Park­land fa­ther re­flects on one ‘never again’ mo­ment af­ter an­other

Sun Sentinel Palm Beach Edition - - OPINION - By Howard S. Krooks

Dev­as­tated. En­raged. Bit­ter. Heart­bro­ken. Melan­choly.

Th­ese are some of the feel­ings that race through my mind af­ter a CNN no­ti­fi­ca­tion pops up on my phone alert­ing me to the Tree of Life syn­a­gogue shoot­ing in Pitts­burgh, where 11 peo­ple, all Jews, died.

The Park­land shoot­ing hit us hard, but this shoot­ing goes to the core of my be­ing. Yes, I am Jewish. I al­ready live with the re­al­ity that my chil­dren, two of whom cur­rently at­tend Mar­jory Stone­man Dou­glas High School, are not safe at school. Now, af­ter the dead­li­est at­tack on Jews in Amer­i­can his­tory, my fam­ily is no longer safe in our house of wor­ship.

The Tree of Life shoot­ing was not only an af­front to hu­man­ity, it chal­lenges all that I have learned about be­ing a Jew. Still deal­ing with the fear that one of our kids will not re­turn home from school one day, I think of my fourth child, Justin, as he be­gins pre­par­ing to be­come a Bar Mitz­vah. When he goes to our syn­a­gogue to pre­pare for this mile­stone in a Jewish boy’s life, I won­der whether he will come home alive or suf­fer the same fate as those in Pitts­burgh, peo­ple whose only “crime” was to prac­tice their re­li­gion on the Sab­bath.

Nov. 14 will be the nine-month an­niver­sary of the Park­land shoot­ing. Ev­ery day since, I have thought of the events that un­folded that day, in­clud­ing the loss of one of my son Noah’s dear­est friends, Alex Schachter. Ev­ery once in awhile, life seems reg­u­lar, but such mo­ments are fleet­ing. Out of nowhere, I well up in­side, over­come by the loss, the dev­as­ta­tion, the atroc­i­ties and the thought of our de­fense­less kids be­ing shot down, one by one. Sev­en­teen of them never to re­turn home that af­ter­noon to their fam­i­lies, who had no idea what hit them.

There have been other shoot­ings since Feb. 14, but the Pitts­burgh one hits me deep in­side. It’s as if I am in Squir­rel Hill with them, as if their pain is my pain. I know how they feel – not be­cause I am try­ing to be com­fort­ing to an­other hu­man be­ing – but be­cause I truly know, in­stantly, how they feel. I have been where they are. And I know what the next nine months will be like for them.

It used to be easy to dis­tin­guish the United States from other coun­tries. The land of op­por­tu­nity. Cap­i­tal­ism. Free­dom of re­li­gion. Free­dom to pur­sue life, lib­erty and hap­pi­ness. I don’t know where we are any­more. Our coun­try has lost its iden­tity and along the way, our safety and se­cu­rity.

The right to bear arms is more sacro­sanct in some cir­cles than the safety of our chil­dren and teach­ers in schools. It is more sa­cred than the sanc­tu­ar­ies where peo­ple gather to pray, laugh and be with oth­ers who share their re­li­gious be­liefs.

I have no con­fi­dence in our po­lit­i­cal lead­ers. They were elected to solve th­ese prob­lems, but many turn the other cheek in pur­suit of their own — or their po­lit­i­cal party’s — agenda.

And all Pres­i­dent Trump has to say is that this could have been avoided if the syn­a­gogue had its own se­cu­rity. Isn’t the gov­ern­ment sup­posed to as­sure our safety and se­cu­rity? The an­swer is no, ac­cord­ing to Mr. Trump.

I guess we all must take re­spon­si­bil­ity for our own se­cu­rity. That point was made clear in the 60 Min­utes piece that aired Sun­day, Nov. 4, de­scrib­ing the dev­as­tat­ing ef­fects of an AR-15 as com­pared to a hand­gun. It re­ported that more and more Amer­i­cans are pre­par­ing for mass shoot­ings by car­ry­ing per­sonal bleed­ing kits, which con­sist of tourni­quets, QuikClot, gloves, elas­tic and Mod­u­lar ban­dages, gauze, sponges, scis­sors and an in­struc­tional guide. It breaks your heart to think it has come to this.

I was in line re­cently at Star­bucks with my son, Justin, who is in 7th grade, to or­der break­fast – our usual rit­ual on Tues­day morn­ings. Sud­denly I thought to my­self: What if loud shots ring out? What if a shooter comes in­side Star­bucks and starts shoot­ing ran­domly? What would I do? I look around and be­gin de­vel­op­ing a strat­egy.

Here is what I came up with: I’ll grab my son, push him be­hind the counter and force him to the ground. Then, I’ll lie on top of him so that any rounds fired hit me, not his lit­tle, in­no­cent 12-year-old body. Yeah. That’s what I’ll do. Whew! I felt bet­ter. Not.

Then it hit me – if this is what is go­ing through my mind at Star­bucks, where can we go and feel safe any­more? Schools are out. Syn­a­gogues? Nope. Out­door con­certs? Sorry. Night­clubs – try again. Movie the­aters? No. How about a yoga stu­dio? That one was OK un­til last week, when a shooter killed two peo­ple in a Tal­la­has­see yoga stu­dio. You can cross bars off the list with the Border­line Bar & Grill shoot­ing in Thou­sand Oaks, Cal­i­for­nia, only days ago. The list goes on. It is enough to bring any­one down.

It has been nearly im­pos­si­ble to move on with life, es­pe­cially when your son has lost one of his best friends and many of your daugh­ter’s drama class friends re­main in the news as ad­vo­cates for change.

When the Park­land shoot­ing hap­pened on Feb. 14, a move­ment was cre­ated — #NEVERAGAIN. A bril­liant slo­gan, I thought, un­til my daugh­ter and I were re­minded of an­other Never Again move­ment – this one from the last cen­tury.

We were in Bu­dapest dur­ing the Passover break of Jo­ce­lyn’s se­mes­ter abroad, in a pro­gram known as High School in Is­rael. Stand­ing in the court­yard of the Great Syn­a­gogue, wear­ing our Dou­glas Strong and Park­land Strong t-shirts, we learned that more than 2,200 Jews had been found dead in the city’s Jewish Ghetto when the Soviet Army ar­rived near the end of the war. All were buried in one mas­sive gravesite, which is now the court­yard of this beau­ti­ful struc­ture.

Stand­ing there, I saw a tablet in the wall that read “NEVER AGAIN.” I real-

ized the Holo­caust was the Never Again move­ment of our grand­par­ents and par­ents’ gen­er­a­tion, 9⁄11 was the Never Again move­ment of my gen­er­a­tion, and mass shoot­ings is the Never Again move­ment of our chil­dren’s gen­er­a­tion. It made me enor­mously sad to re­al­ize tragedies have filled the lives of the liv­ing for all of time. Countless “Never Again” mo­ments must fill our his­tory books.

My daugh­ter wrote th­ese words af­ter spend­ing a week in Poland and vis­it­ing con­cen­tra­tion camps where so many atroc­i­ties took place:

“I have no words for what I feel. I can­not fathom how peo­ple could be so blind to the heinous tragedies that took place here. Peo­ple are walk­ing their dogs and moms are push­ing their chil­dren in strollers along the side­walks like it’s a park. I stare. I can’t take my eyes off this pit. I try imag­in­ing the 10,000-plus hu­man bod­ies burn­ing un­der­neath the ground as they laid here on top of their friends and fam­ily mem­bers, await­ing their death. I tear my eyes away from the pit to look around and glance into the sur­round­ing city. I see peo­ple go­ing about their nor­mal day sim­ply run­ning er­rands or driv­ing to their next des­ti­na­tion. I know not a sin­gle one of them has a sec­ond thought about the hor­rors that hap­pened right here.”

I prayed deeply for no more “Never Again” move­ments. But in the months since, I be­gan to re­al­ize that it was an ex­er­cise in fu­til­ity and ques­tioned why I even prayed for that.

Events since then (the Sa­van­nah State Univer­sity shoot­ing, the Santa Fe school shoot­ing, the Tree of Life shoot­ing, and the Thou­sand Oaks Bar shoot­ing, to name a few) make it clear that evil­do­ers have been around since the be­gin­ning of time. And I now con­clude that they will likely be around un­til the end of time.

It’s a sober­ing thought. With all of the young and in­no­cent lives lost in th­ese tragedies, the best I can do is con­clude th­ese atroc­i­ties will al­ways be with us?

I think of Ayub Ali, the Park­land fa­ther who was shot and killed in his North Laud­erdale con­ve­nience store, whose two out of four chil­dren are stu­dents at MSD. It wasn’t enough that his fam­ily was deal­ing with the ef­fects of the shoot­ing as sur­vivors. He also had to lose his life to a gun­man who left with $500, only to re­turn mo­ments later to kill him.

So what are we to make of all of this? Some­thing doesn’t sit right with the no­tion that there are evil peo­ple who do bad things to oth­ers and that’s that. There must be more to it.

Ju­daism teaches us to prac­tice Tikkun Olam – acts of kind­ness de­signed to re­pair the world. But how can we re­pair the world when we as a peo­ple are hated and shot at in our houses of wor­ship? Syn­a­gogues are sup­posed to be our safe place. Sadly, we have come to ex­pect this type of vi­o­lence in Is­rael – but not here in the United States.

I be­lieve I found the an­swer when I heard Dr. Edith Eva Eger speak in San Diego this sum­mer. Dr. Eger is 90 and a Holo­caust sur­vivor. She has writ­ten a book called The Choice and her mes­sage is very sim­ple. When noth­ing comes from with­out, how can you find the power from within?

Ev­ery day when we wake up, we all have a choice. We can de­cide what kind of day to have and no­body can change that. “We have the ca­pac­ity to hate, and we have the ca­pac­ity to love. Which one we reach for,” she writes, “is up to us.”

Her web­site (https://dred­itheger.com) reads as fol­lows: “though I could have re­mained a per­ma­nent vic­tim – scarred by what was be­yond my con­trol – I made the choice to heal. Early on, I re­al­ized that true free­dom can only be found by for­giv­ing, let­ting go, and mov­ing on. So I turned my life around and vig­or­ously pur­sued a ca­reer in psy­chol­ogy. Com­bin­ing my for­mal ed­u­ca­tion and my own life chal­lenges, I have helped countless oth­ers lead full lives by mov­ing be­yond their prob­lems – no mat­ter how in­sur­mount­able they be­lieved them to be.”

Th­ese words from a per­son who at the youngest of ages ex­pe­ri­enced atroc­i­ties none of us should ever know. The Holo­caust is one of the most hor­rific events in hu­man his­tory, and yet from the ashes of that painful pe­riod, came so many peo­ple, in­clud­ing Dr. Eger, who went on to lead vi­brant, suc­cess­ful lives. Peo­ple who cre­ated so many beau­ti­ful things, not the least of which is the State of Is­rael it­self.

The Park­land com­mu­nity has made its choice. We have seen the March for Our Lives move­ment spread around the world. And par­ents whose chil­dren died that day have de­voted their lives to cre­at­ing mean­ing­ful change in school safety and gun con­trol re­form.

The list of good that has come from the Park­land Shoot­ing goes on and on. It has taught me and the rest of the world the awe­some­ness of the power of those who choose good over evil — and love over hate — even af­ter the unimag­in­able mas­sacre that blazed its trail through this once quiet bed­room com­mu­nity of 32,000 peo­ple. I have no doubt the Squir­rel Hill, Penn­syl­va­nia com­mu­nity will do the same. So will Thou­sand Oaks, Cal­i­for­nia.

And so it is true af­ter Park­land, Pitts­burgh, Thou­sand Oaks or any other tragedy. We must ask our­selves not why this tragedy hap­pened to us, but now that it has hap­pened, how are we go­ing to re­spond? What are we go­ing to do about it?

I re­al­ize the an­swer was right in front of me the whole time. Tikkun Olam. We must re­pair the world. As Chris Cuomo says at the be­gin­ning of his nightly show on CNN, “Let’s get to it.”

Howard S. Krooks is an el­der law and spe­cial needs plan­ning at­tor­ney with El­der Law As­so­ci­ates PA in Boca Ra­ton. He lives with his fam­ily in Park­land. He has writ­ten two pre­vi­ous ar­ti­cles about the Stone­man Dou­glas shoot­ing, one about the texts he shared with his son as it was hap­pen­ing, and a month later, a fa­ther’s plea for help.

On the left, Howie and his daugh­ter, Jo­ce­lyn, in one of the main squares they en­coun­tered while trav­el­ing in Bu­dapest. Howie’s sons, Noah and Justin, right, wear­ing their MSDStrong and Dou­glas Strong T-Shirts, on their way to the March for Our Lives event March 24 in Park­land.

This tablet, in the court­yard of the Great Syn­a­gogue in Bu­dapest, marks the gravesite of more than 2,200 Jews mur­dered in the city dur­ing the Holo­caust. When Howie saw this tablet, it trig­gered thoughts about the #NeverAgain move­ment that sprung from the Park­land shoot­ing.

HOWARD KROOKS PHO­TOS

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