On Wednesday night, Cantor Dubinsky, Barbara Haber our Educational Director, Barnett Goldman our Youth Director, our teacher Navah Kogen and I, stood with twenty-five of our middle school and high school students who were attending our weekly teen program. Some of the students had participated in the 17-minute walkout in memory of the mass shooting last month in Parkland, Florida, at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School that claimed the lives of seventeen people. But without comment, we adults listened, and we let those teens who wanted and needed to speak, to share their stories.
We heard from a student who was discouraged from walking outside the school building. They were allowed to go to the gymnasium or auditorium because it was safer. Safety is a definite concern. But if our students cannot be seen and their voices not heard in the wider community because we are afraid of their actions disrupting the status quo or rocking the boat, what is the point?
We heard from a student whose school administration was prepared for students to walk outside the building until they received a threat from an unknown source saying that if students walked out, he would begin shooting them himself. What forces have created and allowed for a society where people think it is acceptable to issue such a threat, and endanger the lives of anyone else, let alone teenagers, students, children. Children.
We heard from a student who said that the administration wanted to add seventeen minutes on to the school day so as not to disrupt the regular schedule. The student said adamantly, "That's the whole point of a protest, to disrupt the status quo and make people aware that there is a problem we need to address together."
We heard from a student who mentioned that in another county, students who walked out, exercising their right to free speech, and their right to protest, were suspended from school for three days. These students wanted to lead the charge and lead the change. These students are looking over their shoulders, asking, "Are we next?" But no. Keep your heads down in your books, and pay attention in class, put your fingers in your ears and hum real loudly until it's over. Suspending high school students for taking a stand in memory of other high school students who were brutally murdered because their actions would disrupt a normal day by seventeen minutes. Think of the families whose lives have been shattered forever. Wrong. So utterly and nonsensically wrong.
Later, another student cited a statistic mentioning that there have been 300 school shootings. He said, "We are the only country in the world that uses and know the term 'school shooting.'" What does it mean that this blossoming outspoken, intelligent, enthusiastic, giving young leader who volunteers weekly in our temple, has to grow up in a country where every day he goes to school and wonders if he will come home alive. What does this mean for his parents? What does this mean for us? At what stage do we look at this tragic lunacy and say enough is enough?
This week, in Jewish communities around the world, we begin reading from the book of Leviticus, which addresses the ancient practice of ritualized animal sacrifice. Our ancestors engaged in ceremonial sacrifice because they believed that God commanded a method by which they could atone for their sins, seek forgiveness, offer gratitude, and celebrate peace and well being. The slaughter of the animal created a pleasing odor, thought to waft heavenward, and soothe God.
Animal sacrifice ended in 70 CE with the destruction of the Second Temple. But now, nearly two thousand years later, we are sacrificing our children. And for what? Because elected officials want to stay in office and hold on to power? Because we can't agree on what parameters of safety should be established? Because our Constitution gives us the right to bear arms? We are not talking about politics alone. We are talking about our children. We are talking about our future. Can we not agree on basic principles regarding the safety of our children?
All too often, on the topic of gun violence, we also skirt around the topic of mental health. We live in a perceived "Stigma Free" county. There are those among us who believe that if we just had enough mental health resources available, we could stop the problem of gun violence much earlier. Have we stopped to think about the resources that are needed to assist traumatized teenagers the country over?
Later in the book of Leviticus we read a command that we are "not to sacrifice our children to Molech", the god of the ancient Ammonite people. Judaism has never believed in child sacrifice or children dying at the hands of a false god. Judaism believes in the inestimable value of each person's life, in the gift that is life itself. Consider how the binding of Isaac plays out in the book of Genesis every year, and how it plays out on Rosh Hashanah morning. The story makes us flinch and then it makes us think, and then it reminds us. Our God, in whatever manifestation we worship God, doesn't desire that children die.
Come to think of it, no force in the world, religious or not, wants that innocent children are slaughtered in the spaces we see often deem to be "safe." The blood of our children is not pleasing to God. The fear and anxiety and worry that our children and their parents and that we carry and bear each and every day is not pleasing to God. The tears that we are shedding over this senseless violence are not pleasing to God. Our students are crying out passionately for justice. Their righteous indignation and the depth of their upset are completely warranted and necessary. Of course we should be applauding their efforts. But that we even have to acknowledge that such an effort is needed in our country. It shouldn't have to be this way. Not at all.
The Union for Reform Judaism is calling for a number of tangible responses. Our congregation is joining with Temple Sinai of Bergen County to attend a local March for our Lives event next Saturday, March 24. Response to this event has been trickling in and there are seats available on the bus. We need as strong a show of support from our congregation as possible. We are being encouraged to support the advocacy efforts of our teenagers, recognizing that their voice must be heard, understanding that the future is now, that our teens will change the world, and we need to help them, not the other way around. There are also ways to bolster efforts via social media raising awareness and lending financial support to these efforts.
And we cannot underestimate the value of writing to our elected officials. We must continue to think about what it means to speak our truth, our children's truth to those who hold positions of power. I am reminded of Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel's remarks when, in 1985, he learned that President Reagan had accepted an invitation to visit the Bitburg Cemetery, and lay a wreath in memory of fallen SS soldiers. The Jewish community was exasperated. Wiesel himself said to the President, "That place, is not your place. Your place is with the victims of the SS."
Our elected officials need to be reminded of their place. Our students have been victimized, but they are not victims. They will not allow themselves to be victims. And we cannot allow them to be victimized any longer. The place of our elected officials, our place, must be with our students, with our future so that we build a world where schools, shopping malls, movie theaters, parks and other locations may once again be safe spaces for our children, for everyone.
Enough is enough. We are a people who say "never again." In any context, in all contexts, in this context, never again, must mean, never again.
 Leviticus 1-5.
 Leviticus 18:21.
 Genesis 22.