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Fort Lee Residents Hold Candlelight Vigil in Wake of Newtown Massacre

The vigil took place Monday evening in Fort Lee’s Monument Park, where people read from scripture, prayed, offered words of comfort and shared personal stories in the wake of the tragic events of Friday, Dec. 14, 2012 in Newtown, Connecticut.

Dozens of Fort Lee residents joined local clergy and community leaders at Monument Park Monday for a candlelight vigil for the victims, family and community members of Newtown, Conn., where a school shooting Friday claimed the lives of 20 children—six- and seven-year-olds—and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

Fort Lee resident Kathy Lee, the mother of a six-year-old boy, said her heart was broken, along with those of mothers everywhere, when she heard about what happened in Connecticut Friday, and that no words could possibly comfort the families of the victims.

“But we are here for one reason only: to say that we are so sorry for their loss, and that we are so sad for their loss, and that we are crying with them,” Lee said. “Our hearts are with them every second as we take our children to school every morning.”

John Lennon’s “Imagine” played over the makeshift sound system at Monument Park as people tried to light their candles, something that proved difficult to do in the wind and light rain that began to fall just as the ceremony was about to begin.

Still, Rev. Allison Moore of The Church of the Good Shepherd, Rabbi Neil Winkler of Young Israel of Fort Lee, Pastor Won Kwak of Maranatha Grace Fort Lee, Pastor Rick Spenst of Fort Lee Gospel Church, Pastor Richard Lee of Bethany Well Church, Pastor Dominick Apollo of The First Reformed Church of the Palisades and Rabbi Meir Berger of The New Synagogue of Fort Lee read from scripture, prayed, shared stories and offered words of comfort.

Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich found himself uncharacteristically and admittedly at a loss for words. Instead, he shared a personal story about worrying about his son’s college tuition before the tragedy occurred Friday.

“I have a new perspective on life as I look at things; as I look at the problems that were once to me insurmountable and the most important things in the world, they’re not nearly as important,” Sokolich said. “When you experience events such as this, time dulls that after a while. After three or four days the bill becomes a big problem again, and then you begin to focus on the grades again.”

But, he added, “I’m not so sure this one leaves me; I think this one stays with me for the rest of my life because I couldn’t possibly think of something more horrific.”

Winkler noted that the tragedy occurred on the sixth day of Hanukkah, “our festival of lights.”

“Darkness descended over the nation,” Winkler said. “We were left in shock, and we were left with questions.”

He said people wanted to know who would commit such heinous crimes against “the innocent, the vulnerable, the helpless” and that they wanted to find “someone to blame.”

“Unfortunately it wasn’t that simple,” Winkler said. “And finding someone to blame does not take the responsibility off of our shoulders to ask the more painful questions.”

Winkler also translated from a children’s song, traditionally sung during Hanukkah, saying, “Each individual is but a small light, but united together, we are a powerful beacon.”

“There are not simple answers to our questions, but we can be a powerful beacon for the future if we stand together,” he said.

Spenst said, “Tragedy never happens on our schedule or in good times,” noting that the tragedy in Newtown happened during Advent season “as we sing joyous Christmas songs and focus in on really a joyous and a happy time of year.”

Moore asked people to turn to the person next to them “and say something to them and then listen to your neighbor’s response of what we can take from this.”

“What do you want for comfort?” Moore asked. “Because I think part of our response in the next weeks is going to be to try and share comfort, try and share random acts of kindness, try and hug each other and move toward comfort in the face of Rachel weeping and refusing to be comforted.”

After United Homeowners of the Borough of Fort Lee president Diane Sicheri read a poem by an unknown author called “Lullabies,” Apollo and Lee read the names of all 20 children and six adults who were killed at Sandy Hook Elementary, mentioning the age of each victim as they said each name.

After the vigil, those gathered in the cold were invited inside the Fort Lee Museum to write messages “from your heart to show our concern and that we share our sorrow with them,” as Kathy Lee put it, adding that those messages would be sent to the people of Newtown.

Arya F. Jenkins December 19, 2012 at 03:11 AM
A touching event, a moment in a long series of reflections about the devastation incurred by violence, the violence that erupted in Newtown, the violence caused by guns, by war, by senseless and cruel acts. It brought people together and solidified intentions to create change for the better in our society.
carol simon December 20, 2012 at 03:42 AM
I am writing more for myself than about gun control or mental illness, as the recent horrific incident incites feelings related to my own life experience. I lost my brother, William Simon, to a random heinous crime of murder and the perpetrators were juveniles possessing guns. I just visited my brother’s grave last month as he was murdered during Thanksgiving by teens trapped in a violent mentality, gangs, and guns. This year was the first time that the grief was beginning to heal. Then … The heinous, unthinkable murder of these children and adults has been difficult to process. There is no way to say good-bye to one’s child or loved one. It is beyond words and I’ve tried not to feel the depth of sadness. I spent time in our music room with my student’s (some diagnosed with Asbergers , not correlated with mental illness) I found myself sobbing when a song dedicated to the deaths of so many children was sung. I did not want to feel so deeply anymore, and I was proud to tell my brother at his grave that the pain is beginning to lessen. Perhaps, his daughter Amanda, graduating from college helped put some closure or marker to his grave. However, When I think about the demise, the sheer snuffing out of so many people, innocent children, I know how much each family will suffer endlessly. This tragedy is unimaginable, yet the incidence grows. The failure of our health care system may supersede the need for gun control. This nation must do better.

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