Fred Guttenberg will discuss his book, Find the Helpers, and later experiences during the next session of the “Need to Read” Zoom programming hosted by Rabbi Jennifer Kaluzny of Temple Israel.
Two personal tragedies moved Fred Guttenberg into becoming a full-time issues activist, and he describes the transition in his book, Find the Helpers: What 9/11 and Parkland Taught Me About Recovery, Purpose, and Hope (Mango Publishing).
The first tragedy happened in 2017, when his brother Michael succumbed to long-term illness resulting from service as a 9/11 emergency doctor. The second tragedy happened four months later when his 14-year-old daughter Jaime was slain as a 19-year-old former student murdered 14 students and three adults at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla.
Guttenberg will discuss the book and later experiences during the next session of the “Need to Read” Zoom programming hosted by Rabbi Jennifer Kaluzny of Temple Israel. It starts 10 a.m. Sunday, Feb. 7, and will explore the advice heeded from Rabbi Jonathan Kaplan of Florida: Move forward from grief without feeling pressure to move on.
“The day we planned Jaime’s funeral, the funeral director handed me a journal and asked if I had ever journaled before,” said Guttenberg, who accepted the empty book while hearing the director’s suggestion that journaling would be good for him.
“At some point, in the days and weeks following Jaime’s funeral, I picked up that journal and started writing. In about April 2018, I said to my wife, ‘I want to write a book.’ After journaling, writing was becoming my therapy. It was how I got through my day. It was how I got things off my chest.”
Guttenberg, on the advice of a friend reading the first draft of the text, realized the theme should be based on how people lifted him up, and so he emphasized the importance of identifying helpers for oneself and being a helper for others.
He established Orange Ribbons for Jaime (orange was her favorite color) to highlight issues that mattered to his daughter — programs to combat bullying, assistance for kids with special needs, scholarship opportunities and an education initiative concerning gun violence and how to deal with it.
Another entity, more of an advocacy entity, is Orange Ribbons for Gun Safety.
“I will be forever changed, and I will never take for granted what our voice in this democracy is,” said Guttenberg, whose efforts include convincing people to vote and support gun safety legislation. “I will never take for granted how important it is that we work every election to make sure as many people vote as possible because it matters.”
Guttenberg, who sold his donut franchises while looking after his brother, traveled in 2018 to further his electoral causes. In 2020, because of the pandemic, he communicated digitally.
“After [my brother’s] passing, my intention was to either go look for another business or find a job,” he said. “Then my daughter was murdered, and everything else I could have ever thought of doing was stopped.
“The only thing that mattered to me was doing something about gun violence. It was doing something about the politics of gun violence and so my entire life since Jaime’s been killed is involved in this fight.”
In 2019, Guttenberg traveled to Pittsburgh to meet with families affected by another shooting rampage, the one at the Tree of Life Congregation a year earlier.
“Judaism is a part of my life,” he said. “I was raised in a Conservative temple. I am who I am because of Judaism, the way I was raised, the beliefs that I grew up with and the traditions that we’ve carried on.
“My belief in a higher power [because of my losses] is very much on a rocky ground. I’m struggling with that. My faith as a concept is stronger than ever, but it’s in the people around me, the people who have shown me love, compassion and decency.”
Guttenberg links the idea of helpers to current COVID issues.
“Always know who your helpers are,” he advised. “When you need somebody, they are there. If you’re not sure, reach out to a place of worship or community center. Always, always take the chance to be a helper to someone else. You may not realize it, but they need you.
“I hope when people read my book, they take on this notion of helpers. It is how we’re going to … move forward through this whole COVID experience. We’re going to do it together.”