CHEVY CHASE – Each of the 179 T-shirts hangs on a stake nailed to the ground at Temple Shalom in Chevy Chase. Every white shirt bears the name, age and date of a gun victim from the Washington, D.C. area killed during the past year.
The synagogue’s social action project commemorated the first anniversary of the 11 people shot to death while attending a sabbath service Oct. 27, 2018, at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh.
The display, designed to resemble a cemetery, is hard to miss at the busy corner of East-West Highway and Grubb Road.
The project involved many synagogue members, including members of the Tikkun Olam (which means to repair the world in Hebrew) committee and students in the religious school.
The Gun Violence Victims Memorial, titled Enough is Enough, was erected on Oct. 20, and state Del. Jared Solomon (D-18) was there at the dedication. On Oct. 25, the synagogue held a special memorial service, in which state Sen. Jeff Waldstreicher (D-18) and Del. Pam Queen (D-14) spoke.
Waldstreicher, a member of the synagogue, said as the days progress, it becomes harder and harder to remember the names of the victims. He compared the constant news of another shooting to a moving jackhammer.
“My mind doesn’t so much forget as it becomes a fog,” he said. “I struggle to remember many of the details,” although it’s only been one year, he said of the Pittsburgh shooting. “We’ve allowed too many names to be eradicated by gun violence.”
While he praised the work of Maryland’s legislature, where it passed what many consider some of the strictest gun laws in the country, Waldstreicher was quick to add that there is still work to be done.
He urged those in attendance to “make clear to legislators where you stand on this issue. Use your voice.” Strive for the day when “there are no more names to forget,” he said.
Queen noted that every death impacts the family, community and world.
“A whole is left in our hearts,” she said, noting that 572 Marylanders were killed in 2017 – more than 300 were shot by others, and about 250 used a gun to end their own lives.
“We must change the culture of the fascination with guns,” Queen said. “It is up to us, the living, to bring back the light.”
Temple Shalom Senior Rabbi Rachel Ackerman told her congregation, “I can only imagine” what God thinks as the shooting deaths continue.
She pointed out that as horrible as these tragedies are, there is hope when communities of varying backgrounds join together.
“God’s regret is our charge,” she said. People must “move from despair to hope, from violence to love.”
The T-shirt display is not an original one. Montgomery County high school students have erected similar displays as have Temple Sinai in Washington, D.C., and Bethesda United Methodist Church, whose stakes were reused for the exhibit at Temple Shalom.
“The goal was to keep the issue in the public eye,” Phyllis Dietz said. “It’s not just a number. These are real people,” she said, adding, “so many of them are so young.”
Her committee researched the names, and then students in eighth through 12th grade wrote the information on a shirt.
While there are so many names in just one year, Dietz said the students only took “45 minutes to one hour” to complete their work.
Dietz, who has been a member of Temple Shalom since 1978, said working on the project was “a moving, powerful experience.”
She lamented the fact that although Maryland has stringent gun control laws, the U.S. Congress “is a whole other issue.” Shootings will not stop in Maryland if Virginia, Delaware and Pennsylvania’s laws are not as strict, she said, adding, “It has to be state and federal.”