Newtown Rabbi Offers A Cure For Hatred

In 2012, immediately following the shooting in Newtown, Conn., host Scott Simon spoke with local Rabbi Shaul Praver. He said he wouldn't try to offer theological explanations of the horrific events, just emotional support for his congregation. A year later, Praver says the cure for hatred and violence is old-fashioned loving kindness.

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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. There was another school shooting yesterday, this time at Arapahoe High School in Centennial, Colorado. One student, the shooter, died; another is in critical condition. The news came on the eve, of course, of the anniversary of the shootings at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.

Now, a year ago we spoke with Rabbi Shaul Praver and we spoke with him again on Thursday. Rabbi Praver told us that people in Newtown were held together by kind of spiritual adrenalin at first, but as this year has gone by, some weeks have been tougher.

RABBI SHAUL PRAVER: After the media leaves and then you feel the real thug and the real weight of the event, at least, you know, the families themselves. And as a spiritual leader, you have to kind of almost, I would say, you know, pray your way through it, like literally saying out of service: Almighty, I'm here presiding over a congregation that has many different ways of healing and mourning and grieving. Surely there must be some way that we can overcome and walk this path together.

So you literally pray your way through, part those waters through a prayer because there is no right answer.

SIMON: You know, Rabbi, as I'm sure I don't have to tell you, there have been some other school shootings over the past year.

PRAVER: Um-huh.

SIMON: Do you think you might have learned something through the experience in Newtown that those other places should know, and for that matter, God forbid, the places in the year ahead that might have to suffer a kind of tragedy too?

PRAVER: I do have thoughts about it and I think I'm right, and I let the listener decide for themselves. There is no place where children are observed more than in school, and teachers know and can see when children have certain problems. As an educator myself, I sometimes have a child that in the back of my mind I'm thinking I really want to give that child some extra special attention because I think that that person, if they don't get that, could hurt themselves or others.

And we just, as professionals, as teachers, as spiritual leaders, we need to observe and reach out to people in a fashion that looks like, you know, tender, loving care doesn't look clinical or doesn't look like mental health therapy, but it just looks like caring.

SIMON: We are recording this on a Thursday. Do you have any idea what you're going to say on Saturday?

PRAVER: Our theme is acts of loving kindness, yes. I can put it in sort of a synopsis form. If somebody discovered the cure for cancer, nobody would think that that discovery had only a local value for the people in the room that discovered it. They would say that it has universal value.

We have found the cure for the social disease of violence, hatred and bigotry, and that cure is good old-fashioned loving kindness. When everyone practices that it does change the atmosphere of a room, of a town, of a community, of a state and a country. And so, it is not of only local value, but it is of universal value.

SIMON: Rabbi, I understand that you have studied and have to speak about some of the great crimes of history when you talk about Jewish history and talk about human history to your congregation.

PRAVER: Right.

SIMON: I am moved to ask though if the events of a year ago and seeing that close up and the suffering in your town close up have ever made you question the kindness of God.

PRAVER: It really hasn't because I don't see what the assailant did as an act of God. I see that assailant breaking the will of God and being a horrible sin of man. You can't have free will at the same time that we blame God for the evils of man. In this world, a person can either become exceedingly good or exceedingly bad and that free will is that blank check.

SIMON: Rabbi Shaul Praver at Adath Israel Congregation in Newtown, Connecticut. Rabbi, thanks for being with us again.

PRAVER: Thank you so very much. Pleasure to be here, Scott. Blessings to you.

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