It could have been them.
One month after a gunman killed 17 at a high school in Parkland, Fla., thousands of students here and across the country on March 14 kept this sentiment in mind and walked out of their classrooms for 17-minute demonstrations when the clock struck 10.
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They recited the names of the murdered and vowed to keep up their activism by contacting their state and local representatives for common-sense gun control legislation and participating in “March for Our Lives” demonstrations on March 24. Students turning 18 this year also said they would register to vote and would encourage their peers to do the same ahead of November’s midterm elections.
Some Jewish students in Metro Detroit were inspired to participate because of their family’s close association to shooting victim Alex Schachter, 14.
Hillel Day School sixth-grader Ethan Endelman was supposed to attend camp this summer with Schachter. His mother, Alyssa Endelman, said though the two boys had never met, Schachter’s death had a huge impact on Ethan, who, with other middle schoolers at Hillel, planned and participated in a walkout.
“Hillel has been doing a great job of teaching the students about activism,” Endelman said. “This has impacted my son emotionally and has made him genuinely interested in gun control and mental health issues. Also, with Parkland’s large Jewish community, it hits us even closer to home. It truly could have been any of us or any of our friends’ children.”
In another local connection to Schachter, Ben Cohon, 14, a freshman at Walled Lake Northern High School, talked about how his dad Rob, 47, has been friends with Schachter’s father since they met in high school on a trip to Israel.
Cohon helped organize his school’s walkout. Since the shooting, he said the students have had full support from teachers and administrators with their walkout plans.
“The mood at school has been somber, and a lot more people are aware of the consequences of bad people getting guns,” Cohon said a few days ahead of the walkout. He will also head to Washington, D.C., with students from Temple Israel. “There are some kids at school who think this walkout is about having all of their gun rights taken away, but the walkout is in memory of those who were killed and a call for better security in our schools and raising the age of legal gun ownership from 18 to 21.”
In Bloomfield Hills
Approximately 500 students at Bloomfield Hills High School, with the district’s administrators and faculty’s support, gathered in the campus’ interior courtyard to read the names of the slain, give speeches for unity and calls for action to spread the word about tighter gun control and urge voter registration for students turning 18.
Among the Jewish students who helped organize the walkout were Simon Abohasira and Lexie Finkelstein, both 15 from Bloomfield Hills.
Abohasira said despite their young age, the student movement is already having an impact, citing decisions from retailers such as Wal-Mart ending any sales of guns or ammunition to those under 21 and Dicks Sporting Goods halting its sales of the AR-15. The sophomore plans to continue his activism by going to the march in Washington, D.C.
According to Abohasira, another important component of the movement is voter registration. When this generation of students turns 18, they can truly make a change in legislation about universal background checks and banning gun accessories such as bump stocks.
“We want to protect lives, not guns,” Abohasira said. “We do not want to make this a partisan issue, and we are not saying that all guns should be banned, but you don’t need (assault rifles) to go hunting.”
Finkelstein has been active in selling orange T-shirts bearing the names of the 17 victims. Monies raised will go to offset the costs of a bus for students to travel to Washington, D.C., and will also go to funds set up for the victims of the shooting.
“I was inspired and astounded by the students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School who worked so hard to have their voices heard,” Finkelstein said.
She added it was a student decision to have the walkout away from the public eye because of security threats. There was a heavy police presence at the school, and no parents or media were allowed to attend the demonstration. Though hundreds of students stayed home, Finkelstein said many lent support by purchasing T-shirts.
In addition to organizing an additional walkout on April 20 — the anniversary of the Columbine mass shooting — and the planned trip to the nation’s capital, Finkelstein said walkout participants were also given information to call their state representatives to oppose legislation such as Senate Bills 584 and 586 that would force Michigan schools to allow civilians to carry hidden, loaded handguns on school premises.
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At Frankel Jewish Academy
Approximately 60 students at Frankel Jewish Academy in West Bloomfield gathered in the Fisher Commons to collectively march toward the JCC’s inline skating rink.
Walkout organizer Emily Feldman, 15, a sophomore from Farmington Hills, said taking up this activism was of utmost importance because it is the students who can “effect positive change in our lives and that means standing in solidarity for a good cause.”
Feldman said the Parkland shooting impacted her differently than previous incidents because she was able to identify with the victims.
“The students in Parkland reminded me of my friends, which made me feel more connected with this than I had ever been, and it made me recognize the essential need for change.”
Adam Karp, 15, a sophomore from West Bloomfield, said, “I’m here because of the 17 people who died and the need for mental health awareness. I wanted to do my part in preventing something like Parkland from happening again.”
Sabrina Carson, 14, a freshman from Bloomfield Hills, said, “Trump’s solution is to give teachers guns when stricter gun laws are the answer.”
At Berkley High School
About 300 students walked out at Berkley High School, according to Cara Lash of Huntington Woods, who organized the walkout with classmate Reginald Hawkins.
“We really wanted to honor the lives that have been lost and we wanted to make sure our voices are heard,” Lash said. “I think it’s really powerful seeing the pictures from all the other schools. We’re all coming together and, although we’re young, we’re making a movement that’s really strong. I’ve never been part of something this big and I think it’s really amazing.”
Senior Katie Wolberg of Huntington Woods says the group headed for the school courtyard where there were speeches, student performances and plenty of protest signs. A moment of silence was also held for the Florida school shooting victims.
“It was a nice but solemn event,” Wolberg said. “I think moments like this signify change. We have to do this. There’s no other way to get people to listen. People underestimate high school students, but we want the community and politicians to know we’re taking a stand. We want a safer world.”
In Parkland, Fla.
On a visit to southern Florida that coincided with the walkout, Hy Safran, associate director of philanthropy for the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit, visited with the Jewish community there. He walked the makeshift memorials around the perimeter of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. Most striking to him were the 17 mounds of dirt shaped like graves, some topped with white Jewish stars, Israeli flags and attached prayers in Hebrew strung to fences flying in the breeze.
“The thing about this high school is that with its diverse student body and significant Jewish population, it felt like back home,” Safran said. “It could have been a Bloomfield Hills High School, a Groves or West Bloomfield. I visited here and participated in the walkout with students from a Jewish day school here in Boca Raton. Everyone here is very passionate about the gun issue. Something must be done to stop the presence of guns.”
JN Contributing Writer Robin Schwartz and Bryan Gottlieb, director of marketing and communications at Frankel Jewish Academy, added to this story.