The tragic slaughter of innocent children and their teachers has affected our entire country. This is a personal recollection offered from the point of view of a parent, an educator, and a rabbi.
Friday, 12/14/12, promised to be a unique day at The Davis Academy. In addition to being the 7th day of Chanukkah, our entire school gathered to celebrate “Kabbalat HaSiddur”– the special ceremony during which 2nd graders receive their first Jewish prayer book.
Kabbalat HaSiddur is one of the most memorable and meaningful experiences in the life of a Davis Academy elementary aged student. Parents spend months thoughtfully and intentionally designing special covers for their children’s siddurim. These covers, often painstakingly needlepointed, represent the unique personality, traits, hobbies, and world of each child. In addition to the beautiful siddur covers, each siddur has an inscription plate where parents write messages to their children.
No two families are the same and no two children are the same. Kabbalat HaSiddur at The Davis Academy illustrates this point very powerfully.
I spent the morning of 12/14/12 listening to parents present their children with their siddurim. As you might imagine, we order extra tissues for this day as many tears of love and joy are shed. It’s a day when past, present, and future collapse to become one. It’s a day when anything is possible and God’s presence is felt very strongly.
After each child has received his siddur the entire school gathers for communal worship and celebration. The second grade students pray from their siddurim for the first time and sing special songs. One of the songs they sing is “L’dor Vador” by Josh Nelson. It contains the words, “We are gifts, and we are blessings. We are history in song.”
The morning of 12/14/12 was a beautiful and memorable one at The Davis Academy.
Later in the day my wife texted to tell me that there had been a shooting in an elementary school in Connecticut and that the initial reports were very bad. There followed a series of unwelcome updates as I learned of the inhuman events that had transpired there. It was far too early to hear stories of heroism or to find any comfort. That would come later. I spent the rest of the day carrying a very heavy weight. Walking the halls I encountered many students, all of whom had no idea. Looking at their smiling faces, experiencing their boundless energy, attending their Chanukkah parties– it all felt very surreal. This was the kind of world I wanted to live in. This was the kind of world that children deserved to live in. And fundamentally, I believe this is the world that we do live in, though not all the time.
Like many parents I rushed to pick up my own daughter from school, listening to special news reports along the way. There were times when I was overcome by emotion.
A few days have passed and the news continues to come in cycles. Accounts of heroism pepper the accounts of unspeakable grief and suffering. The tragedy is both deeply personal for the people of Newtown, especially the parents, grandparents and siblings, and it is also deeply universal, touching every human heart.
Typing now, the words of the Josh Nelson song keep coming back to me. When our 2nd graders sang them that Friday morning, we had no idea that Sandy Hook Elementary was, at that moment, the site of the slaughter of innocent children. We had no idea that the words our children were singing would end up being a memorial for the 20 innocent children who went to school that day.
We are gifts, and we are blessings. We are history in song.