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Yahrzeit for 14 Youths: Deaths We Can’t Live With

Yahrzeit for 14 Youths: Deaths We Can’t Live With

Two female students holding gun violence prevention signs at a march

There are lists on which teenagers belong and others on which they don’t. Teenagers dream of making the team list, cast list, recruiting list, and admissions list. If there’s one place teenagers don’t belong, though, it’s on the Mourner's Kaddish list – yet tonight marks the Sabbath before the yahrzeit for 14 youths and three adults shot to death at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, FL, on February 14, 2018.

Among life’s painful lessons is that of accepting death. Sickness, old age, accidents, natural disasters: We can live we these deaths. We learn to accept them. We have to. What we cannot accept, what we shouldn’t learn to live with is the plague of gun violence.

No one should have to say Mourner’s Kaddish for perfectly healthy kids – yet mass shootings, including school shootings, haven’t stopped and won’t stop until the underlying factors contributing to them stop. Access to life saving mental health care remains much to hard. Access to fatal firearms remains much too easy.

It’s time to practice what we preach to our teenagers. Nothing will improve by itself, and ignoring problems will not make them go away. “Thoughts and prayers” are not enough. The outraged oratory of Stoneman students is not out of line. Accepting the status quo cannot be the outcome of serious thought. To petition Heaven while doing nothing is to offer prayers in vain.

This week’s Torah portion, T’rumah (“Gifts”) calls upon the people to bring precious items to adorn the tabernacle. It’s time we stopped subjecting God’s greatest gifts to unacceptable risks. Gifts are meant to be protected, cherished, and wisely used. Kids don’t belong on the Kaddish list. So, when we pray for no more youth yahrzeits let us do so with a readiness to do something about it.  

Please visit any of the following organizations to learn more about what we can do to help end this crisis:

Rabbi David Wirtschafter is the rabbi of Temple Adath Israel in Lexington, KY. Confronting violence in classic Jewish texts and contemporary society is the focus of his work in progress, The Torah They Never Taught You, Bad Stories from The Good Book.

Rabbi David Wirtschafter
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