We Mourn Together with the Highland Park Community

On behalf of the 146 Jewish Federations of North America, I want to express my condolences to the community of Highland Park, to our brothers and sisters in the Chicago Jewish community, and to our colleagues at the Jewish United Fund of Chicago—our outstanding Chicago Federation—on the horrible act of violence that shattered the Fourth of July. As the identities of the victims of the shooting become more widely known, our hearts break once again and our outrage reaches new levels. May the memories of those lost be for a blessing, may their families be comforted among all the mourners of Zion and the world, and may the injured experience a full and complete refuah shlema.

Our Jewish rituals of mourning and comfort are important, but so is our communal commitment to action. We are, as you most likely know, working hard to secure our Jewish institutions, which continue to come under serious threat. It is plain for all to see that the perpetrators of recent mass murders had Jewish targets in mind, whether they acted on it or not. Our LiveSecure initiative to ensure that every Jewish community has a comprehensive community security initiative led by its Federation is well underway and moving quickly forward. And the benefits of the many community security initiatives that already exist are being felt every day. We are also working with our partners to protect the mental health of our communities, which is strained and tested every time a shocking incident like this takes place.

Our public affairs leaders are also hard at work supporting legislative initiatives to control access to the terrible weapons used in many of these shootings, and to increase efforts to identify and interdict those who would carry out such attacks. If Homeland Security officials can identify terrorists before they attack, surely domestic law enforcement can do the same, especially as it seems the warning signs are often quite apparent.

And yet we know there is more that must be done. How many families will have to grieve before our society learns how to deal with this scourge of violence? As your chair, I promise that we will take every opportunity to seek out and advance solutions, building coalitions across civil society and working in partnership across all our communities.
Please do not hesitate to contact me for more information on any aspect of our work on safety and security, or with any new ideas. We need everyone’s help for this crisis to be successfully addressed.

We are hardly the first generation of Jewish leaders to face multiple challenges that threaten the safety and well-being of our community. In our Torah reading this week, Chukat, we have several examples of the hardships the Israelites faced during their travels through the desert. Each challenge has a different solution – in certain instances by going around the threat and taking a different route, in others by negotiating, and in yet others by going straight ahead into a battle. And yes, some among the people complain that the hardships are too great, and openly moan about having been brought out of Egypt at all. Fortunately, these complaints do not carry the day or slow the progress of the people.

Friends, we will tackle this challenge successfully. We will not waste time complaining that it is hard, or that there are formidable obstacles, or that it is taking too long. All this is true, but it is only relevant to the extent that we must mount an effort sufficiently robust and capable to overcome the challenges.

Jewish tradition famously teaches that when we save one life it is as if we have saved the whole world. We know we have saved lives through our security efforts thus far, but there are too many lives we have failed to save. We are still in the wilderness, but we have the leadership and strength to find our way to the other side, and we will not rest until we do.
Julie Platt is Chair of the Board of Trustees of The Jewish Federations of North America