Parkland students begin to heal at Chabad conference in New York

Survivors of Parkland school shooting among thousands of Jewish high school students who attended annual conference of 'CTeen' youth group.

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JTA and Arutz Sheva Staff,

Torah in memory of those murdered in Florida shooting
Torah in memory of those murdered in Florida shooting
Itzik Roitman

Seven survivors of the Parkland school shooting were among thousands of Jewish high school students who attended the annual conference of the Chabad movement’s youth group.

The conference was hosted in New York City by CTeen, the teen arm of the Hasidic outreach movement. CTeen, which has 100,000 members worldwide, has eight chapters in the South Florida area surrounding Parkland.

Survivors of the shooting at the conference, each of whom had taken part in previous local Chabad activities, said they appreciated the opportunity to grieve and be comforted.

“We all have been feeling better because we’ve been with other teens who have been supporting us,” Marc Susskind, 14, told JTA. “They’ve been checking in on us, keeping us company.”

On Saturday night, the conference held a moment of silence in Times Square for the murdered teens. A Torah was also completed in honor of the 17 people murdered in the shooting, during which a number of new CTeen emissaries, donors, and survivors of the shooting were honored.

During the ceremony in Times Square, which was hosted by singer Yoni Z, singers Nissim Black and Gad Elbaz also made appearances, igniting the crowd.

The next day began a campaign for members of the youth group to fulfill one Jewish commandment, or mitzvah, in the murdered teens’ memory. The group also called for schools to institute a moment of silence at the beginning of the day.

Both the mitzvah campaign and the idea of a moment of silence in public schools — in place of prayer, which is prohibited — are longtime Chabad causes. The movement often encourages doing Jewish rituals, such as lighting Shabbat candles or laying tefillin, as a response to tragedy.

Rabbi Mendy Kotlarsky, CTeen’s president, said the group tries to avoid political issues like the gun control campaign, but acknowledged the power of the Parkland students’ activism.

“Teens are the leaders of today, not the leaders of tomorrow,” he said. “Many of them are embracing that. The Parkland event is something that brought this onto the national stage. Teens might be getting a bump in being able to mobilize because a lot of people are looking toward them and seeing what they’re going to do.”

The students at the CTeen conference, which drew 2,500 attendees, said they would also be engaging in activism, including a march in Washington, D.C., scheduled for March 24. But this weekend, Parkland survivors said, they were just grateful to be among friends who comforted them.

“Everyone knows about the incident and everyone is going to help reconnect,” said Maverick Reynolds, 15, who heard gunshots while hiding in a nearby classroom. “We knew it was real and it was very scary.”