Five Towns Yeshivas react to Tree of Life synagogue attack

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Mass shootings have become all too common place and reactions have become near routine — grief, prayers and political rhetoric about guns, mental health and related issues.

Earlier this year when 17 people were killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., there was a different reaction. Young people from Douglas High and across the country became vocal and organized rallies. A different tone, almost of defiance against the violence, took hold.

When 11 people were killed with six injured, in a mass shooting at the Tree of Life Congregation synagogue in Pittsburgh on Oct. 27, it wasn’t surprising that there was an outpouring of reaction from Five Towns yeshivas.

School-wide assemblies that included prayers for those murdered and hurt and addressed the fears and concerns of their students were, especially since the shooting happened at a synagogue on Shabbos. Some wrote letters to the Pittsburgh Jewish community.

“I was home sitting in the living room with my parents, I was shocked,” said Sarah Spielman, a senior at Midreshet Shalhevet High School in North Woodmere. “I was really scared, not completely surprised.”

“I was angry and wanted to go to Pittsburgh and visit with the families,” said Rivkie Elman, another MSH senior. “I also want to get involved. Help in anyway I can. I feel a strong connection to this sort of area.”

Spielman, Elman and sophomore Leah Cohen are not eligible to vote yet, but had a message for those who were elected or re-elected on Nov. 6. All three targeted limiting gun ownership and increasing cultural education as possible ways to reduce the violence.

Cohen said that attack hit home. “I felt like I was targeted,” she said. “I want to say, do you think it would be better with more security in place.”

Rabbi Matt Schneeweiss, an Advanced Placement English teacher at MSH, posted what he called “some thoughts” on the shooting on Facebook. His class discussed the shooting and analyzed what he wrote. Schneeweiss wanted his students to understand that one way to stop such violence or evil from happening is to “understand its causes in the mind and erroneous beliefs of the evildoer.” “We are subject to these same mistakes and repeat the errors,” if we don’t he said.

The Hebrew Academy of the Five Towns and Rockaway High School Principal Naomi Lippman said the assembly conversations continued in the classrooms. Students made a point of attending synagogue on Nov. 3, the first Saturday after the shooting, on what was dubbed “Solidarity Shabbat.” The school is also promoting a mitzvah (good deed) project in memory of the victims.

“The teachers and students talked about needing to be strong after any attack, show them our support, be resilient and not be intimidated or discouraged to do what we do in our lives,” Lippman said. HAFTR sent student-made cards to the Pittsburgh police.

Hebrew Academy of Long Beach in Woodmere that includes first- through eighth-graders spoke to the students using age-appropriate language. An email was sent to parents to explain what was discussed and included advice. “Putting feelings into words is very therapeutic,” wrote Carly Namdar, the middle school’s director guidance.

Stella K. Abraham High School for Girls General Studies Principal Bluma Drebin tied the shooting remembrance to SKA’s Oct. 31 National Honor society induction. “The term is that the girls are a light into the nation they represent — Jewry — and all types of Jews,” she said. “Part of our job is show them that their job to represent something much greater than yourself.”