Last week, the Connecticut State Attorney issued a long-awaited report on the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown. The report painted a clearer picture of the events of last December 14, and also provided details of shooter Adam Lanza’s life — his untreated “Asperger’s characteristics,” his love of Dance Dance Revolution and his obsession with the deadly school shooting at Columbine High.
What it didn’t include was the detail I needed to know: the number of times six-year-old Noah Pozner was shot.
This week, the Forward’s web site was overwhelmed by traffic from the social news site Reddit, which featured my piece about the Newtown school rampage, “Wrestling With the Details of Noah Pozner’s Killing.” In the post, I outlined and explained the Forward’s decision to publish Noah’s mother’s description of her son’s body during our December 23 interview.
“[Noah’s] jaw was blown away,” Veronique Pozner told me. “I just want people to know the ugliness of it so we don’t talk about it abstractly, like these little angels just went to heaven. No. They were butchered. They were brutalized.”
Why, a month after the killings, does the story of a Newtown mother’s insistence on sharing the brutality of her son’s death continue to resonate so strongly? The answer might be found in the Reddit thread, which attracted thousands of comments. Several users compared Veronique Pozner to Mamie Till Mobley, the mother of Emmett Till.
Emmett Till was a 14-year-old African-American boy whose 1955 murder helped galvanize the civil rights movement. Originally from Chicago, Till was visiting relatives in Mississippi where he was accused of flirting with a white female shopkeeper.
This post originally appeared on the web site of the Dart Society, an independent association of journalists who cover violence and tragedy.
Nine days after Veronique Pozner’s son, Noah, was killed in the Newtown schools shootings, I interviewed her and other members of the family about their grieving process. The family had just finished observing the official Jewish mourning period.
I spent over an hour with Veronique; she talked me through her experience on December 14 and the days that followed. Her story was filled with moving and harrowing details: her dream of wandering an abandoned building calling out for Noah, her meeting with President Obama at a vigil at the local high school and her decision to get a tattoo of angel wings and Noah’s name the day after his death. The details that stuck with me the most — and the details which I felt most conflicted about putting in print — were Veronique’s descriptions of the damage to her son’s body. He was shot multiple times; she told me that his jaw and his left hand were mostly gone.
There were certain things Veronique wanted for Noah’s funeral. She felt that his body had suffered too many indignities already; she was adamant that he not be autopsied. She wanted him to be buried with a Jewish prayer shawl and with a clear stone with a white angel inside — an “angel stone” — in each of his hands. Veronique was only able to put the stone in his right hand because the left was “not altogether there,” she told me, crying for the first time in our interview. She asked the funeral director to put the other one in the left hand spot. “I made him promise and he did.”
Veronique told me that Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy visited her in the funeral home, and she brought him to see Noah’s open casket. I asked her why it was important for her and for the governor to see Noah’s body. “I needed it to have a face for him,” she said. “If there is ever a piece of legislation that comes across his desk, I needed it to be real for him.”
Are Jewish journalists exploiting Noah Pozner’s death because he was the only Jewish child killed in the Newtown school massacre? That’s the provocative question raised in a blog post by Simi Lichtman, the associate editor of New Voices magazine and a Forward contributor. And her answer is: yes.
Lichtman wrote that she is “more than a little disturbed” by the way Jewish publications latched onto every detail of Noah’s short life simply to sell a story, looking for any “obscure slant” that would make the nationwide tragedy a Jewish one. This, she says, is an aspect to her new profession that she finds “downright disillusioning.”
She’s pinpointed a genuine struggle that all of us who take our Jewish journalism seriously confront daily. Our professional lives, like our personal ones, are a balance between a strictly religious/ethnic focus and an interest in the wider secular society in which we (mostly) easily reside. Focus too narrowly on only the Jewish story and we seem parochial and self-obsessed. Open the lens too widely and we’re just like everyone else in media, losing our distinctive edge.
But what Lichtman fails to appreciate is that every community in America — racial, religious, geographic, gender-based — looks at the news through its own prism. And, in fact, it is our duty and our privilege to provide those stories to the Jewish world, and beyond.
If in the days after the shooting everyone we know is talking about Newtown, shouldn’t we? If readers are flocking to these stories online — visits to the Forward’s website on the day of Noah Pozner’s funeral hit an all-time high — shouldn’t our work reflect our community’s interests and concerns?
Noah Pozner loved tacos. Now, we’re finding out he liked a particular fondue restaurant, too.
As family and friends trade happy memories of Noah, the 6-year-old Jewish boy killed in the Newtown school shooting, his older sister Danielle recalled Noah’s last trip to his favorite restaurant, The Melting Pot.
Not content with his own pot of melted cheese, Danielle remembered, the little boy with a big appetite for life wanted to try out hers, too.
“He always marched to the beat of his own drum and was incredibly stubborn, so I figured it was no use to try and dissuade him,” Danielle recalled in a statement posted on her grandmother’s blog. “Upon dipping his bread into our pot of cheese and trying it, he exclaimed, ‘Wow, that is the best cheese I ever had!!!’ He did not hesitate to take more, as much as he wanted, a smile on his face the whole time.”
The Melting Pot eatery closest to Newtown in Darien, Conn., had no idea that Noah was so a regular visitor.
Insisting she is no politician, the mother of Noah Pozner is speaking out to demand action to prevent another shooting rampage like the one that claimed her son in Newtown, Conn.
Veronique Pozner told CNN’s Anderson Cooper that she cannot understand how the Newtown killer was able to get his hands on a automatic weapon that allowed him to kill so many innocents so quickly.
“Every mother can relate …. It takes nine months to create a human being,” Veronique Pozner said. “And it takes seconds for an AR-15 to take that away from the surface of this earth.”
The AR-15 is the assault-style weapon that Adam Lanza used to kill 27 people before turning the gun on himself on December 14 at the Sandy Hook Elementary School.
“It wasn’t just my son. It was (27) others souls who left the earth that day because that weapon fell into the hands of a tormented soul,” she said. “And that haunts me.”
Seth and Hindy Poupko Galena freely admit they do not know what it feels like to be affected by senseless gun violence.
But the Jewish couple does know the pain of losing a young child, having struggled as their 2-year-old daughter, Ayelet, fought a losing battle with a rare bone marrow disease.
When Seth Galena heard the eulogies for Noah Pozner, the Jewish boy who died in the Newtown school shooting, he wanted to do something to ease the pain of the family. He came up with“Tacos For Noah.”
“I read the eulogies given by Noah’s mother and uncle, both of which mentioned his love of tacos. The tacos really stuck with me,” Seth Galena, 35, said. “I printed out Noah’s photo Tuesday morning and put it up on my office wall and kept looking at it.”
Seth Galena told some of his co-workers at VML, an advertising firm, about his thoughts. In not much time at all, the idea to create a virtual taco factory for Noah was generated.
“You wanted to be a doctor, a soldier, a taco factory manager. It was your favorite food, and no doubt you wanted to ensure that the world kept producing tacos,” Veronique Pozner said in a eulogy for her son Noah at his funeral on Monday.
Six-year-old Noah, who was murdered in the massacre at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., will tragically never get a chance to fulfill any of his dreams.
However, people can honor his memory by making the Mexican dish he so enjoyed. Some have posted online that they will have actual taco dinners and parties. Alternatively, others are making imaginary tacos as a sort of virtual comfort food for his bereaved family.
Tacos For Noah went online Tuesday, allowing anyone to post via Twitter the kind of taco they would like to make for Noah (or the variety they would have ordered from Noah’s taco factory).
“Noah Pozner wanted to work at a taco factory when he grew up. Tacos were his favorite food, and no doubt he wanted to ensure that the world kept producing tacos,” reads the introductory text on the website. “Help us create a virtual taco in his memory. Add your special ingredient below and tweet it. Voila! Tacos for Noah, all in memory of this very special Little Man!”
Like thousands of others, I read the headlines and Tweets from the Forward and other Jewish publications about the Newtown school massacre.
One read, “Rabbi consoles relatives of #Newtown shooting victims … fears one victim could be #jewish..” And I read replies on Facebook, which lambasted the paper for focusing on Jewish victims. They apparently interpreted highlighting Jewish victims as downplaying the grief we feel for all the victims, whatever their religion.
While part of me agrees that we should not write such ethnocentric headlines, another part of me wanted to read those stories first. And when I did, the tears came faster because the connection was a little more direct.
As outsiders not directly impacted by the events, we search for a way into the story. Since I grew up in a small town near Newtown and have a child in kindergarten, the news hit home on many levels.
We all search until we find a connection. Until that moment when it hits home and we can imagine our own children, our own schools, and, for a moment, our own grief.
Rabbi Shaul Praver moved many to tears when he recited El Maleh Rachamim, a prayer of mourning, at last night’s vigil for those killed in the deadly rampage in Newtown, Conn.
Today, he will oversee the funeral of Noah Pozner, the youngest victim of the shooting.