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Rabbi Jennifer Krause Headshot

Brothers in Arms: Isaac, Ishmael and Sandy Hook

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Biblical tales of brothers and sisters are infamously fraught. The Book of Genesis offers one of the first, if not one of the most well-known and tragically unresolved, fissures between two siblings: Isaac and Ishmael.

Isaac and Ishmael, both the sons of Abraham, truly are relative strangers. They are the fathers of two separate peoples who lead entirely separate lives. Yet when Abraham dies the two brothers appear out of nowhere to bury their father. The Bible lends this moment but two verses (only one of which mentions the brothers by name), and then sadly the siblings move on.

By the time this week has ended, some 47 siblings will have buried their 26 beloved brothers and sisters. Most of those siblings are children themselves. One of them, Arielle, will have buried her twin brother, Noah Pozner -- the youngest victim of the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre.

Rather than one day dancing at his younger brother's wedding and offering an embarrassing, yet good-natured toast (as brothers and sisters so often do on these happy occasions), Michael Pozner eulogized his 6-year-old brother instead. Isaiah Marquez-Greene now will sit at the piano alone, rather than singing and playing "Come Now, Almighty King" side-by-side with his sister, Ana, as these siblings loved to do. Twenty-nine-year old Rachel D'Avino's two younger sisters will not see her boyfriend's planned surprise proposal on Christmas Eve. Madeleine Hsu's two sisters will find an empty space in the bed they shared with her, even though the three little girls had their own rooms. Erin and Brittany will not get to sing "All I Want for Christmas is My Two Front Teeth" with their little brother, Chase Kowalski to echo what Chase really did want from Santa this year.

This nightmarish scroll of losses goes on and on, the moments infinite in number of what every single one of these brothers and sisters -- older and younger, adult and child -- will miss with their siblings long after these surreal days of memorials and wakes and funerals and burials come to an end.

The spooling record of woe also includes the gunman's mother, Nancy, whom we know all too well was the first to be murdered with one of her guns in the family home. Nancy's two brothers and one sister will lay her to rest. The gunman also had a brother of his own.

We, those of whom are not the brothers and sisters of the slain or of their survivors, have borne witness to the horror of Sandy Hook and its wake from the minute its news invaded our daily round. And just as immediately as the details grew worse, every human being in our nation has leapt to action by bringing out our best. Every hour we see beautiful examples of the way a country can become one community, of the myriad ways otherwise complete strangers reach out to strangers. We perform random acts of kindness, and our flags fly at half mast in every city and state; we pray publicly and privately, hold candlelight vigils, and even make pilgrimages to Connecticut to bring comfort to those in a town most of us had never heard of until Dec. 14. Our differences -- whether religious, cultural or political -- fall by the wayside.

Already, however, this unity fades.

The right to bear arms in this country is one of the most contentious issues we face over and over again in what far too long ago became a history of far too similar, and yet distinctly gruesome events. Passions run high and positions remain intractable even among those who genuinely ache for the victims of these massacres. True sentiments aside, a shameful display of inaction continues as each side of these so-called conversations goes its separate way.

This is the Isaac and Ishmael pattern: set aside differences and unite as brothers long enough to stand beside a grave, only to disappear from one another's lives again when the funerals are over. This pattern must cease for brotherhood's sake.

One of the permanent gashes in the fabric of life that exist in the wake of Sandy Hook is that the siblings of the slain now are brothers and sisters in arms: Olivia Engel's brother, Brayden and Grace McDonnell's big brother, Jack; Anne Marie Murphy's sisters and brothers, Mary Pat and Alice and Catherine and Hugh and Thomas; Jessica Rekos' little brothers, Travis and Shane; Caroline Previdi's brother, Walker -- they and all of the other surviving siblings will be forever related by a Bushmaster semiautomatic and the multiple 30-round magazines that issued forth from it, along with a Sig-Sauer 9mm and a Glock 9mm. And they, too, have become brothers and sisters in arms with Dallas Green, Christina-Taylor Green's older brother, with whom he used to volunteer in soup kitchens before Christina-Taylor was gunned down in a Tucson, Ariz., grocery store parking lot at the age of 9 in a spray of gunfire from a 9mm Glock semiautomatic pistol with a 33-round magazine. And they, too, have become brothers and sisters in arms with Daniel Velasquez, who buried his younger brother, Kyle in yet another deadly shower of 151 9mm rounds (not counting the other shotguns) at Columbine. This kind of kinship is anathema to the human family.

Before Isaac and Ishmael arrived on the scene, God created Adam -- the first human, from whom each and every one of us is descended. In fact, we are called B'nei Adam -- "the children of Adam." As we know from our own families, although we may share the same parent, we are different from our siblings. The Talmudic sages offer an explanation for these differences in thought and appearance, in mind and personality, in paths traveled, and approaches to life by likening our creation to that of minting coins. When a machine does the minting, each one is exactly the same. However when God does the minting, while the mold is the same no two human beings ever are exactly alike. This inherent uniqueness in every brother and sister in the human family, the awareness that each person brings things to this world that he or she -- and he or she alone -- can bring, the notion that when we leave this world we take something integral and inimitable to its repair with us are the reasons why any loss is a loss not just for the families, but for our Family.

Let us acknowledge right now without apology, without fear and with actions that outweigh words that we are at war with guns that belong in the hands of soldiers and first responders, not civilians. Let us acknowledge that we are at war with those guns that turn grocery store parking lots and movie theaters and schools and offices into bloody battlefields. Let us acknowledge what we all know to be true: that tragedy and loss is beyond our control, but that when we do have the power to exercise some measure of control over how much we must lose and how much we must mourn in life, it is a crime against humanity not to do it.

Now is the moment for every person in power in this nation to step up, present, and pass any form of legislation that can possibly prevent more irreplaceable, invaluable members of the human family from leaving this earth pumped full of bullets in their bodies, leaving wounds that will never heal in their loved ones souls and a world that much further away from being healed without them.

As children of Adam, as brothers and sisters in the family of humankind, it is not enough for us to be at our best when we bury our dead and move on. We can only be our best by taking decisive, tough and lasting action to move us forward before the caskets march in front of us again.