Hillels provide support after Florida high school shooting



February 28, 2018

Serena Deutch spent Valentine’s Day making frantic phone calls to loved ones after a gunman bore down on Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

“This hit close to home,” said Deutch, who was raised in Boca Raton, Fla.

Deutch, an active student at Vanderbilt Hillel, and her college-aged siblings, Cole and Gabby, were hundreds of miles from their childhood home, roughly a 20-minute drive from the attack that killed 17 people in Parkland, Fla.

Distance inspired the Deutches to act.

The children of Rep. Ted Deutch, a Florida Democrat who represents the district where the school shooting occurred, launched Bake Action Against Gun Violence on Feb. 18. The initiative encourages Jewish communities across the country to bake hamantaschen, a three-pointed cookie eaten on the Jewish holiday of Purim.

“Students are feeling helpless — they want to do something but there’s not always a clear path to action,” Deutch, 22, said. “We wanted to unite the community and help them make a difference.”

A senior at Vanderbilt University, Deutch organized the bake at Vanderbilt Hillel, scheduled to take place from 4:30 p.m. – 7:30 p.m. today.

More than 40 organizations, including at least 15 Hillels nationwide, will celebrate Purim this week by baking and selling hamantaschen to raise money. Proceeds will be donated to a variety of causes, including GoFundMe pages to support victims and their families.

A GoFundMe page in memory of 14-year-old Alex Schachter, the cousin of Hillel at Ohio University student leader Jordyn Zimmerman, has raised $215,628 in under two weeks. The funds will be used to increase safety measures at schools across the nation.

At Hillel of Broward and Palm Beach, professionals scheduled programs to help students, many of whom attended the Parkland high school, cope with the tragedy.

Adam Kolett, executive director of Hillel of Broward and Palm Beach, said his staff of eight is accustomed to working long hours to build and maintain a strong Jewish community on campus. But after the shooting, they “realized that they needed to set aside other plans, and be present for our students in a time where no playbook could ever provide direction.”

The day after the shooting, the staff comforted students with hot coffee and fresh doughnuts, invited a Jewish Family Services grief counselor to campus for support and escorted students to a community vigil in Parkland.

In addition, students and professionals worked to compile a list of college students who graduated from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. It was sent to more than a dozen local Hillels to help them reach out to students.

This week, the Boca Raton-based Hillel will participate in Bake Action Against Gun Violence.

“Students made a connection between the tragedy and the deeply-rooted Jewish tradition to value life and to speak truth to power,” said Rabbi Rose Durbin, campus rabbi at Hillel of Broward and Palm Beach. “They were the ones who wanted to take action, and that’s powerful.”