Service Of Remembrance Brings Message Of Hope And Unity
They came because it was the Sabbath. They came because they sought solace on a day darkened by despair. They came because they were angry, because they were sad. They came because they were hopeful. Believers and non-believers, they came to remember.
Congregation Adath Israel, in collaboration with Newtown Interfaith Clergy Association, opened its doors to the community at large Friday evening, December 14, welcoming those of all faiths and beliefs and those in need of comfort to celebrate a special Service of Remembrance on the day marking the sixth year since the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
Just the voice of a single trumpet, the musical gift of Massillon LaPorte of Montreal, who has visited Newtown for the past six years on December 14 and had stationed himself outside the main entrance of the synagogue on Huntingtown Road, drifted across the parking lot.
Inside, members of Congregation Adath Israel warmly greeted the dozens of people filing in to find an hour of peace and remember those no longer among the living. Among those present were Newtown First Selectman Dan Rosenthal, Congresswoman Elizabeth Esty, and Newtown Action Alliance President Po Murray.
Bob Rubenstein of Congregation Adath Israel welcomed all to what was “hopefully a peaceful Sabbath” and the service to recall those lost to Congregation Adath Israel in 2018 and to memorialize the students and teachers who died on 12/14.
“The tentacles of that heinous crime reached far beyond the borders of Newtown,” he acknowledged, and he took a moment to express gratitude to all first responders who “did their jobs with compassion.”
One day, said Mr Rubenstein, all people of goodwill will have a safer place to live, to play, and to worship.
Providing words of comfort and strength throughout the service were Reverend Lori Miller, Newtown United Methodist Church; Hasa Kadhim and Meryem Azeez of Al Hedaya Islamic Center; Rev Dr Leo McIlrath of Lutheran Home of Southbury; Dr John Woodall of The Baha’is of Newtown; Rev Carrie Combs of Trinity Episcopal Church; Rabbi Shaul Praver, chaplain of the Connecticut Department of Correction; Rev Matthew Crebbin of Newtown Congregational Church; Rev Jack Tanner of Newtown Christian Church; and Rev Dr Jenny Montgomery of Trinity Episcopal Church; joining Adath Israel’s Rabbi Barukh Schectman, who led the service of prayer, readings, and reflection.
Rabbi Schectman told the gathered congregation that the memories of the “precious souls who perished six years ago are still with us. Remember the hope they represented and the hope no evil can destroy.” He emphasized that even as evil must sometimes be faced, “We do what we can... to make the world a better place.”
In reading Psalm 92, Rev Miller offered reassurance that “the world is indeed intended to be a good place.”
The Call to Prayer, which Rabbi Schectman reminded all is a common beginning of both Islamic and Jewish services, was sung by Hasan Kadhim and Meryem Azeez of Al Hedaya.
“We are reminded of the sanctity of life,” Rabbi Schectman said in the Sabbath prayers. “We are reminded that all lives are sacred… as we mourn victims [of gun violence], we are reminded that after hardship is always ease.”
Rev McIlrath read from the Book of Revelations, followed by words from Dr Woodall, who noted what a “humbling honor it is to watch this vast religious history unfold here,” as he looked out over the room. The purpose of the one true God, he said, is to reveal the true gems that live within each person.
“We have been through fire… we owe it all to whom we lost to find the true gems… We must see the gems in each other,” he urged.
Then, hands covered faces and heads bowed as Adath Israel member Steven Bamberg and Rev Combs intoned the names of the 26 who died at Sandy Hook School.
“Exalted, compassionate God, grant peace… to the souls of all those we have recalled today… May they rest in Paradise… find shelter beneath your sheltering wings… may they rest in peace,” translated Rabbi Praver from the Memorial Prayer he sang first in Hebrew, his voice filling the stillness of the room.
“It is a sacred day for us, here in this community… a day of remembrance and grief,” said Rev Crebbin as he spoke to the gathering. “[It is] a holy night for our Jewish brothers and sisters… and appropriate for us all to be together,” he continued. “Our compassion and our love must know no bounds… Violence against any one is against all of us.”
Pausing for a time of quiet meditation, Rev Crebbin invited those present to take a moment to write a word or phrase on cards provided. The words, he said, could be any of the thoughts that come from the different journeys, “what has brought you here after six years… Release and give it to the holiest of holies.”
After reflection, the cards were carried forward and deposited in a basket at the altar “to be prayed over… and offered to God,” said Rev Crebbin, assuring all that the words would remain private.
“We come together as a community,” said Rev Tanner, when all had returned to their seats. “Even though it has been six years… our hearts still ache… “ He noted the need to love one another, “to be supportive of our neighbors… Help us to show kindness to someone else.”
Rabbi Schectman again addressed the congregation, explaining that the Mourner’s Kaddish, which had followed the Memorial Prayer, is “not a prayer about death; it is a prayer about our faith and the goodness of life.”
“In the days and weeks and months ahead, may rain fall softly on your brow,” prayed Rabbi Schectman and Rev Montgomery in the final Blessing and Benediction. “May the burdens of this day rest lightly on you… Teach us to make our days count… comfort your servants… grant us days of happiness equal to those we suffered. May the peace of the Lord, our God be upon us.”
The blessings over the wine and challah concluded the Service of Remembrance.
An invitation for community, refreshments, and Shabbat sweets drew many to remain, sharing hugs and greetings quietly.
“We needed to be here tonight,” commented one woman, before leaving. “We needed to be here.”
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