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Beyond Despair, Our Responsibility to the Children of Newtown

What has changed in the three years since Newtown?

The children and teachers of Sandy Hook Elementary were no different than any children in teachers in the United States. Three years ago, they set out in the morning to do what teachers and children across the world do every day, learn, teach, share, laugh and grow. And they were doing just that, being exactly as they should have been and then within minutes they were no more.

We as a nation were shocked. The names of those whose lives were stopped short that day came to be familiar to us. And for a moment we grasped the vastness of what had been lost, not only the lives of 26 precious souls but our collective innocence, our belief that we or our children were truly safe.

We prayed for the families. We prayed for ourselves. We vowed that change would happen.

And yet, every day in the United States, seven children under the age of 19 are killed by gun violence.

While the deaths in Newtown garnered our attention, this everyday reality is almost too much to comprehend. These children are toothless babies, inquisitive little boys, energetic little girls, sullen and vivacious teenagers, all killed before they could fully embrace life and make good on its potential. These children leave behind parents and siblings, teachers and friends and communities.

Sadly, not much has changed since Sandy Hook.

Every day rabbis, imams, ministers, and priests are called to comfort seven families whose pain and suffering is the result of senseless preventable violence. This is some of the most difficult work members of the clergy do. There are no easy answers, no quick fixes. And most often we clergy do what clergy do so naturally, we pray.

When faced with brutal realities of segregation Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel of Blessed Memory spoke of his involvement in civil rights activities as praying with his feet.

The very actions we take to make the world a better place are themselves a form of prayer. Rabbis, Imams, ministers and priests across the country who are taking action and speaking up against gun violence know that action too is a form of prayer.

But our politicians do not know this. Our politicians are the very people who we have elected to take action. And yet, after every mass shooting they offer prayers in place of actions. As a woman of faith, I welcome their prayers. But when innocent children are dying every day, we need our politicians to follow Rabbi Heschel’s example and see action as the highest form of prayer. No amount of prayer can take the place of thought out plans and deliberate legislation.

There are no easy answers, no quick fixes but we cannot afford inaction. If you are moved to remember the 26 innocent lives that were ended three years ago, then do more than offer a prayer. The New York Times this week called for specific actions that can curb gun violence. Across the country many organizations, like Moms Demand Action, are working to end gun violence. But you need not have a clear agenda or buy into a particular point of view to get involved. No matter your politics you can call your local, state and national representatives and ask them what they are doing to make us safer from the epidemic of gun violence. Ask them what actions they have taken in the last three years to protect our children. Remind them that every day we do not act is a day when seven more children will die. We cannot afford to wait another day for change to happen, let alone three years.

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