In 2006, a lunatic got into the Seattle Jewish Federation offices and shot/killed people. This man wasn’t just a lunatic. He was/is a terrorist. He struck terror into the hearts of the Jews throughout Seattle. The day after the incident, a group of us met on a hillside our neighborhood, with a police officer stationed nearby to keep us safe. To the depths of our souls, we were afraid. That’s terror. That’s what terrorists do.
To help keep our community safe, many of the Jewish institutions in Washington State received funding to turn their facilities into fortresses. I was on the board of Hillel (the Jewish Student organization at the University of Washington) at the time and we really wrestled with this conundrum. We wanted to make sure that students felt that it was an open and hospitable environment. Yet – we needed our staff and students to be safe. We had just built a beautiful window-filled building designed to convey that sense of welcoming and lightness.
6 years later, we have bullet proof front glass doors, an intercom system to buzz people in, a surveillance system that captures footage of the surrounding area, and armed police officers for many of the big events. Fortunately, students are resilient and they have continued to come. They have grown accustomed to a new – and perverse – normal.
In 2007, my family and I went to Israel and, during our trip, went to a mall in Eilat to buy some sandals. We went through metal detectors that were staffed by young men with very large and imposing guns. Throughout their country, Israelis go through security to shop and live their lives. They have grown accustomed to a new – and perverse – normal.
Today, I drove my 2 elementary school kids to their respective schools. There was a police officer at my daughter’s school but no noticeable security at my son’s school. I have never been scared of dropping my children off at school before. But my brain couldn’t help but run through macabre scenarios at what are sweet and very open/accessible schools. Would some crazy young man (they are all young men, unfortunately) go into the school with a semi-automatic weapon and murder my babies? Of course the odds are against that happening, but are there mentally ill copy cats who would do that? Just last year, some dumb high school students carried fake plastic weapons onto the play area of one of our neighborhood elementary schools. Granted, they wouldn’t fire on anyone – but if there can be non-mentally ill high school students who do something as moronic as that (last I checked, “stupid” wasn’t classified as a mental illness), then it’s not a stretch for someone to bring a real weapon to one of the schools
So what’s the solution? How do we reduce the terror? How do we reduce the gun violence?
There are far more qualified people thinking about the criminal science and legislative angles on this. I pray that they come up with productive and viable solutions.
Ever since they were teeny, I would emphasize to my kids that my number one job (besides loving them) was to keep them safe. For example, if they were doing something fun, but dangerous (playing with sharp sticks), I would be a buzzkill and tell them to put the sticks down. After they guffawed with a two syllable “mo-om!” I would simply ask: “what’s my main job” – and they’d put the stick down while reluctantly saying “keep me safe”.
This time “keeping them safe” feels much more daunting, especially since it relies on the whole community and country. But I’ve watched enough movies to know that, when the group comes together to take down the bad guy, the group – and good – always triumphs.
Change on this front is not going to happen if we don’t push for it. So – while I still feel afraid today to drop my kids off at school, I am going to work hard to make sure that condition doesn’t persist – and I ask you to help too.
For a start – here are some resources/places to engage and stay tuned to the effort:
- White House Petition on this
- Move on’s petition on this
- www.demandaplan.org – Mayor Bloomberg’s NY initiative
- Here’s an excellent article on using initiatives for this from Tina Podlodowski in Seattle
Also – call your Mayor’s, governor’s, and state legislators’ offices. There’s a lot that can be done locally and not just federally.
Lastly – Take 18 minutes to watch President Obama’s speech last night at the Newtown interfaith vigil.
Be ready. Your help will be needed.