Rabbis Go Beyond Thoughts and Prayers

Rabbis Go Beyond Thoughts and Prayers

Atlanta's Jewish leaders react to the shooting deaths of 17 people in Parkland, Fla., on Feb. 14.

Jaime Guttenberg, one of 17 high school students killed in Parkland, is shown in a February 2017 post on her Facebook page.
Jaime Guttenberg, one of 17 high school students killed in Parkland, is shown in a February 2017 post on her Facebook page.

The following are excerpts from some of the reactions from Atlanta Jewish leaders in response to the shooting deaths of 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., on Wednesday, Feb. 14.

Five of those slain were Jewish: Camp Coleman alumna Alyssa Alhadeff, 14; Jaime Guttenberg, 14; Alex Schachter, 14; Meadow Pollack, 18; and Scott Beigel, 35. The others: Joaquin Oliver, 17; Alaina Petty, 14; Martin Duque, 14; Gina Montalto, 14; Nicholas Dworet, 17; Peter Wang, 15; Luke Hoyer, 15; Carmen Schentrup, 16; Helena Ramsay, 17; Cara Loughran, 14; Chris Hixon, 49; and Aaron Feis, 37.

You can read more about the massacre and see several videos, including Coleman’s healing service Feb. 15 here. 

Feeling Numb

I will admit that I have become numb to the carnage. It is not the first, second or third mass shooting in the last few months. We will now swing through the usual cycle of handwringing, as we did after similar events at Sandy Hook Elementary, the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, churches in Sutherland Springs, Texas, and Charleston, S.C., the Las Vegas Strip, and too many other episodes to even name. Pundits and elected officials will offer “thoughts and prayers” but insist that it is too soon to act, or that nothing can be done.
Soon enough, our country will turn its backs on the mourners and the wounded, and our nation will continue in its way until the next mass murder. I am embarrassed that a regular school shooting does not shock me more, and numbers or proximity are required to rouse me. The numbness originates in helplessness. As long as our society does not choose to address the causes of these events head on, thoughts, prayers, grief and anger are all we are left with. …

It is incumbent on all of us, especially those of us who see a place for guns in society, to speak out against the excesses that allow these types of attacks to happen so frequently. We can encourage our elected officials, of whatever alignment, to have the conscience to make at least the modest changes that will save so many lives in our schools and our streets. It is our children’s blood that is spilled on the altar. Those who continue to maintain their elected positions by enabling violence against the innocent are offensive in their prayers, and their thoughts are suspect as well.

— Congregation B’nai Torah Rabbi Joshua Heller

Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School

Action After Prayer

So here we sit; another mass shooting. Children are dead. Lives, hopes, dreams have been shattered. And all we can do in response to this destruction is cry. But we have no more tears. We can’t muster up the emotional strength to cry again, knowing that since the last mass shooting, too few hands have been raised to change our reality.

As always we are called together to pray. But like our tears, the words of prayer are hard to find. They seem to all have been said, and we aren’t sure if anybody is listening. We are tired of praying. We are heartbroken when we hear about another act of gun violence, this time leading to the deaths of 17 children and faculty members of a South Florida high school. Yes, we are tired of praying.

Or shall we say we are tired of just praying for the dead, their families and for the well-being of those injured? Prayer has its place, but it should be clear to all of us now that prayer, without well-targeted action, is what our rabbis would have called a bracha l’vatalah, a prayer in vain.

Gun violence is a spiritual problem. Gun violence is a chillul Hashem, a desecration of G-d’s name. It demeans G-d, hides the Divine Presence from us and obscures the beauty of G-d’s world, a world … entrusted to us as faithful stewards. We hear hints of the famous words of Cain when he answered G-d’s question “Why does your brother’s blood scream to Me from the earth?” He responded, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” The answer is yes.

— Ahavath Achim Synagogue Rabbis Neil Sandler and Laurence Rosenthal

Blast Radius

While sadly, there have been many shootings that have taken place in our country since the beginning of the new year, I think that it is vital for you to know just how far … “the radius of the initial blast” has extended to our Cobb County family.

I have received calls from congregants who are stunned to hear about this shooting taking place in their parents’ back yard in Florida. Others have sought solace because they have friends whose children attend Parkland high school and are now deeply traumatized. Sadly, there are also families in my synagogue who have children attending the same summer camp of Jaime Guttenberg. …

There must be nothing more important or sacred to your constituents right now than the safety of our children, and we have faith that you will not disappoint us by staying silent in our hour of need.

Congregation Etz Chaim Rabbi Daniel Dorsch in a letter to Sen. Johnny Isakson

JF&CS Offers Help

At JF&CS, we specialize in treating mental health disorders. We stand ready in Atlanta to diagnose problems in children and teens and help them proactively work on their psychological demons. We are on most insurance panels and offer a sliding scale to help those who otherwise could not afford therapy.

In addition, we are here to help our families who are having difficulty handling the news and children who may become fearful to attend schools. We offer individual and group therapy for adolescents, teens and adults.

Please know that if you or someone you know is showing warning signs — anger, depression, withdrawing from activities — we’re here to help.

— JF&CS CEO Rick Aranson

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