The legacy of the mass shooting at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland will forever be with me. When my wife and I started dating, we decided that St. Valentine's Day was not a day where we would celebrate our love (we choose to have our 'love day' on Tu B'Av, a Jewish holiday that falls after Tisha B'av in the summer). Nevertheless, living in a country where Valentine's Day is celebrated widely, we are aware of the power of love and its effects on our hearts. Unfortunately, February 14th will always be a bittersweet day for those living in South Florida as it is the anniversary of the mass shooting. Every year, South Floridians return to that ominous day to remember, to celebrate the lives lost, to reflect on actions taken and not taken to ensure that this school shooting is the last one (it has not been, far from it), and to sit with our broken hearts. I am posting a series of posts in chronological order, from the immediate aftermath of the shooting, until today (it's a work in progress so thank you in advance for your patience).
May the memories of those souls who were murdered on February 14, 2018 continue to inspire and bless us as we live our lives.
Alyssa Alhadeff, 14
Cara Loughran, 14
Martin Duque Anguiano, 14
Scott Beigel, 35
Luke Hoyer, 15
Aaron Feis, 37
Nicholas Dworet, 17
Jaime Guttenberg, 14
Christopher Hixon, 49
Gina Montalto, 14
Peter Wang, 15
Alaina Petty, 14
Carmen Schentrup, 16
Meadow Pollack, 18
Helena Ramsay, 17
Alex Schachter, 14
A Sea of Lights, A River of Tears©
Posted on February 16, 2018, two days after the Parkland shooting:
Last night, I attended the sunset vigil that the city of Parkland organized as a response to the shooting at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School that took 17 innocent lives, teens and teachers, where scores of others were physically injured, where thousands are emotionally and spiritually scarred. I did not know what to expect, how many people would show up? What would the atmosphere would be like? Thankfully, I was able to meet up with some of our chaverim/congregants in the field last night. There were thousands of people who showed up with little notice (I heard reports of 8,000). Together we prayed, we sang, we listened to tributes by parents and teens, by politicians and faith leaders, and together, we lit up the night. As the sun came down, and the darkness overtook us, there was a sea of lights, and river of tears. There are no words that can do justice to describe how we are all feeling during these last two days, and yet, I feel I must try and to articulate the ineffable.
On Wednesday evening, our congregation housed a Shloshim service in memory of the Weiss family who were tragically killed in a plane crash on New Year's Eve in Costa Rica. Unfortunately, just hours prior, we learned about the horrific mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. Understandably, a smaller group than expected gathered at Shaarei Kodesh for the memorial service, and we began the service by talking about the tragedy. One of the teens made an interesting note: "Another mass shooting at a school, the 18th school shooting since the new year, and the adults are not going to do a thing about it." There were about eight teens present, and two adults. One of our teens who was supposed to attend could not as he was a student at Douglas (thankfully, he was uninjured). I looked at one of the fathers and said, "we didn't have to grow up like this, it's just unfair for our children." Perhaps the greatest tragedy in addition to families who have lost their children, and those who have lost parents, siblings, etc., is that this is the world that our children now have to grow up in; the world that they expect. In Judaism, there is a mitzvah, a commandment to honor and revere our parents, but there are also mitzvoth that parents are bound to regarding their children. We have to educate them, but we also have an obligation to create a better future for them than we experienced. Considering this terrible tragedy, and the fact that this has been the 18th shooting in a school in the United States of America since the New Year, I believe we have failed.
Every month, we have the opportunity to do tesuvah, to be better, and to bring light to darkness. In this week's Torah portion, Terumah, we are introduced to the Menorah, the seven branched candelabra that was in the Mishkan/Tabernacle and later in the Temple in Jerusalem:
"31 You shall make a lampstand (menorah) of pure gold; the lampstand shall be made of hammered work; its base and its shaft, its cups, calyxes, and petals shall be of one piece. 32 Six branches shall issue from its sides; three branches from one side of the lampstand and three branches from the other side of the lampstand."
But as we read the description, we do not read how large the Menorah actually is. This led our rabbis to imagine that the Menorah on earth was actually a copy of a Menorah in heaven. In the Talmud (BT Menahot 29a), Rabbi Yosi b. Rabbi Yehudah is quoted saying that a menorah made of fire descended from the sky to illustrate the design, which Moses faithfully copied. Tragically, the Temple was destroyed, and if you have been to Rome, you saw that Titus, the Roman General, stole this sacred object from us. How disheartening this must have been to Jews who saw their holy light ripped away from them, never to be returned! But if we take the idea that the holy light is actually in the heavens, our hearts can be set at ease.
One of my teachers, Rabbi Daniel Nevins wrote the following:
"We live in a time of division and hatred and violence. The vulgar parade of Titus, intent on replacing a house of peace (symbolized by the Menorah) with cruel entertainment (symbolized by the Coliseum) is a reminder of how far humanity can fall."
Looking further though, we have a responsibility to make sure that the lights lost this week, the teens and teachers, are never fully extinguished.
We ended our service on Wednesday night by engaging in the Kindness Rocks Project. Stones are especially relevant to us as Jews. We place rocks on graves when we visit rather than flowers. Flowers, although beautiful, wither and die, but stones are forever. One of the names of God in our tradition is Tzur Israel - the Rock of Israel. The Rock of Israel is there for us, for eternity, in good times and in times of mourning and suffering. Another thing we do with stones is skip them in the water. When we throw a stone in the water, we see the ripples it produces. The ripples can we positive or negative. In Parkland, the ripples of the lives lost affect us here. How many of us know someone who lost a child or someone else? How many of us know a student who was in the school at the time? In the meantime, in these days ahead, we can spread kindness to each other. We took the stones and placed them in places where others could find them and bring a little joy into their lives. That all being said, kindness is not enough.
On Rosh Chodesh, which began just hours after the shooting, we ask God for atonement for all generations, and we ask for salvation from our yetzer harah, the urges within us that cause us to sin which lead us to atonement. As adults, we have to do some Cheshbon HaNefesh, deep introspection, to see how we have let things come to this: where our children are fearful in their classrooms, and where we are scared to see our children leave every morning. This means that we must look at everything - our culture of gun violence, our lack of support and resources devoted to those suffering with mental illness, everything must be examined. What I literally heard from scores of teens at last night's vigil is the following: they do not want our thoughts and prayers; they want action.
May those lost this week continue to be a blessing for their families, and for us all.
If you are sad, scared, and feel alone, join us this Shabbat. There is no better place to be than around each other. Many of us have been on social media non-stop since this tragedy, and our eyes and ears have been glued to the news. Shabbat is a time for us to take a step back, turn off the noise so we can be in tune with each other. I hope you can join us either tonight and/or tomorrow morning, as we journey to Shabbat Terumah and gather together in holy community.
- Rabbi David Baum