Tuesday, January 14, 2014

This time not a rock star

I have never been a rabbi to the stars because my pulpits have been in Springfield, MA, Framingham, MA, and Queens, NY. Not the center of the “Scene.” But just like 7 degrees of separation to Kevin Bacon, I have had my brushes with famous people. 

When I was a rabbi in Springfield, the local funeral director asked me to officiate at Mama Cass’ mother’s funeral.  Cass Elliot had been long dead of an overdose back in 1974, but who doesn’t listen from time to time songs from the Mamas and the Pappas.  Once at one of my Framingham’s member funeral, I saw a group of long haired, not appropriately dressed men standing in the back of the sanctuary.  I paid little attention to them.  At the cemetery one of them came over to me and complimented me on my eulogy.  He was especially interested in one of the readings (adapted from the Wisdom of Ben Sira, if you are familiar with the old R.A. manual) I read in her memory.  I asked if he would like a copy, I would send it to him. He told me he would like it very much so I asked him who he was and where should I send it.  Then he gave me such a look like “How can you not recognize me?!”  He gave me his card and it turned out that he was Steven Tyler and his mates were the band Aerosmith.  I later learned that the deceased’s daughter is married to the drummer and the band came to pay their respects. Tyler’s reaction to me just proves what I have always said about myself.  When somebody tells me to be there or be square, I tell them that I can do both!  Finally here in Queens I buried Billy Crystal's uncle.

My next encounter happened this passed Sunday.  I buried Enta Pozner.  She was born in Lithuania, then a state of the former Soviet Union.  She escaped the Nazis by being evacuated east close to the Chinese border.  Her family was eventually able to leave the Soviet Union in 1973.  By 1975 she, her husband, and her two sons moved to America.  At first I didn’t realize it, but she was the grandmother of Noah Pozner, 6 years old and one of the youngest children murdered in Sandy Hook, CT last December.

Hannah Mallck wrote :  “Noah Pozner, 6, was one of the 20 child victims in the Sandy Hook shooting in Newtown, Conn., on Dec. 14. All the dead were shot between three and 11 times. Tiny Noah took 11 bullets. His mother, Veronique, insisted on an open coffin, Naomi Zeveloff reported in the Jewish Daily Forward.
“You’ll probably remember Noah. He was a happy little guy with beautiful heavily lashed eyes and a cheerful smile. In his coffin, there was a cloth placed over the lower part of his face.
“There was no mouth left,” his mother told the Forward. “His jaw was blown away.”
“She put a stone in his right hand, a “clear plastic rock with a white angel inside.” She wanted to put a matching stone in his left hand but he had no left hand to speak of.
“Parents of the dead children were advised to identify them from photographs, such was the carnage. But every parent reacts differently. Veronique Pozner did the most difficult thing. She asked to see the body. Zeveloff asked her why.
“I owed it to him as his mother, the good, the bad and the ugly,” she said. “. . . And as a little boy, you have to go in the ground. If I am going to shut my eyes to that I am not his mother. I had to bear it. I had to do it.”

When the governor of Connecticut arrived, she brought him to see Noah in the open casket. “If there is ever a piece of legislation that comes across his desk, I needed it to be real for him.” The governor wept.
“Death by gun isn’t real to us because we see it only in the movies. We occasionally see photos of human beings as meat, but they are almost always meat belonging to non-white foreigners after a bombing.
And that’s why Noah’s mother asked the governor to come and see her child’s corpse. He had already been told. He had to see it for himself.”  For the full article go to http://www.thestar.com/opinion/editorialopinion/2013/01/22/mallick_why_newtown_victim_noah_pozner_had_an_open_coffin.html

Of course the father is still reeling from that tragedy only to bury his mother a year later. I told him that the Newtown massacre truly moved me to do something.  Besides giving several sermons on the topic of curbing gun violence including one on the High Holidays, I have formed a team in my synagogue to work towards that goal.  Already another shul has joined the team and we hope to make it a regional force for good by inviting other synagogues to join our effort.  We are in consultation with the Brady Campaign and Moms Demand Action to be more effective. I hope he was comforted.

I can tell you that I have never felt prouder of my Rabbinical work as I did that moment knowing I was living out my Judaism.   Since Noah’s death, another 30,000 Americans have died due to gun violence. Abraham Joshua Heschel once said: “Not all are guilty, but all are responsible.” We are our brother’s keeper.  Consequently, all are invited to our next team meeting to reduce gun violence, Monday, January 27 at 7:45 here at Marathon JCC.  

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