December 14, 2012, Adam Lanza murdered 26 students and teachers at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut before fatally shooting himself with a Bushmaster XM15-E2S rifle, legally purchased and licensed by his mother, whom he had killed earlier.
The shooting shocked the world and sparked an ongoing national conversation about gun control.
To mark the first anniversary of the tragedy, Rabbi Menachem Creditor of the Conservative Congregation Netivot Shalom in Berkeley, California has written a special version of El Malei Rachamim, the Jewish prayer for the dead, for the victims of the Newtown, Connecticut mass shooting.
He hopes the prayer’s recitation by Jews and non-Jews alike will help heal the soul of the country. According to Creditor, a few dozen Jewish congregations and organizations have committed to reciting it.
Over the past year, tens of thousands of Americans have been killed by gun violence. The number varies depending on who is doing the counting and how. Slate has found 11,404 deaths by gunshot reported in the media, while information compiled by Centers for Disease Control indicates that more than 33,000 people have been killed by guns since Newtown. Mother Jones reports at least 194 children have been shot in the last year.
“The attention of the Jewish community has waxed and waned when it comes to this issue. We’ve lost the Jewish passion to demand gun laws,” says Creditor, who has been very active in the campaign for more and better gun control laws.
Creditor is involved with efforts by PICO, a national, non-partisan network of faith-based community organizations, to reduce gun violence and get effective gun control legislation passed. Last January, he was among nine rabbis who participated in a gathering of 80 clergy in Washington, D.C. to speak out against gun violence. He also met with Vice President Joe Biden’s policy team working on gun violence legislation, as well as with White House staff.
Earlier this year, Creditor edited a collection of writings by rabbis about gun violence titled, “Peace in our Cities,” which has been distributed widely on Capitol Hill.
People familiar with El Malei Rachamim will recognize Creditor uses its traditional order and structure, but changes the content to reflect a different theological stance.
“It is less calm, less accepting of what is happening in the world,” the rabbi says.
Creditor says he was partially influenced by Israeli poet Yehuda Amichai’s prayerful poem, “El Malei Rachimim,” in which he states there would be more mercy in the world if God Himself were not so merciful.
Creditor says that post-Biblical theology falls short.
“We’ve become so confused about human responsibility that we’ve allowed prayer to reinforce our helplessness,” he says. “Prayer is supposed to galvanize human agency.”
“God, grant us the courage, wisdom and endurance to change our world into a safer, saner place, the world You dreamt of, a world where Your Portion is one we extend each other through unending, unfailing, unconditional human concern,” he writes.
‘Even one life saved makes it worthwhile’
Creditor says rabbis and other religious leaders will need stamina to fight a long-term battle for gun control.
“For faith leaders, this is going to be an endurance race with the National Rifle Association,” he says. “But even one life saved makes it worthwhile.”
An obvious twist on one of the most recognizable lines of the traditional prayer makes Creditor’s message unmistakable.
“Adonai, do not bind us by death into Your Eternal Bond of Life. We have far too much living to do first.”