Stoneman Douglas High School fuels the Never Again movement’s momentum In the Megillah of Esther, verse 4:14, Mordechai sends this message to Esther:
“If you keep silent in this crisis, relief and deliverance will come to the Jews from elsewhere, while you and your father’s house will perish. And who knows, perhaps you have attained to royal position for just such a crisis.”
I thought of these words from the Purim narrative on Monday night, February 26, when my wife, Ann, and I attended an organizing meeting and memorial service in New York City for the 17 latest victims of murder in our schools that was organized by alumni of the Parkland Florida high school. The speakers that evening included not only young people raised and educated in Florida’s Broward County, but also spokespeople from Moms Demand Action, a 50-state coalition founded after the 2012 murders at Newtown, Connecticut, in 2012. I mention this because despite the heroic efforts of this coalition to change the gun laws and gun culture of America, nearly 300 school shootings have occurred across America between Newtown and Parkland.
Mordechai’s words to Esther led her to take the risk of speaking up for the innocent who were threatened by Haman. Risking her position and perhaps her life, the heroine of Purim was willing to stand up and speak truth to power. So too was the hero of Passover, Moses, who risked his own station in life and conveyed to Pharaoh the Divine demand “Let my people go!”
In these weeks between Purim and Pesach I find myself reflecting upon the reality that like Moses at the beginning of the Book of Exodus and Esther after her elevation to the position of Queen of Persia, we American Jews, as a community, truly are privileged. We have political power and societal status that even our parents and grandparents could not have imagined. The question that the children of Stoneman Douglas High School are asking us and our fellow middle class Americans is Mordechai’s question to Esther, and the call of the inner voice of God that Moses heard as he saw the Egyptian taskmaster attacking the Israelite slave: “In this time and place, what are we going to do?”
The Newtown murders occurred as I was preparing for my retirement and my move from Bergen County. I remain very proud of the fact that the JCRC that I was then chairing supported the initiative of Rabbi Joel Mosbacher, who created and led the interfaith effort “Do Not Stand Idly By.” The JCRC — an agency of the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey — partnered with Rabbi Mosbacher in this effort to increase awareness and promote community involvement. As this effort spread across the state and the nation, the Northern New Jersey JCRC , under the chairmanship of Gale Bindelglass and the professional leadership of Joy Kurland, led the effort in New Jersey to get a first-step law to limit the size of bullet magazines and organized an interfaith effort to discourage retailers from selling AR-15 and other weapons of war in our community.
Sadly, the efforts at legislation were blocked by Governor Christie and other supporters of the NRA. (I urge every one of you to go to the Jewish Standard archives and search for Rabbi Mosbacher’s op-ed of December 17, 2015. Read it, and you will see clearly that despite the statements of the NRA, the movement to end the sale of assault weapons is not a partisan effort, nor is criticism aimed only at Republicans.)
Is there a direct line from the murder of those little children and their teachers in Newtown to the murder of teenagers and their teachers in Parkland?
Can the articulate voices of Florida teenagers be the Mordechai-like call that will awaken us from the failures of the past apathy and inspire us to be like Esther and Moses? To willingly risk our perceived personal security and speak truth to power and demand real action against gun violence in America?
On March 24, students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and their families will lead the March for Our Lives in Washington, D.C. There will be parallel marches around the country, including in the New Jersey/New York area. If you want to join me in participating, go to to register and learn more about the planned events.
Another way to be like Mordechai, Esther, and Moses is to join in the activities described at www.momsdemandaction.org, the national group that now 4 1/2 years after Newtown, needs more of us to join its chorus of protest. You also can check out www.jcpa.org, the website of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, where I am a vice chair; for a complete list of Jewish communal efforts you can join in the battle against gun violence. Each of us also can use our consumer power to encourage corporate America to join the battle for sensible and safe gun-control legislation.
As I heard the angry voices of the Broward County teens and the mournful cries of parents, siblings, and grandparents who lost children these past week, I saw myself and our community. What has happened in Newtown and Parkland can and probably will happen in Bergen County if we stand idly by and fail once again to use the power of our citizenship in this great democracy to enact sensible gun control.
The choice of Never Again movement as the name for the response by Stoneman Douglas High School students for their mobilization has a link to the fact that one of the classes where students and teachers were murdered with an AR-15 was an elective on Holocaust education. More saliently, it reminds me that just as the horrors of the Holocaust could have been mitigated if millions of good people had not stood idly by, but rather, like Esther, stood up and spoke truth to power, we 21st century American Jews have an opportunity and a responsibility to join the March for our Lives and make 2018 the year when we bring an end to sacrificing our children on the altar of a misunderstanding of the Second Amendment.
Perhaps, as Mordechai said to Esther, we American Jews have attained our status in American life for just such a crisis.
Neal Borovitz, rabbi emeritus of Temple Avodat Shalom in River Edge, is a former chair of the Jewish Community Relations Council of the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey.