“The students and young people in this country, and here in Philadelphia, are inspiring the next generation of leaders, and their voices are lifting up the voices of so many on common sense laws in this country to prevent gun violence, and to keep our streets and our schools safe,” said Attorney General Josh Shapiro (D-Pa.) to the Philadelphia Jewish Voice at March For Our Lives Philadelphia. “I wanted to be here today really to support the young people, support their voices, and frankly, to be inspired by them.”
The March 24 event in Philly was a Sister March with Washington DC’s March for Our Lives, called for by the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School survivors of the February 14 mass shooting that left 17 people dead. As reported by The Times of Israel, among the victims, five Jews were killed: Jewish students Alyssa Alhadeff, 14, Jaime Guttenberg, 14, Meadow Pollock, 18, and Alex Schachter, 14, as well as geography teacher Scott Beigel, 35.
The Attorney General, and Akiba-Barrack Hebrew Academy alum (’91), spoke about the need for gun control reform to over 10,000 marchers, by the organizer’s unofficial crowd estimates. By his side were two of his children, who currently attend Jack M. Barrack Hebrew Academy: Jonah (’23) and Sophia (’20).
AG Shapiro was just one of the many speakers of the day, which included other politicians, local activists, student-organizers, a Columbine survivor, a Marjory Stoneman Douglas alumna, and the father of one of the student survivors. The day also featured a number of musical performances.
Protesters for gun reform marched from Market and 5th Streets to Columbus Circle for the rally. In the middle the crowd, Rabbi Beth Kalisch held a sign with the word, “Dayenu” (enough).
“When we say dayenu at our [Passover] Seder, we are trying to be grateful for all the small things that we have. But I think we see dayenu today [as a way to] be more aware that the small things add up, and the small things are big, whether it’s individual students, people in our city of Philadelphia who are dying from gun violence, or the students and teachers killed in these mass shootings,” said Rabbi Kalisch as she marched with members from Beth David Reform Congregation in Gladwyne. “It’s time to say enough, enough is enough. We need to be able to stand up, and our teenagers are leading the way to say that. Just because this issue [may seem] intractable is not an excuse for doing nothing.”
According to Rabbi Kalisch, Beth David has a few connections with one of the Parkland, Florida synagogues, Congregation Kol Tikvah. Not only did Rabbi Kalisch study with Kol Tivah’s Director of Lifelong Learning Rabbi Melissa Zalkin Stollman, but also its spiritual leader, Rabbi Bradd Boxman, grew up at Beth David. Rabbi Boxman learned from Beth David’s Emeritus Rabbi Henry Cohen, who was known for his commitment to social activism.
“Jewish students who have been taught by their faith and their tradition in their communities know that nothing is more important than saving a life, (pikuach nefesh) in Judaism, and that we have a responsibility, even if we can’t solve the problem, to step up and take action,” explained Rabbi Kalisch about the Jewish student activists promoting anti-gun violence awareness.
Beth David began their Shabbat morning with a breakfast with Temple Shalom in Broomall. The two synagogues took a bus to participate in the March for Our Lives. Marching and mourning the lives of both the Jewish and non-Jewish victims, Rabbi Kalisch and the rest of the congregants spent their Shabbat not in a shul, but on the streets — forgoing the letter of the law for its spirit.
“We have kids, and teenagers, and adults of all ages coming together to see this is a moral issue, and this is a Jewish issue,” Rabbi Kalisch said. “It’s a Jewish thing to do, to speak up for what’s right, to pursue justice, and to pray with [our] feet.“