I am proud of our young people and I am impressed that teenagers across the country organized rallies and walkouts in their schools to demonstrate their views on the increasing level of gun violence in America today. What impressed me most is that these High School students found a way to express their views peacefully and helped all of us reading about their protests realize that they do not want to accept the status quo. I am fully aware that not every High School student in America has the same view on this issue and that not every student in every High School walked out on Wednesday. But these protests and rallies accomplished their goal - raising awareness and getting people all over the country to talk about the issues.
I was recently talking with friends about the walkouts and the upcoming rallies later this month. When I commented on how organized and passionate so many High School students are today, one friend said, "This is their Vietnam." I realized he was right. This is the issue that today's students are passionate about. They are tired of attending funerals of their peers and tired of feeling scared to go to school. Since they are not old enough to vote, they feel that all they can do is raise their voices through walkouts, protests and carrying signs.
Some of the signs I have seen this week are quite powerful to me. The one that grabbed my attention the most was "Never Again." We know that expression from the Holocaust and other moments in Jewish History and we know motivating the expression can be. I know a number of schools that are organizing group conversations related to this issue as part of the protests and walkouts. I read an article this week in the NY Times that asked some students across the country why they chose to participate in these rallies and walkouts and here is what some of them said:
- Seventeen people are dead and I am no longer willing to listen to politicians who deem my life less valuable than a piece of metal." - Maya Homan, Palo Alto, Calif.
- On Wednesday, we plan to say the name, age and story of each of the victims, followed by a moment of silence. We're doing this so that the students and faculty that were killed are not just remembered as numbers, but as people. Also, most people at my school feel separated from these tragedies, so giving them background information on the victims could help them feel more connected." - Jessica Burg, Westchester County, N.Y.
- Students don't get to voice their opinion very often and it's thrilling to be one of the millions across the United States who will have that option. The students at Stoneman Douglas who have spoken out and become activists are incredibly inspiring." - Katie Cummins, Louisville, Ky.
The walkouts on Wednesday were just one of the public statements organized by our young people in the issue of gun violence. There are others being organized in New York and Washington DC. The big rally in Washington will be on Saturday, March 24th
. While we are not organizing anything from TJC because the rally is on Saturday and we don't want to violate Shabbat as a congregation, I know of many people from the community and congregation who are going with other groups from Princeton including the Coalition for Peace Action who are organizing buses. There are some people who are going to Washington on Friday so that they can be there for Shabbat. In the words of the great Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, they will be "praying with their feet."
Whether or not we attend a rally or participate in any other program, I encourage all of us to talk about the issues with our friends and with our children. Every child deserves to feel safe at school. Whatever our political view is on this issue, I personally hope that our laws will change and that we see an end to these stories very soon.
As we wish each other a Shabbat Shalom this week, let's include a special prayer or reference to our children feeling a sense of Shalom, of peace, safety and security, in their schools, on the streets and in their homes.
Rabbi Adam Feldman