Alyssa Alhadeff, age 14; Scott Beigel, age 35; Martin Duque, age 14; Nicholas Dworet, age 17; Aaron Feis, age 37; Jaime Guttenberg, age 14; Christopher Hixon, age 49; Luke Hoyer, age 15; Cara Loughran, age 14; Gina Montalto, age 14; Joaquin Oliver, age 17; Alaina Petty, age 14; Meadow Pollack, age 18; Helena Ramsey, age 17; Alex Schachter, age 14; Carmen Schentrup, age 16; Peter Wang, age 15.
May their memory be for a blessing.
My eyes have welled up in tears every day since Wednesday the 14th. Hearing the reports, attending funerals, making shiva visits, hugging our children. I struggle to write as there simply are no words to express the sorrow and pain our community is feeling. Despite my own feelings, it pales in comparison to the unfathomable pain of the families of those who lost their lives and those who are injured. It is with a broken heart that I offer condolences.
One year ago, the Jewish Federation of Broward County adopted a Statement on Unity and Values. Following the traditions of our ancestors, and expressly that of Pikuach Nefesh, the value of saving lives, we vowed to provide for the most vulnerable among us...while defending our rights and the dignity of all our neighbors. Our role is not political. We are unapologetically non-partisan, but our organization enables each of us to act out our Jewish values in a collaborative and transparent fashion. Could we have ever imagined that “the most vulnerable” would include children at our neighborhood schools? Sadly, that is exactly what we now face here in our community.
The horrific shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland demands bi-partisan action by us and by policymakers at all levels. Students should be guaranteed safety and security as they learn to be responsible, productive citizens of tomorrow. Over the past week, students from Douglas and across Broward have shown us that we must overcome the partisan divide that permeates our public discourse. They have shown tremendous courage and have earned our unyielding respect.
To honor them, and the lives lost on February 14th, our community must forge consensus on ways to safeguard our children and prevent another such tragedy. The students have provided such a road map, which includes three key areas:
1. Improve School Safety
Ensure that all public schools have highly trained and responsive school resource officers.
Update emergency response procedures and school safety plans.
2. Mental Health
Improve the ability of mental health professionals to provide prevention and early intervention services for children and families.
Reform Florida’s Baker Act to close loopholes which allow persons with documented histories of mental health issues the right to purchase guns.
Provide adequate funding for mental health services. Florida has the lowest per capita support for mental health services and the third highest percentage of mentally ill persons who are also uninsured.
3. Common Sense Gun Reform
Expand background checks for gun purchases at any location.
Require the integration of mental health records with the National Instant Criminal Background Check System across all states.
Raise the age requirement to purchase firearms to 21.
Prohibit the purchase of military-style firearms and bump stocks.
Change won’t be easy. It never is. But the stakes couldn’t be higher, because all children are our children. Ultimately, this is a time of healing, and the Jewish Federation will work to support the greater Parkland and Coral Springs communities in any way possible. The addition of a Northwest Broward County-based Federation professional, underscores our strong commitment to having their back today, tomorrow and into the future.
In the face of this unfathomable loss, we commit ourselves to continuing the work they could not complete. In memory of them, we must dedicate ourselves to acts of chesed and turning the darkness into light.
"This world may bring deep darkness, but we are the bearers of light. We'll join our flames together, and shine in the blackest of nights." -John Mark Green
Wishing us all comfort and strength.
By Michael Balaban, President & CEO