After Highland Park, we must teach young people the value of life

One young person who did not value the lives of others, and his own life, brought such pain to so many in Highland Park. We need to believe in young people, and we need to help them believe in themselves.

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A participant wipes tears as she listens during an event of unity and healing at the Central Avenue Synagogue-Chabad in Highland Park for the victims Highland Park’s Fourth of July parade, Thursday, July 7, 2022.

A participant wipes tears during a July 7 event of unity and healing at Central Avenue Synagogue Chabad in Highland Park, for the victims Highland Park’s Fourth of July parade shooting.

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A few days after the horrific July 4 mass shooting in Highland Park, my colleagues and I gathered to try to bring some comfort and healing to the community. The Central Avenue Synagogue — Highland Park’s branch of Lubavitch Chabad — is blocks away from the site of the shooting, and the synagogue sheltered dozens of terrified, confused people who had run for their lives.

And that is where I spoke to community members, who recounted their horrific tales as we gathered to console one another. Upon receiving a gift of Shabbat candles — to bring a little more light into a darkened world — one woman simply broke down and sobbed.

What words can we possibly share? And yet, we cannot remain silent.

One young person was all it took. One young person who did not value the lives of others, and did not value his own life, brought such pain to so many.

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We need to assure that every person is inculcated with a deeply-felt recognition of the value their own life contains — and the value of every life. We cannot keep our focus on the big picture, and forget about the individual.

The Rebbe — Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory, was the most influential rabbi in modern history. His impact continues to resonate, as Lubavitch-Chabad emissaries staff centers in all 50 U.S. states, with 50 centers in Illinois alone and in more than 100 countries and territories across the globe.

The Rebbe was a world leader. His reach and focus spanned continents. But the Rebbe’s focus on the individual was extraordinary. He had a personal relationship with everyone who spoke to him, recalling details of meetings decades before, and he saw the goodness and potential in each one.

Every time I encountered the Rebbe, albeit for only brief moments at a time, I was uplifted. I felt that the Rebbe believed in me; believed I had value; believed I was worthy of his investment of time and of care. If the Rebbe felt I had worth, how could I think otherwise?

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That is the perspective that we need to share with our young people. We need to look beyond the surface and see the potential inherent in everyone. We need to believe in them, and we need to help them believe in themselves.

One practical way we can do this is by encouraging young people to become givers, to realize that they can improve the lives of others. I’ve been sharing ARKs with people I met in Highland Park. The ARK, which stands for Acts of Random (or Routine) Kindness, is a small, yellow charity box. Every day, you put a few coins into the ARK. When it’s full, you donate it to the charity of your choice. It turns acts of random kindness into acts of routine kindness, and makes the person a giving person, a person who recognizes the positive impact their life can have on others.

One evil act by a person who did not value life had a tremendous negative impact. Let’s create a culture of people bringing more positivity to others, and recognizing their own worth.

Rabbi Meir Moscowitz is the regional director of Lubavitch Chabad of Illinois.

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