By Rabbi Joel Mosbacher & Julia Feller
Do not stand idly by while your neighbor’s blood is shed.
Your elders shall dream dreams, but your youth shall see visions.
Nearly two weeks ago in Parkland, Florida, a shooter killed 17 students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. Unfortunately, this tragedy was all too familiar. An ongoing Washington Post analysis has found that more than 150,000 students attending at least 170 primary or secondary schools have experienced a shooting on campus since the Columbine High School massacre in 1999.
In addition to our congregational partnership in the Do Not Stand Idly By campaign, I have recently been struck by the vocal response of teens across the country following this most recent attack, and the way they are using their voices to speak truth to power and mobilizing around reducing gun violence. As a congregation, we create space for our teens to live their values. We support them as they strive to make this world a better place, whether lobbying at the Religious Action Center, creating a Teen Gun Violence Prevention Task Force, or walking out of their schools as an act of peaceful protest.
In this vein, I have invited Julia Feller, our TaSTY youth group president and high school senior at Hunter College High School, to provide a reflection on gun violence prevention. Julia is leading our Teen Gun Violence Prevention Task Force and working with other Shaaray Tefila teens to mobilize and take action around this issue on March 14 and March 24.
I am heartened to see that Temple Shaaray Tefila is taking a strong, unified stance on this (unfortunately) hyper-relevant matter. While still troubling and very significant to me, I am not attracted to this movement because I had campers from my summer camp in the building of the shooting in Parkland or because I feel a need to reclaim the mental health narrative that many politicians (while still doing nothing to advance relevant legislation) have fixated on. Rather, as many students in my school and our senior youth group agree, the national mobilization of students in the wake of this tragedy has been inspiring – to say the least – and put a sense of hope behind our activism that has not materialized from other mass shootings.
That being said, I am planning to walk out of school for 17 minutes on March 14 to honor the 17 lives lost at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and to attend the March for our Lives on March 24 to demand political action and demonstrate solidarity with my school, city, and country. As the oldest grade in the school, fellow seniors and I have begun planning ways to teach younger students about our country’s gun violence epidemic as well as communally set steps to work towards change on that one month anniversary. 17 minutes is not nearly enough time for a few speeches, let alone a full teach-in; therefore, we are setting up forums for students to read, speak, or listen about gun violence protection to make the anniversary more meaningful. But one lunch period is not nearly enough time to understand and view this issue through every lens it deserves; therefore, the teens of Shaaray Tefila have decided to take matters to the synagogue, where gun violence is equally likely to affect us and where we are allowed the time and space to explore and influence change.
Together, our new Teen Gun Violence Prevention Task Force aims to work with high school students from around the city to come together and drive this movement forward using leadership tools we have grown in TaSTY. We look forward to welcoming those interested – Shaaray Tefila teens, Jewish teens, and all teens – to continue our important work on the night of the school walk out. Please help spread the word for our gathering on Wednesday, March 14 at 6:00pm at an event we are calling “Walk Out, Now What?“. We hope to garner support from teens and congregants in our endeavors, and more importantly, we hope to build something powerful and sustainable.
Julia Feller, TaSTY President
We thank Julia for her words and offer our full support to our teens as they seize this opportunity for meaningful action.