Parkland Teens Visit Northeast Ohio Temple

Harris and Mandi Jaffe are 16-year-old rising juniors at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. (Provided)
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Mandi and Harris Jaffe were both on the campus of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on February 14 when a former student started firing.

Mandi, a 16-year-old rising junior, was in her Spanish class when the fire alarm went off and students began filtering out of the room.

It took just a few minutes, she said, for staff to realize that the alarm wasn’t a drill, call a code red and pull her and her classmates into the windowless front office on the building’s first floor. That’s where they waited for more than two hours before police escorted students and staff out of the building.

“Some people were pulling up the news on their phone, others were getting text messages from family because that’s when it was already on the news,” she said.

She had been in contact with her twin brother, Harris, and her parents during the lockdown. Harris was in his finance class in a building separate from both his sister and where the shooting occurred.

Like many of their fellow survivors, Mandi and Harris joined their classmates in vigils for the dead in their hometown. Later, Mandi joined protests at Florida’s Capitol in Tallahassee. Now, both of the Jewish teens are working with their faith community across the country to inspire both young and old to take action against gun violence, which includes a stop in Northeast Ohio.

The two will celebrate Shabbat with members of Temple Emanuel El in Orange Friday and then will give a presentation about their work since the shooting.

“I do wish that this never happened in my school, and I do hope in the future that it never happens again, but considering the fact that it…continues to keep happening, I’m using my vocal power and my sister’s vocal power to spread the message,” Harris said.

That message will start Friday with a call to action, Harris said.

“You can make change no matter how old you are. You can become active and these are the things you can do, and yes, I may be 16 years old, but I am personally seeing myself make a [change] and make an impact on other people’s lives,” he said.

That call to action will also include a discussion about voting, Harris said, and that’s largely due to a shift in the national focus for the newly invigorated student-led initiative.

Following the Parkland shooting, student activism across the country-- largely pushed by the Florida teenage survivors-- has been focused on lobbying politicians to pass stricter gun laws. But this week, the group that organized the Washington, D.C., March For Our Lives event announced the students involved in the national movement will spend their summer travelling the country, working to register young people to vote.

The Jaffes have been less involved in the national organization than some of the more notable Parkland teens, like Emma Gonzalez and David Hogg, but Mandi said they’ve spent their time working with groups in their home state, including a newly formed student-organized group, Empower the People.

“[It’s] working with people in Florida and making sure all the high schools are getting people registered to vote, making sure all the college students are registered to vote,” she said.

But they want to make sure adults are voting for the right people and policies too, Harris added.

Friday’s visit to Northeast Ohio is the Jaffes’ second speaking event specifically focused on reaching members of the Jewish community. The first, in New Jersey, came earlier this year and, according to Harris, they’re working on organizing events in other states as well.

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