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Tuesday, September 2, 2014
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Taking responsibility for Newtown

By Rabbi Avi Weiss
Posted

"I will miss your forceful and purposeful little steps stomping through our house…Mama loves you, little man.” So eulogized Veronique Pozner, mother of Noah Pozner, who was viciously murdered in the Sandy Hook Massacre. 

Sadly, this is hardly the first such crime in America. Just a few days ago, someone opened fire in a mall in Oregon; a few months earlier, the setting was a movie theater in Colorado and a few weeks later, a Sikh Temple in Wisconsin. At Virginia Tech, five and a half years ago, 33 people were killed, and the infamous Columbine High School Massacre of 1999 left 13 dead. The news reports of shootings and their aftermath have become frighteningly familiar to us Americans, escalating what was once an anomaly into a real and pressing national crisis. This is a crisis that we must take ownership of, acknowledging that it is not someone else’s problem, but ours.

In the biblical book of Genesis, Judah, one of 12 sons of Jacob, rises to the defense of his brother Benjamin who had been imprisoned in Egypt. He declares, “your servant guarantees the safety of the lad.” Judah is referring to his own assumption of responsibility — which is critical in times of crisis. When faced with challenges the choice is clear: We can shirk responsibility, or we can take ownership of it and commit ourselves to making a difference.

Later, in another classic biblical passage addressing this theme, a situation is described in which the elders of a town gather around the body of a stranger who is found slain in their midst. These leaders declare, “Our hands have not shed this blood, neither have our eyes seen it.” 

The passage is perplexing. Would one have suspected these elders — sage leaders — of shedding blood?! Actually the elders are claiming that they are, in no way, through aspects of their leadership or citizenry, through action or lack of action, accountable.  

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