The Jewish community in Parkland, Florida, held healing services after a mass shooting at a high school attended by many of the teenagers in the community.
Rabbi Bradd Boxman of Kol Tikvah, a Reform congregation in the town inland from Boca Raton, said he knew of at least four Jewish high school students among the wounded, including three from his congregation. They were in area hospitals and had undergone surgery.
At Parkland Chabad, where therapists have been enlisted to counsel students, rabbis say the tragedy in their community is just beginning to unfold.
“This is a small community, where nearly half of the population is Jewish, so everyone has been touched by what has happened,” Rabbi Shuey Biston, director of outreach and development of Chabad of Parkland, told Chabad.org. “The phones at Chabad have been ringing off the wall as people come for emotional, spiritual, and material support.”
Several teens who survived the shooting came to Chabad this morning to recite the traditional Hagomel blessing.
Local 10 News, an ABC affiliate, named one of the dead students as Jaime Guttenberg, who was Jewish.
“A huge number went to that school,” Bosman said of his congregants.
A gunman identified as Nikolas Cruz, 19, armed with a semiautomatic rifle killed at least 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Wednesday, police said. Another 17 wounded were in local hospitals, The New York Times reported. Cruz, a former student at the school who was expelled, was in custody.
Health professionals who gathered at Kol Tikvah walked the high school students through the beginning stages of coping with the trauma, Boxman said.
“Within our own community we have many mental health professionals to rely on,” the rabbi said, and many of them rushed to the synagogue to set up counseling services. “It was a place to come for refuge.”
Rabbi Jonathan Kaplan of the nearby Temple Beth Chai spent the evening at the local Marriott Hotel, where parents had gathered to reunite with their children, counseling parents whose children are still missing. One child from Kaplan’s congregation is among the dead, and another is missing.
“There is one girl we know who was standing between two friends who were shot dead. How can she not be scarred by something like that?” Rabbi Mendy Gutnick, youth director at Chabad of Parkland said.
Beth Chai plans to hold a service today in response to the shooting, and tonight Chabad is hosting an evening of prayers and support.
“It’s chaos here and devastation,” Kaplan told JTA on his way to console the bereaved parents in his congregation. “Everyone is just waiting and praying. No words can describe what happened here.”
Kol Tikvah will also open up to families on Thursday, as schools in Parkland will be closed, Boxman said.
“The children will be able to come and be there with counselors,” he said. “On Shabbat we’ll have a service of healing and unity.
JTA reporting contributed to this report.