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.”
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.
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.