As middle school students, we led a walkout on our Jewish day school’s campus in Pittsburgh. We held various signs: one said, “Our thoughts and prayers happen during Shacharit, not when it’s too late.” At the time, we all cared about this issue because we were students, and we knew that something similar could occur in our school. However, I never thought about how this issue affected us as Jews—until it did.
Less than six months after the walkout, we stood in the same place, this time mourning our 11 Squirrel Hill neighbors. Now, we had graduated from our Jewish day school and were now in non-Jewish schools, so we felt it was important to mourn together as fellow Jews. We tried our best to take action—organizing walkouts and contacting our representatives—but the epidemic had reached us, nonetheless.
It took me a while to cope with the trauma of Oct. 27. But through watching the action of the Parkland students, I have realized that activism is the way through. After settling into high school, I was able to establish a club called Students Demand Action, which is run from the national organization Everytown for Gun Safety. It has enabled me, and my fellow peers, feel like we can make a tangible difference in our community. Through my work with the club, I’ve seen that gun violence doesn’t just affect students or Jews but Americans of all different identities; the issue of gun violence does not discriminate.
In November, I travelled to Harrisburg with an anti-gun violence group to speak to our state representatives. We found that most of them did not take our stance on gun violence, and only seemed to care about reelection as most individuals in Pennsylvanian own guns. This was extremely disheartening. But representatives should know that 87 percent of gun owners support gun reform. I believe that we should all be able to agree on safety as no one wants to fear going to school, the movies or a concert.
Some may say that nothing has changed since the Tree of Life or Parkland shootings. I have certainly felt this way. But I have coped by taking action. The students in Parkland have shown me this. Maybe they didn’t change national laws, but they did change Florida’s laws. They inspired me to take action after gun violence personally affected me. However, it shouldn’t take personal experience for people to care. We should care that our neighbors and friends are dying because our legislators neglect to pass laws. Even as teens, we need to fight. It’s time to start rising up and take action.
Anti-Gun Violence Organizations: