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.