Eden Hebron, a freshman at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, saw her best friend gunned down next to her just five weeks ago. On Friday she stood at an anti-gun rally in Tel Aviv and told the crowd about the long minutes in her freshman-English classroom when a former student opened fire from the hallway.
"One bullet after another, I thought it would never stop,” she said, recounting the moments she says she still sees every time she closes her eyes. “I’m looking at bodies on the floor in disbelief,” the 15-year-old added, her long, honey-colored hair spilling over her blue-and-white March For Our Lives T-shirt.
The Tel Aviv event is one of more than 800 rallies being held in the United States and across the world, highlighted by the March for Our Lives mass gathering in Washington scheduled for Saturday.
The rallies are expected to draw as many as 1 million people, part of an outpouring of rage and activism led by the students like Hebron who survived the February 14 shooting in which 17 students and teachers were killed.
Hebron, her sister and another surviving student spoke at the Tel Aviv rally facing the U.S. Embassy along the beach promenade.
“Can’t our government see the pattern?” Hebron said, her voice sharp with anger. “Without an assault rifle, Nikolas Cruz would not have been able to shoot through the door of my classroom.”
Dani Tylim, 18, a junior at Stoneman Douglas High School, told the rally how her mother was pregnant with her in 1999 when she raced to the scene of another mass shooting; a white supremacist had attacked a Los Angeles Jewish community center where Dani’s brothers were at camp.
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“If something does not change, these tragedies will continue to happen. I’m not willing to accept that,” she said to the sound of cheers. “And please, register to vote.”
The rally largely drew Americans, some who live in Israel and are dual citizens. Among them were alumni of Stoneman Douglas High School. The majority of the demonstrators were students on gap-year programs between high school and college.
“We are here because the kids have woken up and shown us the path,” Ilana Stockman, a representative of Democrats Abroad, told the rally.
Yosh Miller, 30, who graduated from Stoneman Douglas High School in 2005 and is in Israel for the year, told the protesters to remember which politicians were beholden to the National Rifle Association.
When he cited Florida Senator Marco Rubio as an example of a politician unwilling to stand up for sensible gun laws, the crowd broke out into chants of “vote him out, vote him out.”
Maia Hebron, 18, Eden’s older sister, made a personal plea for gun reform. ”Not one individual should have to go through what we did that deadly day,” she said.
Maria Hubert, a 19-year-old from Long Island, was among about 90 students in the Nativ program, the gap-year program of the Conservative movement, who came to Tel Aviv for the rally from across the country.
She came, she said, because “I feel like I’m doing something to make our voices heard.”
Hubert and a group of her friends said they felt safer in Israel with its stringent gun laws than they did at home in the United States. She said her generation would be staunch activists for gun control.
“We feel the gun issue is personal,” she said. “We all feel at risk.”
Standing on a wooden bench that served as a stage for the speakers, Eden Hebron, who marked her 15th birthday three days after the massacre at a vigil for the victims, read a poem she wrote in its aftermath.
Holding a pink and yellow notebook, she shared what she later said was a sanitized version of a more graphic poem she had written.
She recited the softer version:
“I miss my friends more every day
I wish I could share with them what I have to say
The people I laughed with every time
Are no longer here because of a preventable crime
I used to write poems for a grade in that class
Now I am writing to try to explain the past
How we were writing an essay in our chairs
Then we realized we were living our worst nightmares.”