This was shared during Shabbat morning services at NFTY Convention 2019 in Dallas.
Bobby Harris, Director, URJ Camp Coleman
On the evening of February 14, one year ago, texts, chats, and phone calls circulated throughout the URJ Camp Coleman and NFTY STR/SAR network. Many of our campers and temple members attended Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and the adjacent middle school. Were they alive? Were they safe? By the next morning, we learned that our own Kesher camper, Alyssa Alhadeff, had been murdered, along with 16 others.
Overwhelming grief and despair overtook the community – as did a desire to do something, to build a world where no one would be faced with such violence and pain again. There was also a need to heal, to send healing and support to grieving families, friends, and a community reeling in pain, uncertainty, and innocence lost.
That’s when Jeff Levine reached out to us. A member of Congregation Kol Tikvah in Parkland and the father of URJ Crane Lake campers, Jeff suggested that all of our URJ camps do something to both remember the victims of Parkland and help support the communities.
That’s how the tallitot project was born.
Our tenth-grade campers worked with our art department to create 17 tie-dyed tallitot. Written on each is the prayer “El Nah Rafah Na,” “Please, God, heal her” which Moses cried out in his effort to do whatever he could to help his ailing sister. Each tallit bears the name of one of our URJ camps.
The tallitot were sent to each camp, and each camp did something about gun violence at a service or ceremony. On Rosh HaShanah, members of the camp community brought the tallitot and prayers and wishes from kids at each camp back to two congregations in the Parkland area, where so many were directly affected.
This particular prayer came from Camp Newman:
Our community has come together to love you, grieve with you, support you, and ask for strength to be provided for you and within you. We will always remember you and do whatever we can to support you.
The Friday night before the one-year anniversary of the shooting, Temple Beth Orr (the home congregation of many teachers and students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas) held a healing service to commemorate the anniversary that would soon occur. Afterward, I received the following:
“On Rosh HaShanah, our congregation was gifted these beautiful 17 tallitot from the Union for Reform Judaism’s Camp Coleman. These 17 tallitot went to all 17 URJ camps, and at each one a program was done to teach youth about gun violence prevention and a ritual was created. Eight went to our community, eight went to Congregation Kol Tikvah, and one went to the MSD archives. Seventeen tallitot for the 17 victims. Seventeen tallitot for the 17 wounded. Seventeen17 tallitot that would hold us in healing.
Think about your healing since February 14th, since Rosh HaShanah, and where you are now. We know that our community is not the same…and we all live in a new normal…but we pray every day that all of us are finding ways to heal.”
We then created a healing chuppah down our center aisle with the tallitot. Anyone impacted by the Parkland tragedy – and any other person in need of healing – was invited to stand underneath the chuppah.
Under the tallitot, people held each other and cried as we sang the Mi Shebeirach. The moment was holy and powerful.
Yes, NFTY and URJ Camps, even today, our words and actions continue to matter.