The anti-gun-violence marches across the country on Saturday were led by students, triggered by the horrendous murders of 17 students and teachers at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, last month.
But the marches drew people of all ages; there also were marches and rallies on Friday and Sunday, as huge numbers of people in various circumstances tried to make their voices heard.
Just as rallies brought people together in Englewood, Paramus, and Hackensack — many of them observant Jews who trekked there on foot on Shabbat — local nursing homes and assisted and independent living communities also hosted meetings.
Powered by residents who were not willing to let their voices go unheard, the Jewish Home in Rockleigh and Jewish Home Assisted Living in River Vale — both part of the Jewish Home Family — held meetings where local politicians joined in discussion.
“We had a very nice turnout on both campuses,” the Jewish Home Family’s president and CEO, Carol Silver Elliott, said. “Probably 150 people at Rockleigh and 100 at River Vale.
“We began with a moment of silence, and then the rabbis on each campus led us in kaddish. And then on each campus we had a conversation with a legislator.”
Holly Schepisi of River Vale, the Republican who represents the 39th district in New Jersey’s general assembly, spoke at River Vale, and Josh Gottheimer, the Democrat who represents the state’s fifth district in Congress, spoke at Rockleigh.
“At Rockleigh, there was a lot of conversation about gun control in general, and also questions of whether we are safe on the campus,” Ms. Elliott said. “On the other campus they got very quickly into the question of school safety and arming teachers. There are a few retired teachers there, so it was a hot-button issue. They said that they were in school to be teachers, not patrolmen.
“The discussions went beyond limiting guns to understanding what leads people to violence, and about bullying, and where bullying plays a role in gun violence. We also talked about how high suicide rates are.
“It was a very powerful discussion on both campuses,” she said.
Given the laws of physics, and the fact that both discussions were at the same time, she could be at only one of them, she said; she was in River Vale, but got near-constant texts from Rockleigh.
Residents in both facilities “read the news and watch the news, probably more than most people, and they have strong opinions,” she said.
Helene Glantz, who is 88, was born in Passaic, and moved to River Vale from Monroe Township, thought of the meeting. At first, she’d hoped for a rally, but “Carol said it would be difficult,” and she agreed. “We have people in wheelchairs, and I’m in a walker.” But she wanted something far more active than a letter-writing campaign, although she’d participated in many such campaigns and plans to keep on writing.
“The memorial service was beautiful,” she said. And many people, not all residents, came to the rally. “It was very rewarding, and very good to know that I still could pull it together.”
Mr. Gottheimer was impressed by what he saw, both at Rockleigh and in Hackensack and around the country. “I was moved by the fact that older people in Rockleigh were coming together, and they had some good signs, a really good show of support for the young people and what they are doing,” he said. “It is remarkably inspiring, no matter what your views are. The fact that young people are engaged and passionate about an issue gives me hope for tomorrow.
“We talked about that at Rockleigh. It was not just a desire to remember the lives lost but to show support for the young people engaged in action.”
And then, he said, “It was incredible in Hackensack. There were 2,000 people there. I was blown away by it. It was inspiring, and these young people were incredible both in what they had to say and in how they delivered it, in how compentent and smart they are.
“I think there would be appetite for the right legislation, crafted the right way,” he continued. There clearly is a desire for more background checks and in closing the gun show loophole, but I think the best tool in making it happen right now is for these young people to keep banging the drum for change, to stop school violence.”
Mr. Gottheimer is a big proponent of across-the-aisle dialogue and compromise, and he believes the will to make some compromises and end up with some changes exists. It just has to be nurtured.
“In Rockleigh, part of the conversation was about what we actually can get done, and about how we have to keep going,” he said. “We can’t give up. It can be very frustrating, but we have to keep going.”
In River Vale, Holly Schepisi told the audience, she said later, that “I have decided to take a different look at some of the issues.
“I had become a proponent of Second Amendment rights as a result of my own experience,” she continued. She was raped, in northern New Jersey, when she was in her late teens; later, when she lived in Washington D.C., she had been the victim of two separate violent crimes within a seven-month period. “From that point forward I wanted a gun for self-protection,” she said; after the second crime, a carjacking, the criminal who stole her wallet, with all her ID, stalked and terrorized her. She learned to shoot, but because of Washington’s strict gun laws, she was not allowed to own her own weapon.
Now, though, she has begun to question her strong advocacy. “I do have children in my household — a 14-year-old and a 6-year-old — and so I don’t feel comfortable having a gun in my household.”
Life, Ms. Schepisi said, is complex. She’s part of a bipartisan group of New Jersey women legislators, and they have begun to look at local gun laws; New Jersey’s laws are the strictest in the country, she said. “We have a population of 9 million, and there are fewer than 1,300 concealed carry permits in the state.
“People will not ever agree 100 percent on all the components of this argument, but we need to start listening,” she said. “I have found that people want all or nothing from me,and if I disagree on one bill I am viewed as worthless, and not even worth talking to.
“But if we want real change, if we want our members of government to sit down and start to listen, we have to listen back. We have to engage in respectful discussion; it is really messy right now.”