Tuesday, April 27, 1999

Tristate traveler: Littleton 'broken'

Rabbinical student goes every 2 weeks

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Anne Persin, a rabbinical student at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, has traveled to Littleton, Colo., every other week for eight months now — but last weekend was different.

        Two days before her arrival Thursday, teen-age gunmen had killed 13 people at Columbine High School before killing themselves. Residents were left to wonder why, and as student rabbi at Littleton's Congregation B'nai Chaim, Ms. Persin struggled to help them understand.

        “Everyone (in the congregation) knew someone who died,” said Ms. Persin, 25, who returned to Cincinnati on Sunday. “It was clear the minute I left the airport that this was a city in mourning, especially in Littleton. People were in a daze, people were in shock, looking at each other carefully — not in fear, but as if to say, "Wait a minute. You're my neighbor.'”

No blaming
        Students at Hebrew Union often serve as student rabbis at congregations too small to support a full-time rabbi, flying to their pulpits on weekends to conduct services. Ms. Persin began at B'nai Chaim, a 75-family congregation, in September.

        Although she wasn't scheduled to go last week, she decided to head west after hearing about the shootings. On the plane ride out, she read When Bad Things Happen to Good People, by Rabbi Harold Kushner, anticipating that questions of faith and doubts would confront her.

        But to her surprise, the congregation was dwelling on other things.

        “There was no blaming of God,” Ms. Persin said. “... I was prepared to work through the blaming, but nobody pointed a finger at the parents or the police. People were conscious of the fact that there was a countless number of factors that fed into this.”

"A long road'
        Discussions with younger children centered on outcasts and what it's like to be made fun of. And with two teens in the congregation, both students at Columbine High, there was a lingering sense of disbelief. The brother and sister had gone home for lunch, with the girl leaving just five minutes before the rampage began.

        “She knew she couldn't dwell on the "what if?' But still the question was on her mind,” Ms. Persin said.

        The third-year rabbinical student will return this weekend and will continue as student rabbi at B'nai Chaim through the 1999-2000 school year. She anticipates that the healing from last week's shootings will take at least that long.

        “To be at peace means to be whole again,” she said. “This is a broken community. Their will is broken, their spirit is broken, and in some cases their faith is broken. It's going to be a long road to become whole again.”

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