The most recent American high school murders in Parkland, Florida have gripped Jewish and other communities with an intensity not seen since Sandy Hook in 2012.
Many Friday night Sabbath services recited the names of the killed, and many Shabbat morning sermons that I watched discussed how close the Parkland deaths were to their communities. In many synagogues, especially on the East coast of the United States, congregants had friends and relatives who attended the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, or children who attended the same Jewish summer camps or youth groups with the dead and wounded.
Within days, over a dozen Jewish philanthropies and organizations sent emails to their members offering condolences and promoting calls to action. Many of those killed were affiliated with the organizations, included Camp Ramah, and the Alexander Muss High School in Israel, where several current students and alumni are from Broward County and Parkland.
Florida synagogues were quick to offer spiritual and mental health services to their affected congregants and others. including Rabbi Bradd Boxman’s Congregation Kol Tikva which knew at least four Jewish high school students among the wounded; and Rabbi Jonathan Kaplan’s Temple Beth Chai. Temple Beth Chai helped to arrange the funerals for Alex Schachter on Sunday morning and Jaime Guttenberg on Sunday afternoon.
Outrageously, within 48 hours of the killings, the internet was filled with sites and comments pushing conspiracy theories that the attack and deaths were a hoax or a (((Jewish))) plot. Several Russian-backed sites created fake news stories to fight attempts to create stricter American gun purchase and possession laws. Syndicated conservative columnist Ben Shapiro tweeted a pro-NRA statement to actor/activist Rob Reiner, making a false comparison between NRA lobbying (which fight gun restrictions) and labor union lobbying (which doesn’t – to my recollection – kill high school students).
President Donald J. Trump made a quiet visit to the hospital where some of the wounded were being treated, but for the most part stayed at his Florida residence and out of the direct fray. His staff announced that he plans to meet some students on Wednesday, February 21. Aides reported that President Trump decided not to golf this weekend out of respect for the children and teachers who were killed and wounded. He did, however, blame the FBI for the killings, which he wrote was too focused on his campaign’s alleged dealings with Russian operatives. After dining with his sons and former talk show host, Geraldo Rivera, Trump tweeted. “Very sad that the FBI missed all of the many signals sent out by the Florida school shooter,” he wrote just after 11 p.m. Saturday. “This is not acceptable. They are spending too much time trying to prove Russian collusion with the Trump campaign – there is no collusion. Get back to the basics and make us all proud!”
(Note: The special counsel’s investigation, which is run separately from the main Justice Department, has nothing to do with the missed tip to the FBI about the alleged perpetrator.)
Although President Trump stated that he would support some gun registration/purchase restrictions that were in line with NRA recommendations his new budget cut funding to U.S. states that would pay for tighter gun laws and background checks on assault weapon buyers.
U.S. Congressman Steve Scalise, a Louisiana Republican who was seriously wounded in a shooting last year while practicing for a Congressional ball game, told Fox News that Americans should pray and not try to change gun laws.”
Many Jewish leaders disagree.
Several current students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and their families have begun to organize protest rallies against lax gun laws. A national student walkout is scheduled for April. Another rally – March for our Lives – is scheduled for March 24, Shabbat HaGadol. Alumni of the high school mobilized to hold fundraisers across the USA. One will be held at the Brazen Fox in Manhattan on Monday evening. Some students held a “lie-in” or “die’in” in front of the White House on Presidents’ Day. Several current Parkland students will travel to Tallahassee, FL to lobby for safer schools. The student group will spend the night at the Tallahassee Civic Center as guests of Florida State University. They plan to meet with Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, Senate President Joe Negron, House Speaker Richard Corcoran and with Democratic lawmakers from both the House and Senate. They are hoping to arrange a meeting with Gov. Rick Scott.
On Saturday, Al Hoffman Jr., a Florida-based real estate developer, prominent GOP donor, and former U.S. Ambassador, wrote “I will not write another check unless they all support a ban on assault weapons. Enough is enough!” He will no longer help candidates who do not restrict access to assault weapons. He said, “It’s the end of the road for me,” about his ultimatum to GOP Leaders, including Jeb Bush and Gov. Rick Scott of Florida. Ambassador Hoffman is grew up in Chicago as the son of a live poultry butcher.
Mara Levy Kahn of SheNeni: Women Say ‘Here I Am’ created checks to be sent to politicians that are made payable to “Hopes and Prayers & No Sense.” They are campaign donations to those who do not support gun control.
Former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg took to Twitter to announce that he will match donations given to Everytown for Gun Safety, a nonprofit organization that advocates for gun control that he founded in 2014. “US has a gun violence problem,” the billionaire wrote. “I’ll match every donation. Give now.”
Among those killed were:
Alyssa Alhadeff, 14: With her outgoing personality, Alyssa had a wide circle of friends. She placed first in a debate tournament, was taking Algebra 2 and Spanish 3, and was skilled at soccer and was interested in a career in law. Alhadeff had attended Camp Coleman in Georgia, a Reform Jewish camp, and was planning to return this coming summer season. Rabbi Shuey Biston of the Chabad of Parkland told mourners to honor Alyssa’s legacy with positive actions and be her voice.
Martin Duque Anguiano, 14: His brother, Miguel, wrote that Martin Duque was a very funny kid, outgoing and sometimes really quiet… sweet and caring and loved by all his family.
Nicholas Dworet, 17: A swimmer and senior who looked forward to graduation and studying physical therapy. He was being groomed to take on greater leadership roles on his sports team.
Aaron Feis, 37: Father, Assistant football coach and a Security monitor, and an alumnus of the high school. He was said to look out for students who got in trouble, those who were struggling, those without fathers at home. “When Aaron Feis died, when he was killed — tragically, inhumanely — he did it protecting others; you can guarantee that,” said Scott Israel, the Sheriff of Broward County. (Sheriff Israel’s three daughters graduated from the high school, and he has attended religious events at his local Chabad.) Austin Lazar, a student, told the New York Times that Feis was cheery and selfless, that “he always put everybody before himself.”
Jaime Bloom Guttenberg, 14: Her father, Fred Guttenberg, posted this on Facebook: “I am broken as I write this trying to figure out how my family gets through this.” Dr. Abbie Youkilis, the aunt of Jaime Guttenberg, posted on Facebook that guns are a national disease and demanded change. “Fred and Jen are the world’s most loving and over-protective parents but they could not protect Jaime from the sickness that has gripped our country. Unless we change, nobody can protect us. My friends and fellow citizens, your guns are not protecting you. Your guns are killing our kids.” (Jaime was a babysitter for my distant cousins)
Christopher Hixon, 49: Athletic director, and a leader in in Florida high school sports. he was named the athletic director of the year in 2017 by the Broward County Athletics Association.
Luke Hoyer, 15: Luke was a freshman basketball player with ambitions; quiet and happy. On the last day of his life, Luke Hoyer found a Valentine’s Day card and some of his favorite chocolates sitting by his bathroom sink. He called downstairs, “Thanks, Mom.” When his mother, Gena Hoyer, dropped her 15-year-old son off at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School that morning, she told him, “I love you, Lukey Bear.” “I love you too, Mom,” he said. Pastor David Hughes of the Church By The Glades highlighted the love in that final conversation at his funeral on Monday. “The fact that your last exchange was that was a gift,” he told Luke’s mother.
Cara Loughran, 14: Her aunt, Lindsay Fontana, wrote in a Facebook post, “While your thoughts are appreciated, I beg you to DO SOMETHING. This should not have happened to our niece Cara and it cannot happen to other people’s families.”
Gina Montalto, 14: a freshman who participated in color guard. Andy Mroczek posted a tribute to Gina on Facebook. “We lost a beautiful soul tonight.”
Joaquin (Guac) Oliver, 17: A senior, he loved writing poetry and sports.
Alaina Petty, 14: An active member of a volunteer group with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, she was remembered as selfless who brought peace and joy to others. She was also a member of Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC). About 1,500 people attended Petty’s service at The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints in Coral Springs. Gov. Rick Scott attended, offering condolences to the family.
Meadow Pollack, 18: A senior, she had plans to attend Lynn University after graduation. her father Andrew wrote, “She was just unbelievable. She was a very strong-willed young girl who had everything going for her.” She also worked at her boyfriend’s family’s motorcycle repair business. More than 1,000 mourners attended her funeral on at Congregation Kol Tikvah on Friday. In a eulogy, her father said, “You killed my kid. ‘My kid is dead’ goes through my head all day and all night. I keep hearing it over and over… I have always been able to protect my family. Our kids should be safe but my princess wasn’t safe.” Florida Gov. Rick Scott and U.S. Representative Ted Deutch and Debbie Wasserman Schultz were among the mourners present. Rabbi Bradd Boxman said, “We must carry Meadow’s love forward and not let it die in a pine wood box.”
Helena Ramsay, 17: A relative wrote that this smart, kindhearted and thoughtful young woman was somewhat reserved, but had a relentless motivation towards her academic studies and college plans.
Alex Schachter, 14: Alex played trombone in the school’s marching band. The freshman was always smiling and happy and known as “a sweetheart of a kid,” said his father, Max Schachter. Mr. Schachter said Alex had loved his mother, who died when he was five years old. His older brother also attends Stoneman Douglas and survived the shooting. At his funeral, where nearly 1,000 friends, family and community members were in attendance, Alex was remembered for his love for films, his humor his passion for the high school’s marching band, his confidence and kind, and love of summer camp. This weekend, marching bands across the country took to social media in remembrance of Alex.
Carmen Schentrup, 16: a 2018 National Merit Scholarship semifinalist.
Peter Wang, 15: A freshman, he was remembered as nice and generous, open and helpful. He had invited others this week to his family’s Pompano Beach restaurant for Lunar New Year celebrations. Peter was last seen in his gray uniform for the Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps holding a door to help classmates. He died a hero. Being that he hoped to attend the USMA at West Point, a petition was begun to give him military honors at his funeral.
Scott Beigel, 35: Hundreds came to Boca Raton’s Temple Beth El on Sunday to remember Scott Beigel. Beigel taught geography and coached cross-country running. During the two hour funeral service, he was remembered for his sarcasm and wit, as well as his final acts of heroism: he died protecting his students from the gunman. “I truly believe he was dedicated to helping his fellow man,” said his father Michael Schulman. Scott will always be my hero.” Rabbi Greg Weisman called Beigel’s life an “Unfinished Symphony,” a reference to Franz Shubert’s piece that was never completed. Fiancé Gwen Gossler, who met Beigel at Camp Starlight in Pennsylvania where both were counselors seven years ago, said she never met anyone like him before. “It was his humor that made me fall for him,” she said. Beigel is credited with saving the life of student Matthew Zeif. Matthew and his brother Sam survived the attack.