Mixture of emotions at March for Our Lives

Jewish teens from Parkland participate in the March for Our Lives in Washington on March 24.
Photo by Hector Emanuel for the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism

Jody Wager had mixed emotions as she carried a banner downtown on Saturday, heading toward Pennsylvania Avenue.

“I feel grief. I feel anger. I feel frustration,” said Wager, a member of Temple Rodef Shalom in Falls Church. ”And today I’m feeling incredibly proud.”

Wager was one of at least 200,000 people who came to Washington for March for Our Lives — a march against gun violence and for gun control legislation in response to the Feb. 14 shooting that killed 17 students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla.

“This is just the beginning,” said Dara Holop of Temple Rodef Shalom, who marched beside Wager. “I think there’s enough energy and passion behind this that the teens aren’t going to take no for an answer.”


Ahead of Holop and Wager, 15-year-old Leia Gewirtz stood with an orange sign that read, “Reform Jewish students say enough is enough.” Leia came to Washington with her father, Louis Gewirtz, from Plantation, Fla, about a half hour from Parkland. She was still nursing the pain of losing one of her friends in the shooting.

“I’m still getting through it,” she said.

The Reform movement made a big push to bring its members — especially its children — to the march. Marchers came from across the country, among them at least 2,500 Jewish teenagers from as far afield as California, Colorado and Minnesota. They threw sleeping bags on the floors of local synagogues and Jewish community centers under the aegis of the Reform movement’s North American Federation of Temple Youth, or NFTY.

It took 21 hours for 75 teens to bus in from Minneapolis-St. Paul. They turned up outfitted in T-shirts that were colored orange for gun control and read #Dayenu — “it would have been enough” in Hebrew.

But Conservative congregation Kol Shalom in Rockville made the unusual decision to not hold Shabbat morning services and allow its members to gather near the march entrance. About 50 congregants did that, many clad in bright blue baseball caps.

More than four dozen members of Kol Shalom, a conservative congregation in Rockville, most of whom were clad in bright blue baseball caps, met in front of the National Building Museum of F Street, only blocks away from the march’s entrance at 7th Street and Pennsylvania Ave.

Rabbi Jonathan Maltzman said he was thrilled by his congregation’s support for the protest.

“I look at this more as an extremely important moral and ethical issue which trumps — excuse the expression — everything,” said Maltzman, who spent Friday night in a downtown hotel so he would not violate Shabbat. “For the first time in my career I asked the congregation’s leadership if they would be supportive of doing this on a Saturday. The amazing thing is not one single person that I’m aware of voiced an objection to doing this.”

Earlier, more than 2,000 teens and adults gathered for a pre-march event inside the Marriott Marquis, sponsored by the Union for Reform Judaism. One by one, teens spoke passionately about their frustration with the inaction of lawmakers to move on what they feel are “common sense” gun control measures, such as universal background checks and a ban on assault weapons. And they warned lawmakers that they will soon be of voting age.

“If you’re not with us, you’re against us, and if you’re against us you will be voted out,” declared Zoey Fox- Snider, who survived the Parkland shooting.

Audience members applauded throughout the event, including when Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) raised a sign over her head that read “Proud of my F NRA rating.”

“You are here to question the culture of guns,” she said to the teens. “This is not about the adults. This is about the next generation.”

The mix of emotions pulsing throughout the Marriott and the march could be felt within William Saltzburg, an 18-year old student at American University, said the shooting is personal to many in the Reform movement’s NFTY youth movement who live in Parkland or have friends there.

“This is a horrible moment and it’s an incredible moment,” he said. “It’s a horrible moment because we’re gathered here because 17 people died. It’s an incredible moment because there’s between 2,000 and 3,000 people here that are demanding change.”

But will the activism continue? Winston Churchill High School senior Isabel Namath said it will.

“I don’t think it’s going to die off,” she said. “It’s something that affects every single person. Everyone who knows someone who goes to school or is a teen or is related to someone who is a teen. No one wants to see more kids getting hurt because of gun violence.”

Connor Graham, a reporter for the Baltimore Jewish Times, and JTA News and Features contributed to this article.

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