozners did not belong to Congregation Adath Israel).