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Teens Express Anger, Fear and Compassion about Tree of Life Shooting

With raw emotion and heartfelt singing, Jewish teens from youth groups across the Metro Detroit gathered at Temple Israel last night to express anger, fear, sadness and hope in a vigil they hastily organized for the 11 Jews murdered at Tree of Life/Ohr Simcha synagogue in Pittsburgh last Saturday.

From the bima of the main sanctuary, Jewish teens took turns expressing their pride in being Jewish and the dire need for change in the United States as the election approaches.

Just as they did in the days and weeks following the Feb. 14 Parkland, Fla. school shooting, the teens quickly mobilized and approached Temple Israel’s clergy in their desire to use activism in response to a mass shooting.

About 900 teens and adults filled the main sanctuary at Temple Israel in West Bloomfield to listen to about 20 speakers representing Youth Federation of Temple Israel, BBYO, USY, Bnei Akiva and NCSY express where they were when they learned about the shooting, the horror they felt, how their sense of safety feels gone, and their determination to keep living and surviving as American Jews and building a world with love instead of hate.

“This whole vigil is the result of our teens’ self-motivation, with little to no prompting by our clergy or religious school teachers,” said Rabbi Ariana Gordon, director of education for Temple’s Tyner Religious School.  “News of a shooting that took place in a synagogue, in a Jewish house of worship, is a place they are so familiar with. It truly touched a chord.”

Upon arrival, those who attended were asked to sign a large banner with wishes and prayers of love and support that would be sent to Tree of Life. As they entered the sanctuary, teens were handed non-flame candles and information for how to participate in a Teen Video tribute project as part of a #SquirrelHillStrong social media campaign. Teens are asked to record a seven-second or less video of themselves following the script: “My name is …… I attend ………. School and I am Squirrel Hill Strong.” Videos should be emailed to zach@temple-israel.org.

Mac Bauer, president of Youth Federation of Temple Israel, was the first to speak in a string of speeches that tugged on emotions and urged those eligible to vote to get to the polls on Nov. 6.

“Stand up, speak out and take action,” Bauer said. “We may be young, and age is but a number. Tonight, you will hear our voices, but in a few years, you will see our votes. We will make change and forge a light that will shine through (the darkness).”

Lily Kollin, 17, who in February penned her widely-shared poem I There Was a Shooting, in a new poem I was in Synagogue wrote about how the peaceful feeling she felt celebrating Shabbat in synagogue on a rainy Saturday morning was shattered at news of the shooting.

“This time hate won.

This time I’ll be looking over my shoulder from now on.”

But her poem concluded on an optimistic note.

“I vow never to hide (the Magen David) I wear. I vow never to hide my family. Let us live life in the face of death. Let us create love. Let’s rise up and next Shabbat, let’s go to synagogue.”

Away on a Temple Israel women’s mission tour of Eastern Europe, Rabbis Jen Kaluzny and Jen Lader sent a special video message filmed on the banks of the Danube River in Budapest. The video played from the sanctuary’s two jumbo screens.

“We are so proud of all of you,” Lader said. “You are our hope and our future. We are sad we are not with you tonight, but we will be home with you soon.”

Bebe Schaefer, 16, of Farmington Hills said she felt “unsafe, angry and frightened” at the news of the shooting. She asked those in attendance how such an attack against Jews can happen in our modern age in 2018.

“I have said and chanted ‘Never Again’ so many times in my life,” she said. “When will ‘Never Again’ really be ‘Never Again’?”

Another teen, Ali Lipson, spoke about her experiences of participating in the March for our Lives in Washington D.C.

“Please, we can stop the bullets by picking up a ballot next week,” she said. “A vote (for candidates who support gun control) can save lives.”

USYer Sam Gawel said time stood still on Saturday morning as he reached out to his friends who attend the Tree of Life, fearing that they had been murdered just because they were praying on a Saturday morning.

“I remained shocked and numb. I tried not to imagine something happening at my own shul,” he said. “I am still numb at the lives lost for no other reason besides blind hate. We cannot allow fear to control our lives or decide how to practice our religion. Some things may be different now but, we, as a people, must not change our ways. That is what the monster who murdered 11 Jews would want. We must still take pride in practicing our religion. “

BBYO member Ethan Golde quoted from the Talmud.

“‘Kindness is the highest form of wisdom,’” he said. “This quote teaches us that we must practice our Judaism every day. There is no room for hate or pettiness or divisiveness in our Jewish community.”

Stacy Gittleman

Stacy Gittleman is an award-winning journalist and has been a contributing writer for the Detroit Jewish News for the last five years. Prior to moving to Metro Detroit in 2013, she was a columnist and feature writer for Gannett's Democrat & Chronicle in Rochester, NY. She also manages social media pages for other local non-profit organizations including the Interfaith Leadership Council of Metropolitan Detroit. Contact her with breaking news and feature story ideas that impact Detroit's Jewish community at stacy.gittleman@yahoo.com

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