These are the names of the 19 children and their two teachers who were shot dead in Uvalde, Texas, on May 24, 2022:
Alexandria “Lexi” Aniyah Rubio, 10
Alithia Ramirez, 10
Amerie Jo Garza, 10
Annabell Guadalupe Rodriguez, 10
Eliahna “Ellie” Amyah Garcia, 9
Eliahna A. Torres, 10
Eva Mireles, 44
Irma Garcia, 48
Jackie Cazares, 9
Jailah Nicole Silguero, 10
Jayce Carmelo Luevanos, 10
Jose Manuel Flores Jr., 10
Layla Salazar, 11
Maite Yuleana Rodriguez, 10
Makenna Lee Elrod, 10
Maranda Mathis, 11
Nevaeh Bravo, 10
Rojelio Torres, 10
Tess Marie Mata, 10
Xavier Lopez, 10
Say their names out loud—say them slowly, deliberately. Say their names until they come together to form an impromptu Kaddish—the Jewish prayer of mourning. In the wake of 9/11, I got into the habit of speaking aloud the names of the dead. For months, I read every single short biography of the 9/11 victims published in The New York Times. I wanted to sanctify the memories of those people even though I had never met them. It was my private Kaddish.
Baruch Dayan Emet, I said after each profile I read. “Blessed is the True Judge.” That is the phrase one traditionally says upon first hearing of a death. The words imply that God is in charge. Yet it feels to me like God is a bystander against this backdrop of chaos we’ve unleashed in our world.
After Sandy Hook, I again took in the names of victims—20 of them were children, and the other six were teachers who died trying to shield their young students. Saying Baruch Dayan Emet felt gruel-thin and disingenuous.
In the wake of 9/11, “thoughts and prayers”—that do-nothing phrase—continuously pinged in my brain. I was depleted. How can any thought or prayer convey there will never be another person on earth like the children and teachers in Sandy Hook that a deranged teenage monster gunned down?
Take a beat to ponder that those children, frozen in time and memory as 6-year-olds, would have been entering high school this fall. I try to catch my breath after writing that sentence. Yitgadal v’yitkadash sh’may rabba. “Exalted and hallowed be [God’s] great name.”
Saying their names helps the dead avoid being a statistic, at least for a while. But there are so many names to memorialize that it overwhelms. There are nearly 3,000 names carved into the bronze walls surrounding the reflecting pools at the World Trade Center. The AIDS Quilt has 48,000 memorial panels, and there are 58,000 names etched into granite at the Vietnam Memorial. And now we are collecting the names of children murdered in their classrooms. Where will they be listed?
Australia, Japan, Norway and the UK have strict gun control laws. As a result, Australia has had one mass shooting in 26 years. Gun-related deaths in the other countries have been minimal. The year isn’t even half over, and we’ve had more than 200 mass shootings in the United States. Robb Elementary School in Uvalde was the 27th school shooting in 2022. It’s not the violent video games, it’s not even mental illness that fuels this nightmare. As Australia and other countries have definitively proved, it’s easy access to guns, full stop.
Americans love their guns so much that they’re willing to look the other way as people are gunned down in supermarkets, movie theaters and schools—where people gather. This is unbearable, yet we are so inured to boys (usually) and their guns that we allow these murders to happen time and again. We elect immoral men like Donald Trump, Ted Cruz and Greg Abbott, who didn’t seem to give a second’s thought about speaking at the NRA convention in Houston two days after the Uvalde mass murder. Let that sink in. A former president, a sitting governor and a United States senator trampled on the makeshift graves erected down the road of 19 slaughtered children.
When something bad happened beyond her comprehension, my Latinx mother cried out, “Eso no tiene nombre.” “This has no name.” A traumatized imagination cannot absorb acts of horror. And now another round of flash obituaries accompanied by pictures of smiling children and adults memorialize the devastating loss in Uvalde. It numbs the soul and mind.
The Mourner’s Kaddish, with its chewy Aramaic and strange combination of consonants and off-kilter vowels, is Hebrew’s estranged cousin. The unfamiliar words are part of the extreme disorientation that comes on after sudden, shocking deaths. But in this case, let’s call it what it is: mass murder. Jewish tradition holds that children mourn their parents for almost a year—11 months, to be exact. At the 12-month mark, a parent’s soul is assumed to be righteous enough to ascend to heaven on its own power. The lore of Kaddish is a fairytale of hope.
According to the natural order of things, children should survive their parents. But how can a parent survive the death of a child? Eso no tiene nombre. Jews are only required to grieve siblings and children for 30 days, a holdover from when so many young children died in other epidemics throughout the ages. As we endure a health pandemic that has thus far killed millions of people, we are in the crosshairs of another deadly epidemic because a sick and twisted interpretation of the Second Amendment has been allowed to fester. Guns in the hands of people who should never have them are killing our children.
Tell me, senators, governors and former presidents, how can you compare muskets from the 1700s with assault rifles of the 21st century solely intended to gun down people? I hope you are condemned for all of eternity to scrubbing our children’s blood off your hands until those hands are raw.
I can no longer say Baruch Dayan Emet after a school shooting. My rabbi suggests substituting: HaNigalot Lanu v’HaNistarot L’Ah-do-nai Eloheinu—“What is revealed we can see, but that which is unfathomable is God’s.” I am tired of feeling my way in the dark.
I take some solace that the Kaddish ends with a wish for peace. Oseh Shalom bimramav, hoo yaaeshah shalom, alenu v’al kol Yisrael—“May the one who brings peace to His universe bring peace to us and all of Israel.” I pray I can say “amen” to that peace one day soon.