Three survivors of the Florida school shooting joined with some 200 people chanting “enough is enough” as they protested in front of the US Embassy in Tel Aviv on Friday, part of a series of global March for Our Lives rallies calling for gun control.
The protest was one of more than 800 rallies taking place around the world over the next two days in response to the shooting last month at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida which left 17 dead — including five Jewish victims.
Three teenage survivors of the shooting, sisters Maia, 18, and Eden Hebron, 14, and Dani Tylim, 18, who all happened to be in Israel visiting family on their spring break, spoke at the rally.
The three are a part of a larger movement of students from their high school who quickly turned from victims to advocates after the tragedy, setting off a movement across the US to advocate for new gun laws in light of the mass shooting.
The Tel Aviv crowd was made up of approximately 200 Americans — the majority of whom are in Israel for a gap year. Holding signs created only minutes before, participants gathered to hear from the survivors.
Eden Hebron brought the crowd to tears as she recollected watching her best friend, Alyssa Alhadeff, and two other classmates die in front of her.
Speaking clearly and without hesitation, Hebron said, “We were in English I Honors and I was sitting beside my good friend, Alyssa Alhadeff. There we were sitting and exchanging remarks about how bored we were in class.
“We hear a noise but I refused to believe that there was a shooter at my school in Parkland, Florida.”
The shooter, Nikolas Cruz, started shooting through the door.
“Sitting there I am thinking, ‘How did my nightmares get so vivid?” Hebron asked. “Our door was shot through. I noticed glass in front of me.”
“Sitting five inches before Alyssa, I start to pray.” Alhadeff was hit by a bullet and fell to the ground in front of Hebron.
“I am still in disbelief but I will not allow anyone else to see the things I saw, to prepare for your final seconds of life like I did,” Hebron said, telling the crowd that it is now her job to fight for Alhadeff.
The event’s organizer, Marni Mandell, also spoke movingly in front of the crowd, framing the rally as a protest against an idea much larger than just advocating for sensible gun laws in the US.
“The real reason of, ‘Why am I here and why did we do this,'” she told the crowd, comes from the Jewish and Islamic idea, “‘Whoever has destroyed a life, it is as if he has destroyed the entire world. And whoever saves a life, it is as if he has saved all of humanity.'”
“Gun control laws are not just for the United States, they are for all of humanity. You might think we are rallying for gun control, but that’s not it,” she said.
“What we are rallying for is the very principle that life is the most sacred value we can uphold in society as a people and as a nation.”
Mandell also contrasted US gun laws to Israel’s, noting while guns in Israel are constantly present, it’s significantly more challenging to obtain a gun license.
“In order to require a gun [in Israel], there are a list of requirements about a mile long and even then, 40% of those who apply are rejected,” she said.
Florida Congressman Ted Deutsch, who represents Parkland’s district, wrote a letter that was delivered at the Tel Aviv rally.
“We are not settling for thoughts and prayers after this tragedy,” he wrote.
“I am proud that the United States stands with Israel, and today I am so grateful that Israel is standing with Stoneman Douglas high school, with Parkland and with American, the Jewish congressman concluded.
From participants to activists
Among the participants were many young Americans on their post- high school gap year.
Sophie Brilliant, who’s in Israel on the Aardvark program, said she was visiting her family in Miami when the shooting happened.
“My camper (Alyssa Alhadeff ) and a cousin’s cousin were killed. Since then I’ve been going to rallies and advocating for gun control,” she said.
“I was really shocked to find out there was going to be a protest today and knew I had to come.”
Casey Adashek, who was at the rally with 83 others on Nativ, the Conservative movement’s gap year program, reiterated how close to home the Parkland shooting was for many of the participants in the crowd.
“A lot of us know at least one person who died or was there. These are actually people we know. A lot of us would have loved to have been in DC for the main rally but this is the next big thing,” she said.
Sarah Machlis, also on Nativ, said the group wasn’t just there just as observers, but as advocates for change.
“All of us consider ourselves activists. We are aware of what’s going on and feel so strongly tied to this cause. Gun control affects everyone,” she said.
However, the rally seemed largely disconnected from its surroundings on Tel Aviv’s boardwalk alongside the beach as Israelis in bathing suits glanced curiously towards the crowd, and people on their electric bikes honking horns as they zipped by.
Rally then vote
Elana Sztokman, a leader in the Israel-based organization, Democrats Abroad, told the crowd, “We are here because our children have pushed us to say enough.”
Sztokman’s message to the crowd was clear and practical: to vote in the mid-term election.
Benji Lovitt, an Israeli-American comedian and Times of Israel blogger, also said the rally was an important reminder to Americans living in Israel to still exercise their voting rights in US elections.
“I’ve never voted in the mid-term election and I’m voting now though for the first time. This stuff matters,” he said.