"Never, Ever Stop Fighting": A Jewish Parkland Student's Story
It's been one year.
One year since I could go to school without seeing massive fences around the 1200 building.
One year since my small town became synonymous with mass shootings and joined the ever-growing list of schools who had experienced gun violence.
One year since I learned to despise Valentine’s Day displays at stores.
But, most importantly, one year since the shooting at my school that left 17 injured and another 17 dead. My name is Haley Stav, and I’m a junior at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, FL.
To say that the last year has been the most difficult of my life is an understatement. I’ve struggled, cried, fought, advocated, and tried to heal. Healing has been the hardest by far. From comfort dogs to hour-long phone calls in the middle of the night to absolutely breaking down outside the Beit Am at the URJ Kutz Camp, it has been a rollercoaster.
But NFTY has been there.
You have lifted me and encouraged me to stand up and fight with my TYG in Tallahassee, with my fellow NFTYites in Washington D.C., and have given me the confidence, skills, and passion for change that drives me daily.
Without the continuous support of my youth group, my region, and this community I would not be who or where I am today. This summer, despite many people being uncertain (myself and my parents included), I went back to Kutz for a second summer. Many were unsure whether I could handle leaving my home community, but I knew that being surrounded by the community that has given me so much was the ideal place for me to be.
One morning, during t’filah, Melissa Frey, the director of Kutz, pulled me to the side and explained to me the project started by URJ Camp Coleman. She described the creation of 17 tallitot, each sent to a URJ camp, in honor of the lives lost at my school. My heartbeat immediately quickened, my palms began to sweat, and I located the nearest exit. I remember thinking, “If I leave now, I can probably still escape…” Instead, I sat down among my friends and anxiously tallied how many prayers were left until the Mourner’s Kaddish.
When it was time, I was called up to stand with Melissa and to hold one end of the tallis. With a shaky and uncertain hand, I grabbed my end and held it up. We began to bless the tallis and, at some point, someone much taller than me grabbed my end. Before I could realize what was happening, I was under the tallis, like it was a chuppah. I stood underneath it, everyone standing around me. Hands held mine, arms wrapped around me, and my tears were periodically wiped away.
I had always known my community was here for me, but to see it physically was more than I could have ever asked for.
For the community who has given me everything, I would like to take this time to tell you a few things I’ve learned over the past year.
Never feel bad for crying. Life is hard. Grief is hard. But your community, your friends and family, will wipe your tears.
Hold your loved ones close. Never feel awkward for an extra “I love you” at the end of your phone calls or for texting someone out of the blue. Show them you care. You won’t regret it.
And finally, never give up the fight. Some days it may be hard to get out of bed, and other days you may feel as though the day is a black hole you can’t escape.
Trust me, I’ve been there.
But never, ever, stop fighting.
Others may try to discourage you, whether it be an unreceptive legislator or a stubborn teacher, but you must persevere, achieve, and prove them wrong. Raise your voice for those who no longer can, succeed for those who said you couldn’t, and live every day to its fullest because tomorrow isn’t guaranteed.
This essay is adapted from an address presented at NFTY Convention, the biennial convention of NFTY – The Reform Jewish Youth Movement, during Shabbat morning services on Saturday, Feb. 16, 2019. Learn more about NFTY's gun violence prevention work at nfty.org/gvp.