There was something about last week’s school shootings — that something was the deaths of 17 people, students and their teachers, at the hands of a disturbed 19-year-old and his legally bought assault rifle — that made it hard for Lydia Sultanik of Englewood to do nothing.
She’s not a veteran organizer but she is a mother — she has three grown sons — and sitting still just wasn’t an option.
So, late on Friday afternoon, when she decided that she’d had enough, she talked to Helen Deutsch — whom she had just met online, “showing the power of social media,” Ms. Sultanik said, and met in person for the first time on Monday — and the two of them agreed to organize a rally in Teaneck.
It was just before Shabbat when she went to work; she scheduled the rally for President’s Day, so many people were away, and although the temperature was reported to be in the low 40s, it felt raw and miserable out; later it would rain.
But still people came; there weren’t a huge number of them, but they included two children under 7, Teaneck Council member Adam Sohn, and a mascot — a newly adopted dog named Sparky. “A spark speaks volumes here,” Ms. Sultanik said.
The rally’s goal, as Ms. Sultanik wrote on Facebook and in the Teaneck shuls listserv, was “No guns and magazines of mass destruction to be allowed in the USA. Better Mental Health Coordination of Services. Period. Please, no backpacks and no signs. Let our voices be heard.”
The participants asked people driving by to honk in solidarity. Many did.
The rally was organized so quickly and in such innocence that there was no permit for it. And there was no problem with that. “There was a police officer there, who was so nice,” she said. “He told us not to stand in the street, or too close to the curb, but that was for our own safety, and it really made sense.
“He just said that if we do it again, get a permit.”
Why did she and Ms. Deutsch feel compelled to start a rally?
“The impetus was my conscience,” Ms. Sultanik said. “I can’t in all honesty see another child die. I remember Columbine and Newtown” — Columbine was the first mass school shooting, in 1999, when the student murderers killed 13 people before they turned their guns on themselves, and Newtown was the Connecticut town where the murderer shot his mother, 26 first-graders and teachers, and then himself in 2012. “And then of course there are the teachers, who are human shields. That is not part of their job description.
“Something has to be done.
“The rhetoric cannot be just ‘My condolences to you.’ That is not enough.
“The students who are going to march on March 24 are marching for their lives. We have a responsibility to them as well. We have to at least have a conversation going. It is a very complicated issue — it’s complicated even in my own mind — but I do know that my conscience dictated that it can’t continue like this any more.”
Although the Second Amendment guarantees the right to bear arms, “nobody needs an AR-15,” she said. “It’s nowhere on Maslow’s pyramid.” Abraham Maslow was the psychologist who created the hierarchy of human needs that has physical requirements like food at the bottom and self-actualization at the top, and guns nowhere.
“I saw a quote that said that Parkland,” where Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School is, “was one big shiva,” she added. “That shouldn’t be.”
Barry Lichtenberg of Teaneck was at the rally. “It was perhaps the most civil demonstration I ever attended,” he said. “No one screamed at us. We held signs asking for people to honk if they agreed with us, and there was a lot of honking.”