Parkland to Philly Teens: ‘Help Make the Change’

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Jared Block shared his experiences as a survivor of the Parkland shooting, alongside his mother Gayle, during a video chat with students at Har Zion Temple. | Photo by Rachel Kurland

“Code red,” 16-year-old Jared Block texted his mother, Gayle, on Feb. 14 at 2:25 p.m.

“Drill?” she wrote back.

Within seconds, her phone swelled with notifications: “Active shooter at Douglas.”

Gayle Block was one of the first parents to appear on the scene before it was barricaded by yellow tape and SWAT teams at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla.

Jared Block initially heard a noise that sounded like a hollow trash can ricocheting off of something. He hid in a large storage closet for 90 minutes with about 60 of his drama club peers — in a building adjacent to the one in which 17 people died.

At first, they thought it was an active shooter drill, since the school said one would take place at random.

Then 2:40 passed — the end of the school day. He realized the school wouldn’t keep students after the bell for a drill. It was real.

He felt a gut reaction to text his loved ones, possibly for the last time.

Block and his parents shared their experiences via video chat Feb. 25 to a group of about 80 Lower Merion Area Hebrew High (LMAHH) students and their parents at Har Zion Temple.

Kami Verne, Block’s aunt and a Har Zion congregant, said her children, ages 11 and 13, received texts from him: “I love you — there’s a school shooter.”

“I couldn’t breathe until he came out of the school,” she recalled. She hopes connecting her family to students in Philadelphia will empower them.

“It seems like the kids in this country are almost smarter and more articulate than the adults in this country, and they are motivated,” she added, noting the teenagers across the country who since Parkland have feld emboldened to speak out — particularly when it comes to preventing access to semiautomatic long guns such as the type used in Florida. “As parents, we need to get behind them.”

Tes Goldman, a 16-year-old LMAHH student, said she felt inspired by Block’s story.

“I remember when I first found out about the shooting. … I was like, ‘Which one?’ because there’s so many,” she said. “This happens so much, and it’s so great that people are still talking about it and hopefully, like Jared said, this can be the last one.”

Gayle Block’s world changed that day, along with everyone else affected. “Being a parent, living in the bubble is just such a surreal feeling,” she explained. “Prior to Feb. 14, of course we never thought it was going to happen to us.”

Now, they’re hoping to encourage people of all ages — especially high schoolers — to be the change, by addressing legislators, going to the marches and voting.

“I’m here to tell you, I hope it does not happen to you and I do not want it to happen to you,” she urged. “Please be the voices behind all the kids in Parkland to help make the change.”

Jared Block returned to his school shortly after the video chat — for the first time since the shooting — to retrieve his backpack and computer, which were left behind in the chaos.

“As scared as I am just to be back there, I’m not scared that I’m not safe. I’m not scared that I’m not loved,” he said, his voice breaking with both emotion and strength.

He then thanked Rep. Ted Deutch (D-Fla.) for his legislative support to survivors. The congressman hopped on the video call after speaking on Face the Nation.

“As people have told me a hundred times over the past 10 days, they picked the wrong school and the wrong community to do this to,” Deutch said. “The way that people have stood up to this and shifted the debate — we’ve already seen the impact.

“It’s just a matter of making sure that we don’t lose this momentum that these survivors have helped to provide.”

Kaiserman JCC CEO Amy Krulik said that after the Sandy Hook shooting several years ago in Newtown, Conn., the JCC’s preschool began working with the Lower Merion Police Department to prepare drills for sheltering in place.

It just so happened that the annual drill took place a couple days after the Parkland shooting, making it all the more real.

“The idea is to reinforce the need to follow directions, to be a good listener — all of those things that are part of our regular preschool curriculum,” she added. “It’s also a good reinforcement for our staff.”

Krulik recalled a time when a fire alarm went off at 2 a.m. while staying in a hotel. Even in an unfamiliar place, she knew what to do based on those drills ingrained in her memory.

“All of those years of doing fire drills as a kid and as an adult paid off,” she noted. “For us, we want to make sure we’re all prepared, whether we’re at the JCC or we’re somewhere else. … You really need to have some resources on hand for the things that really happen in life.”

The impact of the Parkland shooting also hit home for students at Jack M. Barrack Hebrew Academy.

Sophia Shapiro, Ruthie Cohen and Sarit Held immediately took action. They emailed their teachers and Head of School Sharon Levin that night about participating in an upcoming March 14 nationwide school walkout that is planned to last 17 minutes, one minute for each of Parkland’s victims.

“It’s just become all too frequent,” Held, 17, said. She also volunteers with Rise Up Doylestown, which contacted the superintendents of Central Bucks and Council Rock school districts to receive permission for students to participate in the walkout without punishment.

“We watched the Parkland students come up with these really amazing ideas and it was just jumping on board and putting the words onto paper and getting adult support,” Held said.

History teachers Minna Ziskind and Lilach Taichman jumped into lessons following the shooting as well.

“There’s this feeling of numbness,” Taichman said. “What do you do? How do you deal with that? Noticing that in ourselves, wanting to open a pathway to our students, to move past that, is what motivated us.”

“I was really moved by how they channeled their trauma into something constructive,” Ziskind added.

“I just can’t imagine what they must be going through, and the fact that they’re so strong,” Cohen, 17, echoed, “is so inspiring to me.”

The three students are also considering attending the March For Our Lives rally in Washington, D.C. Held’s group is raising money to send kids on buses to the March 24 rally, which was organized by Douglas students.

They’re confident change will happen from their generation. “Although we are in a really safe environment at our school,” Shapiro, 16, said, “this could have happened anywhere. This, for me, is more so of a call to action, a call to help create change because this could have happened anywhere and it shouldn’t have been able to happen.”

“I’m just inspired sitting next to these guys,” Taichman said.

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