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.
This speech was written by Kira Jacobs, Madeline Johnston, and Jessi Kelvin from Temple Isaiah of Contra Costa County, California, and is the second of three speeches in our Wear Orange Series, 2023. Read the other 2 speeches: Speech 1, Speech 3:
3rd grade is a time full of rose-tinted memories for me. It all seemed so much simpler. Hopscotch, double-dutch, basketball, and four square. I remember chasing down one of those red dodgeballs that smelled so much like rubber. Struggling to keep up with it as it bounced across the scorching blacktop. As I reached down to grab the bright red ball, I heard my principal’s voice cut through the laughter and busy ambience of recess over the loudspeaker:
“Shelter in place, this is not a drill. Shelter in place, this is not a drill.”
At first there was a quiet sort of calm, a shared confusion that lasted for just a moment. Then, pandemonium. Children ran past me, screaming, shouting, pushing, grabbing their friends and hurriedly pulling them back to their classrooms. Kids practically trampled themselves in sheer panic. Of course, we’d all done the drill a thousand times. But this wasn’t a drill. I joined the herds of children running through the carpeted hall, pushing my way into my classroom, which was completely dark. Kids were stifling crying, and I felt sobs begin to push through my mouth. There was a man at the top of the street with a gun, as my teacher told us. In 3rd grade I thought I was going to die.
In 7th grade I was walking back from my final class, history, to the pickup line to meet my mom. My friend ran to catch up with me, slowing her pace to walk beside me.
“Hey, are you coming to school tomorrow?” She asked.
“Yeah, why? Do we have school off?”
“No, Jessi, there was a bomb threat.”
I felt that same fear strike my body. “A bomb threat?”
“I’m not going to school.” She responded.
I went. The next day was too quiet. Where a normal lunch was usually loud, raucous, busy, today was eerily quiet. There was an internal panic that hung in the air like a fog. It was the only thing on everyone’s minds. In 7th grade I thought I was going to die.
On average, 22 minors are shot every day in United States. Every single day. In 2020, guns even became the leading cause of death for Americans up to the age of 19 years old, which surpassed car accidents. The decade following the expiration of the federal assault weapons ban (2004-2014), over 300 people were shot and killed in 34 mass shootings, which is a 183% increase in massacres and a 239% increase in fatalities. We need a change, and Americans across the country agree. We, the people, are tired of being afraid of gun violence. No child, or anyone, deserves to be shot.
As Jews, one of our main responsibilities is “tikkun olam” or repairing the world. We cannot morally sit by and watch as our country kills more and more every day through an irresponsible overflow of guns. In fact, the Torah commands it: from Leviticus 19:16, “Do not stand idly by while your neighbor’s blood is shed.” Judaism values life so much that the Talmud compares it to a universe. By allowing tens of thousands of universes to be killed every year by guns, we are allowing every interconnected planet, star, and moon to die too. Our country is filled with interconnected galaxies that feel that death. We feel it through the dragging weight of grief when we wake up in the morning and remember all that we lost. We feel it in the freezing shiver of terror when we enter any set of doors and immediately spot the exits. We feel it in the bucket loads of tears that pour out when we think “what if that was my family? What if that was me?” We feel it. When we go to temple, a place of prayer, happiness, and comfort, we are not safe without the high fence and police parked outside our doors. Watching those and wondering if this will be the inevitable day that it finally happens.
We thank Senator Feinstein for cosponsoring the assault weapons ban, demonstrating her commitment to protecting American communities and preventing the everlasting trauma of gun violence.
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.