Last Friday night, our congregation’s youth group conducted Sabbath services in our synagogue. What a pleasure it was to hear them sing and read the ancient prayers.
It was also the night these teens mourned the deaths of 15 fellow high school students and two adults who were murdered by another teenager at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla.
We are left with unanswerable questions about death, murder and grief. Questions like “What do we do” afflict our souls and should propel us to action against gun violence.
I looked into the eyes of my synagogue’s teens and imagined the frightening thought that it could happen here. One of my co-teachers is a mental health counselor to kids and tells me that we have youth in Beaufort County who are very much like the shooter in Parkland.
The survivors of this latest carnage now stand on the national stage and deliver speeches that will be recorded and revered in the history of the struggle to make our schools safe from gun violence. They inspire and they arouse the anger in me. I fight back those emotions without much success.
“What do we do”, they ask?
They have already answered the question.
They lobby elected officials, They plan a national march called “March for our Lives” in Washington, D.C. on March 24. They encourage all communities to join the youth of our nation to say that their lives have value. They will say that our nation’s leaders must stop assault weapons from reaching the hands of our citizens. They will say elected leaders are responsible for fixing this problem and that taking no action is unacceptable. They will call on us in Hilton Head, Bluffton and in Beaufort to rise to the occasion and sponsor our own March for Our Lives that day.
How will we respond? Preserve the status quo or bow down at the altar of the gun lobbyists?
Will we religious leaders and our parishioners join the youth or remain at home watching our favorite TV shows?
Surely God sheds tears at the tragic loss of innocent life. Don’t our religions teach that life is sacred? We surely need to advocate for legislation that will end the killing fields in our schools, our houses of worship and our public places. But that will never occur until we can talk with all sides on the gun violence problem and find the pathway toward suitable legislation to end it and especially to deal with assault weapons.
When people — and elected leaders in particular — say to the survivors and their families, “You are in our prayers,” we must ask ourselves whether that statement is what these folks really need to hear?
Maybe they need more than our prayers.
Maybe they need our presence, our marching feet, our commitment to turn the tide against gun violence so that we all can feel safe in this blessed land of ours.
At this hour, do the teenage survivors of gun violence need from us action more than prayers?