U.S. Jewish groups express grief, frustration following deadly school shooting

“No child, no teacher, should ever be in danger in an American school. No parent should ever have to fear for their sons and daughters when they kiss them goodbye in the morning,” Trump said.

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February 15, 2018 18:32
Students are evacuated from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School during a shooting incident in Parkl

Students are evacuated from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School during a shooting incident in Parkland, Florida, February 14 . (photo credit: WSVN.COM VIA REUTERS)

The United States bowed its head on Thursday in the aftermath of the second-deadliest public school shooting in its history, which claimed the lives of 17 people in Parkland, Florida, including five Jews – four students and a teacher.

“My fellow Americans, today I speak to a nation in grief,” US President Donald Trump said in an address he delivered from the White House. “Yesterday, a school filled with innocent children and caring teachers became the scene of terrible violence, hatred, and evil.

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Our entire nation, with one heavy heart, is praying for the victims and their families. To every parent, teacher and child who is hurting so badly, we are here for you – whatever you need, whatever we can do – to ease your pain. We are all joined together as one American family, and your suffering is our burden also.

“No child, no teacher, should ever be in danger in an American school. No parent should ever have to fear for their sons and daughters when they kiss them goodbye in the morning,” he said.

Flags flew at half-mast across the country, the Senate held a moment of silence, and synagogues near the shooting held special prayer services.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu related to the Florida shooting before boarding his plane to the annual Munich Security Conference.

“I wish to send my deepest condolences to the families of the slain school children and teachers in the horrible massacre in Florida,” Netanyahu said. “I speak for the entire people of Israel when I say to the families and to the American people, our hearts are with you.”
At least 17 dead in Florida high school shooting, February 14, 2018. (Reuters)

Trump spoke a day after 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz walked into his former school from which he had been expelled student, Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, and opened fire on students and staff, Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel said.

Cruz, who police believe acted alone, was armed with an AR-15-style rifle, and had multiple ammunition magazines when he surrendered to officers in a nearby residential area. Police and former classmates said Cruz loved guns, and had been expelled for unspecified disciplinary reasons.

Cruz appeared in court on Thursday afternoon for a bond hearing facing 17 counts of premeditated murder. A judge ordered Cruz to be held in jail without bond.

A formal list of victims from the shooting at Douglas High has yet to be released. But according to informal reports from family members, the media and social media, the following victims have been identified as Jewish: students Jaime Guttenberg, 14, Alyssa Alhadeff, 14, Meadow Pollack, 18, and Alex Schachter, 19, as well as Scott Beigel, 35, a geography teacher who saved students’ lives by closing a classroom door as he was shot.

Jaime Guttenberg brother Jesse managed to escape. Their father, Fred, wrote on Facebook: “My heart is broken... I am broken as I write this trying to figure out how my family gets through this.... Hugs to all and hold your children tight.”

One of the students in Beigel’s class, Kelsey Friend, recounted how he let her and other students into his classroom and then tried to lock the door.

“I had talked to my teacher and said, ‘I am scared.’ And then we all heard gunshots, and he unlocked the door and let us in. I had thought he was behind me, but he wasn’t,” Friend told ABC News. “When he opened the door, he had to re-lock it so we can stay safe, but he didn’t get the chance to [stay safe].”

Friend said she would likely not be alive had Beigel not opened the door for her.

“I’m so thankful that he was there to help everybody who did live in that classroom, because he was in the doorway and the door was still open, and the shooter probably didn’t know we were in there because Mr. Beigel was laying on the floor,” she told ABC. “If the shooter would have came into the room, I probably wouldn’t be speaking with you right now.”

Colton Haab, a 17-year-old junior, said he realized the alarms weren’t a drill after hearing several shots, and word came over the school radio saying three people had been hit. “That for me changed it to an active shooter scenario,” he said.

Shortly thereafter, Haab said he rushed to his ROTC room and helped usher several dozen students inside and barricaded them behind Kevlar curtains.

“We grabbed two pieces of two-by-four, a fire extinguisher and a chair; if he was going to try to come in the room we were going to try to stop him with whatever we had,” Haab said.

Parkland Chabad Rabbi Shuey Biston said that the town is still reeling from the shock and trauma of the incident.

“This is a small community, where nearly half of the population is Jewish, so everyone has been touched by what has happened,” Biston told Chabad.org. “The phones at Chabad have been ringing off the wall as people come for emotional, spiritual, and material support.”

Rabbi Jonathan Kaplan of the nearby Temple Beth Chai spent the evening at the local Marriott Hotel, where parents had gathered to reunite with their children, counseling parents whose children are still missing. One child from Kaplan’s congregation is among the dead, and another is missing. Beth Chai planned to hold a service on Friday in response to the shooting.

“It’s chaos here and devastation,” Kaplan told JTA, on his way to console the bereaved parents in his congregation. “Everyone is just waiting and praying. No words can describe what happened here.”

Trump spoke of the need for unity, saying, “In times of tragedy, the bonds that sustain us are those of family, faith, community and country. These bonds are stronger than the forces of hatred and evil, and these bonds grow even stronger in the hours of our greatest need. And so always, but especially today, let us hold our loved ones close, let us pray for healing and for peace, and let us come together as one nation to wipe away the tears and strive for a much better tomorrow.”

Jordan Jereb, the head of a white supremacist group the Republic of Florida militia, said of Cruz, “He had some involvement with the Clearwater Republic of Florida cell at some point.”

The shooting in the community 72 km. north of Miami – according to media reports, 40% of Parkland’s residents are Jews – was the 18th in a US school this year, according to gun control group Everytown for Gun Safety, continuing a troubling pattern that has played out over the past few decades.

It was the second deadliest shooting in a US Public School, after the 2012 massacre of 20 first-graders and six educators at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut.

Many politicians and Jewish groups called for gun control as the best way to end such shootings.

The Anti-Defamation League pleaded with lawmakers to make it a top priority to end the “epidemic of gun violence” in America, and called the climate of fear hovering over school campuses “outrageous.”

“We demand that our elected leaders come up with strategies to deal with this epidemic of gun violence plaguing our country,” Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO of the ADL, said in the statement. “It is outrageous in a country such as ours that teachers and kids can’t go to school without fear of being shot.

Ann Lewis, president of the JAC Education Foundation, a nonprofit Jewish organization, said she was outraged by the shooting, and echoed the ADL’s call for action.

“I don’t know how to talk about this without getting angry,” Lewis told The Jerusalem Post. “I can say we must express our sorrow, and our anger, and our commitment, as active citizens, voters and advocates, to work to reduce the level of gun violence in this country.”

Lewis said that her organization does not advocate for the “elimination of private gun ownership, rather, for legislation that ensures responsible gun ownership. We support background checks, the revocation of gun ownership in cases of domestic violence, a limit on magazine size, a limit on those guns generally recognized as ‘assault weapons,’ and closing gun show loopholes regarding background checks and ownership.”

Amanda Berman, head of the New York City branch of the Zioness Movement – a feminist Zionist organization devoted to progressive causes – said that “as an American, I am horrified, disgusted, and ashamed that our government continues to allow mentally unstable individuals to purchase assault weapons as if they are tic tacs.”

Daniel J. Roth and JTA contributed to this report


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