The RAC is proud to bring thousands of teens to Washington D.C. for our annual L’Taken Social Justice Seminars. After three days of intensive programming, learning about just a few of the many issues prevalent in our country today, all participants travel to Capitol Hill to meet with their members of Congress and advocate in support of the things they care about.
This year, leading up to Wear Orange (June 2-4) we are sharing a few of the many powerful speeches that were given by our L’Taken participants during our 2022-2023 season centered around the epidemic of gun violence in the U.S. Our youth know firsthand about the dangers and impacts of gun violence and embody the power of the Reform Movement to make our voices heard to spur real change.
This speech was written by Ben S. from Menlo-Atherton High School and Ethan P. from Sequoia High School. At the time this speech was written/presented, both students were 15-year-old students who attend Congregation Beth Am in Los Altos Hills, California. This is the first of three speeches in our Wear Orange Series, 2023. Read the other 2 speeches: Speech 2, Speech 3:
First and foremost, we would like to sincerely thank Senator Feinstein for her support of Gun Violence Prevention through her sponsorship of S. 25, The Assault Weapons Ban.
As I navigate the true ups and downs of my high school years, I am often met with deep fears of gun violence in my own community. One could separate my life pre and post February 14th, 2018. Although I was nowhere near Parkland, Florida–I was in my sixth-grade classroom–the Parkland shooting forced me to face the realities of gun violence in our country, an experience no ten-year-old should have. While I was inspired by the work of teen leaders like X Gonzalez, David Hogg, and other founders of the March for Our Lives organization, the necessity for their leadership in the issue became a factor in the development of my social anxiety. Gun violence, for me, could no longer be just video games. It was, and still is, a stark reality. I fear that Congregation Beth Am, Sequoia High School, and my own name will be added to the next headline. I’ve come to understand that my communities are being forced to accept these threats as a reality – they are no longer ‘ifs’, they are ‘whens.’ My school, like many others, has adopted and developed Active Shooter drills in preparation for this “inevitable event.” These incidents have become synonymous with earthquakes and fires. Each drill we move tables, sharpen pencils, and lock doors, we sit in darkness and silence, and breathe. I usually find myself closing my eyes, imagining if it was all real: shots in the distance, screams from my throat, feeling helpless, trapped between a bullet and my future. But I won’t be trapped – I can’t. That’s why I’m here today advocating on this issue, so I won’t be forced to become an advocate after the massacre of my peers.
This school year, within a period of three weeks, two guns were found on campus inside of students’ backpacks. While these firearms were confiscated by my school administration and were fortunately never fired, the fact that there were guns on my school campus is quite terrifying and fear-inducing. Seeing mass shootings in the news, as I did last week after the mass shooting just thirty minutes from my house in Half Moon Bay, causes my fear to intensify. I have spent nights in bed, unable to sleep due to my immense anxiety about gun violence. Even writing this speech was difficult and emotional for me. However, I refuse to sit in fear without using my voice to speak up for change. When I’m at school, I should be focused on learning and spending time with my peers. Instead, I often miss out on something my teacher says because I am distracted by looking around the room to see where I would hide if an active shooter entered campus. And this is not just at school. I am an active member of my synagogue, Beth Am, and each time I go to temple for confirmation class or youth group, I pass armed guards that are employed to ensure our safety. Even in my house of worship, which should be a place of safety, I cannot escape the threat and fear of gun violence. This type of fear has become ‘normal,’ but this. isn’t. normal. The Jewish value of Pikuach Nefesh, or to save a life, teaches that, ‘Whoever destroys one life is considered as if he had destroyed an entire world.’ With each person killed by gun violence, an entire world is destroyed. The value continues, ‘whoever saves one life is considered as if he had saved an entire world.’ By introducing Bill S. 25, Senator Feinstein has taken action to prevent deaths by gun violence, and according to Jewish text, has saved an entire world.
We thank Senator Feinstein for sponsoring the Assault Weapons Ban, which demonstrates her commitment to protecting American communities and preventing the everlasting trauma of gun violence. This bill is a step in the right direction, we hope that our fears won’t be shared by the next generation.
This legislation will create real change and will save lives. We are incredibly grateful for the impact that Senator Feinstein is making and urge her to continue speaking up for gun violence prevention.
Thank you for your time.
Some of the deadliest mass shootings in the U.S. have been the result of assault weapons, weapons of war that are intended to shoot rapidly in a short period of time. You can join these teens and the larger Reform Movement by urging Congress to ban assault weapons.