My father, Howard Lasher, grew up on the corners of Suffolk and Houston streets on Manhattan’s Lower East Side.
It was not an easy childhood. His dad, Louis, died when my father was only 3, so it was just my dad and my grandmother, Ida, living together in a tiny apartment, making ends meet. My father was always a hard worker, and by the time he was 14 he already worked part time.
One of his jobs was a delivery boy for a jewelry store. He lost this job on the day of Don Larsen’s perfect game in 1956 World Series. It seems that my dad was to deliver a wedding ring for a wedding taking place that day, but he got sidetracked watching the perfect game on television, standing outside a storefront, one of a crowd of ecstatic fans. He did not make it to the wedding on time, and despite the historic game it seems that neither the store owner nor the bride and groom were pleased.
After attending CUNY at night, my father landed a position in the mail room of a Wall Street firm. It was the start of a very successful 40+ year career on Wall St. In 1980 my father decided to invest in a country home, but he did not want to buy in the Hamptons because he wanted a more serene, peaceful country atmosphere. He wanted his house to be at least metaphorically a long way from the sidewalks and concrete of Seward Park High School and the Lower East Side.
My father found this country refuge in Newtown, Conn. There were rolling hills, farms, ponds, birds, and wildlife galore. I remember the first time he took me to see it. It almost felt as if it were out of a fairy tale. In fact, my father once invited a friend whom he had not seen for some time to visit him there. The friend called him, an hour late already, and said, “I can’t find your home, Howard. I followed your directions but I drove into some park and had to turn around.”
The park was his home.
All of this was shattered in December, with the Newtown Sandy Hook school shootings and the murder of 26 beautiful souls, including so many children. My father was heartbroken. His special country refuge was shattered. But then the community rallied together in so many ways. My dad and others worked so hard to bring people together, to help them find resilience and strength.
As a board member of the Koby Mandell Foundation and a close friend of Rabbi Seth and Sherri Mandell, I knew the Mandells could offer love, support, and practical guidance and advice. Friends of mine in Englewood thought the same thing, and immediately started to call me, asking when we could get the Mandell’s to visit Newtown.
The Mandells 13-year-old son, Koby, was murdered in an unimaginable act of violence in the Jerusalem hills 12 years ago. Since then, they have devoted their lives to helping survivors and the families of victims of similar violence in Israel and around the world. The Mandells have developed an approach to helping children cope with loss and trauma in the safety of summer camp programs. They also offer support and therapy groups for grieving parents. They do this work through a charitable foundation established in their son’s name. The programs of the Koby Mandell Foundation are well respected and have been used as models in other regions touched by violence.
“Our point is to touch people, give people tools, and give a Jewish perspective on how we have transformed tragedy” said Sherri Mandell, who reached out to the Newtown community shortly after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting. You can read her letter, “Ten Ways to Help The Grieving Newtown Families From a Mother Who Knows,” if you go to the Times of Israel and search for her name.
The Mandells’ upcoming visit to the United States – and to Newtown – is well timed, as the town and the wider community continue to learn how best to help those who are reeling from grief and trauma following the December 14 tragedy in Sandy Hook. With all this in mind, Congregation Adath Israel of Newtown and the Newtown Interfaith Clergy Association are pleased to announce an upcoming talk by Rabbi Seth and Sherri Mandell on Sunday, May 5, at 4:30 pm. The talk, “Building Resilience After Tragedy – A Guide for the Individual and the Community,” will take place at Adath Israel, located at 115 Huntingtown Road in Newtown. This program is free and all are welcome. I hope you will join me in showing love and support for the community of Newtown and all victims of violence.