‘Up to Our Generation to Change It’: Jewish Students Who Survived Parkland Massacre March for Gun Reform

Teenagers say they have an obligation to get involved to prevent deadly shootings from happening in other communities

Michael J. Weissman, a student at Marjory Stoneman Douglas high school in Florida, participates in the March for Our Lives rally demanding stricter gun control, Washington, March 24, 2018.
\ LEAH MILLIS/ REUTERS

WASHINGTON — Two Jewish students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, the site of the school shooting last month which killed 17, are marching in Washington with thousands of others on Saturday to send Congress a clear message: “Those of them who will block gun reform will be ousted from public office by our generation.”

The two teenagers spoke to Haaretz about participating in March for Our Lives, a major demonstration in the U.S. capital in support of gun reform.

Talia Rumsky recalled the day of the massacre: “I was in my debate class when it happened. Suddenly the fire alarm went off, and we were rushed outside of class. There was total chaos in and around the school. We saw police cars arriving, including a SWAT car, and we were instructed to run away, jump over fences, just get out of the school area as quickly as we could.”

Advocates of gun reform line Pennsylvania Avenue during the March for Our Lives rally, Washington, March 24, 2018.
WIN MCNAMEE/AFP

The 16-year-old is a sophomore at Stoneman Douglas and a member of the Kol Tikvah Reform congregation in Parkland. She personally knew many of the victims of the shooting, which was carried out by Nikolas Cruz, a former student at the school. Cruz legally purchased an AR-15 assault rifle at a local gun shop and then used it to kill 14 students and 3 staff members.

“As I was running away, and seeing the police cars rush to the school, my only thought was – my friends are still in there, my cousin is there, my teachers and the school staff,” Rumsky said. “I never imagined that something like this could happen at our school, our community.” She describes Parkland, which is located in southern Florida, as “a place that people choose to live in because of the good school system.”

Rumsky says she sees a clear connection between her Jewish beliefs and activism in her local synagogue and the struggle for stricter gun laws in the United States. She arrived to Washington for Saturday’s march with friends from her school and from the North American Federation of Temple Youth (known by its acronym NFTY), the youth movement of Reform Judaism in North America.

David Hogg, a student at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School speaks during the March for Our Lives rally for gun control, Washington, March 24, 2018.
\ AARON P. BERNSTEIN/ REUTERS

“My Jewish values include not keeping silent, not standing by while my neighbor bleeds,” she explained. “We have an obligation to become involved in this struggle, to raise our voices. Members of Congress need to know that if they don’t take action to prevent events like this from happening again, our generation will make sure they don’t remain in office.”

Charlie Goodman, who is also a Stoneman Douglas student and a member of the same Reform congregation as Rumsky, told Haaretz that “we lost 17 of our friends on that day. And as a community, we lost our sense of security. We just don’t have that anymore. I don’t want that to happen to other communities. This is an event that had an impact on the entire country. That’s why we’re marching here in Washington today.”

On the practical side, he said, the marchers want to see Congress enact stricter background checks for gun purchases and make it illegal to purchase assault rifles like the one used in the massacre in Parkland, and in so many other mass shootings. “What I don’t want to see is more diversions like the idea of arming teachers. It’s a bad idea,” he said.

Goodman said he grew up learning about the involvement of the Jewish community – and specifically the Reform movement – in the civil rights movement of the 1950s and ’60s. He believes that fighting for tougher gun legislation is a continuation of that struggle. “We are fighting for those who are hurt, those who are in need,” he said. “It’s just about my school and my community. It’s about terrible things that happen all over our country. I think our Judaism is intertwined with this struggle.”

Gun reform advocates line Pennsylvania Avenue during the March for Our Lives rally in Washington, March 24, 2018.
WIN MCNAMEE/AFP

Rumsky told Haaretz that she and many others at the school feel that “the previous generations have failed us” on the issue of gun safety. Goodman said that “it’s hard for me to put all the blame on the previous generations. Perhaps they didn’t know how bad this would get. But today everyone knows. It’s up to our generation to change it. We need people to become active and involved, so that this issue doesn’t go away from the headlines.”