At least 17 people are dead and more injured in a horrific shooting Wednesday at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, FL. Once again, in the wake of senseless and devastating gun violence, we mourn, we come together, we offer words of condolence – and we ask how we can prevent these tragedies from happening again.
I can imagine the Holy One sobbing along with us, distraught over the senseless bloodshed we’ve collectively allowed to happen. Human care for one another, perhaps Divinely inspired, is what is desperately needed right now. “What's also needed is action. While every person of conscience must be shocked and outraged by the frequency of these horrific mass shootings, no person of intelligence can be surprised.
After the 2017 mass shooting in Las Vegas, NV, the deadliest in modern American history, Daryl Messinger, chair of the Union for Reform Judaism, wrote,
“[Each] time, the country goes back to business as usual. As the body count grows, with new scenes of senseless slaughter, nothing changes. Thoughts, prayer, and words are appropriate – but they’re not sufficient.”
As Reform Jews, our task remains: to challenge America's conscience and to heed the biblical injunction that we must not stand idly by the blood of our neighbor. Here, yet again, we offer words, prayers, and concrete ways to take action to prevent gun violence.
Resources for Parents and Educators
Here are a number of resources to guide parents and educators in speaking to their children about tragedy, especially those based in man-made violence. The following may help both children and parents to process these unthinkable occurrences:
- "How We Can Help Our Littlest Learners in the Wake of Tragedy": Tammy Kaiser, a Parkland-area neuroscientist, preschool director, mother, and shooting survivor, shares tips for restoring childrens' sense of safety - and talks about her own experience comforting her son after the shooting.
- “Helping Children to Process Acts of Terrorism”: After acts of violence, children may have both practical and theological questions, such as: How can we be protected from terrorism? Where is God? Why would God allow such things to happen? Rabbi Edythe Mencher, also a clinical social worker, wrote this in-depth guide for talking to children of varying ages about acts of terrorism and violence.
- "Responding to Spiritual Questions and Emotional Needs after Tragedies": What do we tell our kids when tragedies like these make them doubt God's presence? This new piece from Rabbi Mencher addresses such questions as they impact both children and adults.
- “Parenting Thoughts: Helping Children Cope with Tragedy”: Margie Bogdanow, a parent and Jewish educator in the Boston area, wrote this in the wake of the Boston Marathon bombing in 2012. She offers four tips for parents to address tragedies with their children – and to take time to process it themselves, too.
- “Talking to Children about Death”: Rabbi Mencher also penned this Jewish perspective on 10 common questions parents ask when helping children to better deal with death, grief, and mourning.
- JECC’s Responding to Crisis: This site, a project of the Jewish Education Center of Cleveland, is dedicated to helping Jewish educators work through times of crisis. The site includes: resources to help children respond to tragedy, created with the guidance of various professionals; several sections offering avenues for response (through the Jewish tradition, through the spoken word, through the arts, etc.); a collection of Jewish texts that may be appropriate in various crises; and a collection of resources that complement the curriculum guide.
Resources for Prayer
As we mourn the lives lost and those lives changed forever by the terror in Florida, we pray for the victims and for the future of our country. Here are a few prayers (including transliteration) and poems to help us find the right words to speak to God about our grief.
- Mourner’s Kaddish: This ancient prayer has been on the lips of Jewish mourners around the world for centuries.
- URJ Camp Coleman Community Virtual Healing Service: URJ Camp Coleman, where Parkland victim Alyssa Alhadeff was a camper, hosted a Facebook Live event to bring together the Reform Jewish community for a service of healing and prayer, available online for rewatching.
- "Gifts Gunned Down": Rabbi David Wirtschafter wrote this responsive reading related to this week's shooting and the weekly parashah (Torah portion).
- “A Kaddish after Gun Violence, for When Humanity Fails Itself”: Rabbi Paul Kipnes of Congregation Or Ami in Calabasas, CA, wrote this powerful original prayer in the immediate wake of the shootings in Las Vegas.
- “A Liturgy after Terror Attacks”: This four-piece liturgy from Jerusalem-based writer Alden Solovy includes “After a Terror Attack,” “To Terror Survivors,” “To the Terrorists,” and “Let Tranquility Reign.”
- “Havdalah with a Gun: A Poem after Violence”: Reform Jewish poet Stacey Zisook Robinson wrote this piece in late 2015 – but it is, tragically, still quite relevant today, as mass shootings and acts of gun violence continue to occur.
- "Special Haftarah Reading after the School Shooting in Parkland, FL": Rabbi Rick Jacobs of the Union for Reform Judaism recommends the following special Haftarah reading, with appreciation to Rabbi Sheldon Zimmerman for reminding us of this important text (download a printable version):
Uv’faris’khem kapeikhem a'alim einei mikem gam ki tarbu t’filah eineni shomeah y’dei'chem damim malei’u
And when you lift up your hands, I will turn My eyes away from you; Though you pray at length, I will not listen. Your hands are stained with blood—
Rachatzu hizaku hasiru ro’ah ma'al’leikhem mineged einei chidlu hareah
Wash yourselves clean; Put your evil doings Away from My sight. Cease to do evil;
Dirshu mishpat; ashru chamutz...
Learn to do good. Devote yourselves to justice; Aid the wronged...
Resources for Action
Please join us in taking action to prevent gun violence.
- Take part in the Reform community’s efforts: Visit www.rac.org/gvp for resources from the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, including action alerts, news updates, and the latest information about gun violence prevention through a Reform Jewish perspective.
- Join the teen movement to prevent gun violence: NFTY: The Reform Jewish Youth Movement offers resources created by teens, for teens, on the topic of gun violence prevention. Visit www.nfty.org/gvp for individual action items for teens and adults, as well as ways your synagogue youth group can get involved in this vital work. Here, you can also sign up to stay informed of breaking news about NFTY's latest efforts to prevent gun violence in the wake of the Parkland shooting.
- Follow the work of our partners: To find additional ways to get involved and to learn more about gun violence prevention efforts nationwide, visit Everytown for Gun Safety, The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, and Metro-IAF's Do Not Stand Idly By Campaign.
We'll continue to update this post as additional resources become available.