I recently traveled to Austin for Texas Advocacy Day, where I served as a group leader and lobbied four Texas lawmakers to pass stricter gun control laws. Before entering the Capitol building, I listened to a fourth grade student and her teacher tell their stories about the tragic shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas on May 24, 2022.
As tears ran down my face, reporters approached me as a spokesperson for the Texas Coalition to Prevent Gun Violence, asking me why I took the day off of school to join over 700 gun violence prevention activists in Austin. Despite feeling scared and sad, I expressed my commitment to Jewish values as the driving force behind my gun violence prevention advocacy.
I’m Jewish, Mexican, and a young woman—all demographics that are disproportionately affected by gun violence. I went to the Capitol to show our lawmakers that I represent the 80% of Texans who support gun safety laws. I’m afraid to go to school, work, or the grocery store, and I want to protect other people from feeling the same way.
But more than fear, what motivated me to join this movement is the Jewish values that form the core of my identity. The Hebrew phrase tzedek tzedek tirdof, which translates to “justice, justice, you shall pursue,” comes from a verse in Deuteronomy. Justice is a fundamental value in Judaism, and it inspires and motivates me daily. When I was in Kindergarten at a Jewish day school, I learned a song about Rabbi Hillel and his teaching that had the line v’im lo ‘achshav, eimatai, which translates to if not now, when? I take every opportunity to speak up for the values and the pursuit of justice that are so important to me. I’m not waiting for some future moment, I want to speak now.
Maya is an incoming first-year student at Middlebury College.