By Eva Turner, Songleader, NFTY-SW
Please close your eyes for a second and picture, if you will, today. Except five years ago. Think about where you were, who you were with, what you were doing. As I think back to that day, I can recount to you exactly what happened, where I was, as if it were yesterday. Five years ago today, I was at my temple in Tucson, Arizona preparing for my Bat Mitzvah. I remember feeling so extraordinarily nervous as I stood in front of people who I knew would support me no matter what. By the end of the service, I felt fairly confident in my ability to lead a service. I hopped into my Dad’s car on the passenger side behind my Mom, next to my Sister. I don’t remember exactly what we were goofing around about but I remember lots and lots of laughter coming from a 12 year old and a 10 year old. The next thing that happened was my mom’s phone ringing and her telling us to be quiet because it was her best friend calling. My sister and I continued to giggle and my dad glanced over at my mom before returning his eyes to the road. All of a sudden she gasped and exclaimed “Gabby Giffords is dead”. The next thing I know, my Mom and I were running back into Temple Emanuel Tucson where we grabbed our Rabbi and explained everything that happened and join in prayer with the rest of the congregants that were there that evening. The news was pouring in with different reports all saying different things. But the basic fact that remained constant was this: a man named Jared Lee Loughner took a gun and opened fire at a Safeway not 20 minutes from my temple and killed numerous people and injured many many more in an attempt to kill Gabrielle Giffords.
Gabrielle Giffords was shot point blank in the head so news reporters pronounced her dead on the scene without knowing any facts. She was transported to a hospital where she miraculously survived the wounds. Her name is on a list of eighteen people who were shot that day, six of whom were killed. Those six people are Dorothy Morris, Phyllis Schneck, Dorwan Stoddard, Gabriel Zimmerman, Judge John Roll, and nine-year-old Christina Taylor Green. The community mourned and wept. Everyone rallied at the hospital where Gabby Giffords was recovering. I remember visiting there with my family. I wanted to see it. I wanted to go and pray for her to get better. I left behind a fortune from a fortune cookie since I had nothing else to leave her. We walked around the piles of posters and cards and stuffed animals and signs. I remember being so awestruck by the amount of love that was pouring from such a broken community. Tragedy made it so much stronger. Every year in Tucson since then, schools have a moment of silence on January 8th at 11:00am.
About a year and a half ago, I was at URJ Kutz Camp over the summer. It was 2014, 3 years after the shooting. We were doing a breakout program about different social action initiatives that we are passionate. I sat down in one about gun violence prevention. There, we exchanged reasons for our passion and our own experiences with gun violence. When it came my time to speak, I retold my memory of the shooting in Tucson and how I was terrified and shocked that something like that could ever happen. I listened to different ideas about how to prevent gun violence such as smart gun technology and stricter background checks. I spoke out about the contradictions and asked why NFTY had yet to take part in such an important issue in modern society. I looked around and noticed this guy sitting there who kept glancing at me. After the program was done, he walked over and pulled me to the side. We got to talking about what drove our passion. This conversation led to a friendship that led to continued conversation about the importance of gun violence prevention. Later that year, my good friend Jeremy Cronig was elected President of NFTY. I then watched with tears in my eyes as he announced that he was going to make gun violence prevention one of NFTY’s top priorities this year. With thousands of teens backing him, he started speaking out more and more about the need for stricter background checks and his calls to action were heard loudly all around the country. An amazing example is the Wear Orange campaign. People all over, including NFTYites, wore orange on June 2nd to raise awareness for gun violence prevention. NFTY has helped to make great strides in gun violence prevention awareness.
There have been too many shootings nationwide. In 2015, there were more shootings than there were days. I have lived with the awareness that gun violence poses a threat since I was 12. It is what has driven me to write letters to congress and get involved through NFTY as a way to take action against such a major issue. I am so honored and blessed to stand with NFTY on such an important issue. And I am even more proud to say that we have made a difference.