KENSINGTON – This year’s 10th-grade class at Temple Emanuel in Kensington is creating a yearbook for the 28 teenagers killed while attending high schools throughout the United States during 2018.
“We all felt that gun violence in school was something we care about,” said Jacob Dincin, one of six members of the synagogue’s confirmation class.
Together, the students went online to learn not just the names of the shooting victims, but also a little bit about the victims themselves. Each page of the yearbook displays the photos of the victims from one high school, some information about them and a quote from an official, such as principals and mayors, about the shooting.
The yearbook is for “those who won’t graduate, won’t go to prom, won’t get to hang out, won’t eat dinner with their family,” Dincin said.
“This is a yearbook for kids that don’t get to be in a yearbook. They don’t get to see next year,” added Callie Newberg.
“This really hits close to home,” said Eva Stavisky. “We are all in high school. All of us go to school every day.”
The students are aware of protests, marches and vigils. Creating a yearbook is more permanent and more personal, they said.
To ensure its permanency, the students are taking off school on May 17 and heading to Capitol Hill, where they intend to personally deliver a copy of the yearbook to every United States Senator and Representative.
“I want to make sure this is not forgotten,” Stavisky said.
Her fellow students, who continually practice active shooting drills, carry the fear internally. But for others, school shootings “are almost normalized,” she said.
They are currently seeking the support of Maryland Senators Ben Cardin and Chris Van Hollen and Rep. Jamie Raskin, all Democrats, to facilitate the distribution.
Giving out yearbooks “shows these lawmakers that these kids had lives there were cut short,” said Ethan Shroff.
People need to realize that the killing of one student “also affects their family, their friends, their school, like half the nation,” he said.
Miriam Saletan explained that their yearbook humanizes the victims, showing them as regular high school students that could be found in any school in America.
While none of these students is old enough to vote, they want the world to know they will soon enough.
“Young people have a voice, and we are going to use it,” said Stavisky.
They began work in December and expect soon to finish what they are calling the “Yearbook of the Fallen.”
Rabbi Warren Stone is “very proud” of the 15- and 16-year-olds at his synagogue.
“Our students grow up here learning about justice, relating it to their Judaism, and they care about engaging in the world,” he said.
Dincin agreed, quoting from the Book of Leviticus in the Bible, which states, “Do not stand idly by while your neighbor’s blood is shed.”
Originally, the yearbook was going to be a paperback publication, but when Ross Heller of USAE News in Bethesda heard of the students’ efforts, he agreed to cover the costs for a hardbound yearbook.
“It really just struck something in my heart,” he said. “This is a really wonderful thing they are doing, and I wanted to help.”
A list of legislative changes the students would like enacted are listed at the end of the 36-page yearbook. They include funding gun violence research, implementing universal background checks and banning high capacity magazines.
The students also favor limiting firepower on the street, disarming domestic abusers, enacting federal laws on gun trafficking and requiring safe storage and mandatory gun theft reporting.
The students realize they are waging an uphill battle and admit they will be discouraged if nothing happens to reduce gun violence.
Still, said Eden Shane, they intend to keep the momentum going.
Working on the yearbook, she said, “is one of the most empowering things I have been able to work on.”
Added Stavisy, “Even if nothing happens, we actively played a part rather than sitting back. It’s important to be that spark.”