NEW YORK — The small western Connecticut Jewish community was reeling from the news of the shooting at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut on Friday in which 27 were killed, 20 of them children.
“As we light candles for the seventh night of Hanukkah and for Shabbat, our hearts are heavy with the tragic news,” Shelly Katz, the executive director of the Jewish Federation of Western Connecticut, headquartered in neighboring Southbury, wrote in a letter to the local community Friday.
According to Katz, the school only goes to the 4th grade. Most of the dead were kindergarteners.
Information trickled in slowly throughout the day, with confusion about numbers and identities of both victims and shooters.
“There are some Jewish families that attend the elementary school there, and as far as I know I think they’re all okay,” Katz told the Times of Israel Friday, but added that she’s “still waiting to hear about one particular child.”
“But our concern is for everyone,” she noted. And the community was already preparing on Friday to meet the needs of the victims’ families.
“The Jewish family service has created a list of available therapists in the community. I’m sure we’re going to open a [fundraising] line to help families [pay for] burials and things like that, things they never planned for with kids at this young age,” she said.
“Our very first step is to assess the need. Whatever the needs are, for therapists, food or burial, we’ll do it,” she vowed.
While the tragedy has left the community stunned, Katz is taking some comfort in the outpouring of concern from abroad.
“Thank you for taking an interest,” she told the Times of Israel, and related that Israel’s Consul-General in New York, Ido Aharoni, had called shortly after the shooting to extend condolences and ask how the State of Israel could help.
“Certainly Israel knows better how to deal with this than any community ever,” she sighed.
Newtown itself has only one synagogue, Congregation Adath Israel, whose Rabbi Shaul Praver could not be reached Friday, not even by Katz, as he dealt with the needs on the ground.
Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman, a prominent member of the Connecticut Jewish community, reacted with horror to the news of the shooting Friday, saying he and his wife Hadassah “are shocked and heartbroken by the horrific events in Newtown today.”
In a statement, the senator said he and his wife “know this community and its people well. It is a beautiful town with wonderful people. As parents and grandparents, our hearts grieve for them today, and we send our prayers to each of them.”
He promised to “do everything in my power to assist the victims, survivors and their loved ones in the long days ahead,” and commended “the work of our local authorities and first responders for their dedication today in Newtown. I hope that all those involved are able to work together in the coming days as details become more clear, and that families in the Newtown community may have some semblance of peace during this holiday season. All of our prayers are with those in Newtown.”
Prayer ended every message coming out of Connecticut on Friday, including Katz’s letter to the community.
“May God grant peace and serenity to the community,” she wrote.