As the first anniversary of last year’s tragic Parkland, Florida shooting arrives, memorial services and events are being held across Parkland and the Coral Springs area. “The mood has again become increasingly somber,” says Rabbi Mendy Gutnick of Chabad of Parkland. February 14 marks the day a shooter killed fourteen students and three staff members, at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, in 2018.
Last week families held kaddish memorial services at the graves of the victims, this week’s communal events will remember the past and focus on the future. “Our objective is to begin the process of healing,” shares Rabbi Yankie Denburg, spiritual director of the Chabad Jewish Center in Coral Springs. With most of Coral Springs a part of the MSD school district, many of the teens who attend Chabad’s local CTeen chapter survived the massacre. “They’ve been living with this trauma all year and, as the anniversary approached, a number of them have expressed the need to regain a sense of normalcy,” says Denburg.
To this end, Coral Springs CTeen chapter, directed by Rabbi Shaya and Chayale Denburg, will be hosting a community Shabbat dinner this Friday night, which they are calling Shabbat of Healing. The teens have created the menus, designed the decor and planned a program that will include interactive games and talks by MSD students. They have invited Dr. Sandra Lilienthal, adjunct professor at Gratz College and an awarded Jewish educator, to talk about the Jewish approach to dealing with tragedy. The event has been met with a positive response from the local community and over 100 people have reserved seats, including many for whom this will be their first time at Chabad.
Tonight, the Jewish Federation of Broward County will partner with Chabad of Parkland for an Evening of Light. Joined by artist Gary Rosenthal, participants will design two pairs of Shabbat candlesticks—a pair for themselves and a set to pass on to a neighbor or friend. “Last year we saw how one moment could wreak so much darkness, we have to make sure our light is even more powerful,” says Gutnick.
At Chabad of Parkland’s Friendship Bakery, teen volunteers meet monthly with children and young adults with special needs to bake. Last night, they baked challa which will be distributed with grape juice and candles for people who would like to celebrate Shabbat dinner at home in memory of the MSD victims.
“Almost everyone in our community has a connection to someone affected by the shooting,” says Rabbi Shuey Biston, director of outreach and development at Chabad of Parkland. He says that both Chabad of Parkland and Coral Springs have increased their teen programming over the last year. In the immediate aftermath, they hosted meetings and phone conferences, to provide support as the teens grieved together. They also set up a booth outside the school campus to meet with kids after school, offering them tefillin and mentoring.
The message of the programming became focused on teaching the Jewish value of life. “The shooter clearly didn’t value life and didn’t accept that everyone has an important purpose and calling—not himself and definitely not others. Our mission is to show each teen that the world needs specifically him or her,” Rabbi Shuey says
As Rabbi Yankie puts it, “Over this year we have suffered and sought comfort in each other and as we mark this anniversary, we will work to uplift each other and heal together.”
Chabad of Parkland is the regional headquarters for Chabad of North Broward and South Palm Beach County.