Rabbi Bradd Boxman, formerly of Har Sinai in Owings Mills, was driving by Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School with his daughter and grandson when he heard the news about the shooting that would claim 17 lives in Parkland, Fla.
“We were literally right by the school when we got the first text that something was going down,” Boxman told the JT on Feb 15. “I immediately dropped off my family and ran back to the synagogue to create a command-control center. We reached out to every single family in our congregation who we knew had a kid there. It was a large, large list.”
Boxman’s Reform congregation, Kol Tikvah, became a community grieving center, as Parkland tried to sort out the harrowing events of Feb. 14. A three-and-a-half-hour healing session was held at the synagogue that night.
The gunman, later identified as 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz, was armed with a semiautomatic rifle. Of the 17 people killed, Boxman says three of the fatalities were linked to his synagogue.
“A number of others are injured or recovering from wounds,” Boxman said. “It’s been horrendous; we’re still trying to piece it together. There’s no school, so we’ve had our synagogue open, and it’s full of teens and mental-health professionals who are working with them.”
On Feb. 17, CNN reported that Cruz had joined an Instagram group chat in August 2017, where he wrote that he hated “jews, n——, immigrants” and showed his obsession with violence and guns.
Kol Tikvah is less than half a mile from the high school, and Boxman says the effects of the shooting have left a profound mark on the community.
“Parents are coming in here hysterically crying,” he said. “Even if they didn’t directly lose someone, their kids are now petrified to go out or even go to the bathroom by themselves. The aftershocks are beyond anything you can imagine, from the point of view that it’s not just that people lost lives, [students] saw dead bodies on the ground. These were their friends and fellow students. The pain and sorrow is beyond words.”
Kol Tikvah hosted a funeral service on Feb. 16 for one of the student victims, Meadow Pollack. During the service, which was attended by Florida Gov. Rick Scott and U.S. Reps. Ted Deutch and Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Boxman offered some positive words.
“We must carry Meadow’s love forward and not let it die in a pine-wood box,” he said.
As far as Parkland’s recovery, Boxman calls it a “day-by-day kind of thing.”
“I think the synagogue can be a magnet for people to come and know that it’s a safe place where they can cry or have a shoulder to lean on,” Boxman said. “We have mental-health professionals that we’ve brought in who are teaming with members of the congregation, and they’re meeting right now in small groups with kids. It’s going to be a long process.”
JTA contributed to this report.