Zeynep Bromberg: Fighting for Gun Violence Prevention

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Rabbi Hillel said, “If not now, when?” If now is not the time to talk about gun violence prevention legislation, when is? The time for sophomore Zeynep Bromberg was during the midwinter recess, when she spoke these words on Capitol Hill in Washington DC while lobbying for gun violence prevention. A Reform Jew, Bromberg participated in the L’taken Seminar with her peers at the Brooklyn Heights synagogue. The program allowed teenagers to learn about various political issues and forms of social justice, to delve into their significance from the Jewish perspective, and to deliver a speech to office representatives to lobby for an issue of interest.

The program was sponsored by the Religious Action Center, a progressive organization that is the political voice of the Reform Jewish Movement. Today, the movement is largely secular, based in the concepts of social justice and Jewish values, such as “tikkun olam,” which translates to “repair of the world.”

In recent years, social media has revealed the shocking, increasingly widespread incidents of gun violence that have taken the form of terrorist attacks and school shootings. The 2017 Las Vegas shooting on October 1 saw the deranged Stephen Paddock open fire on a crowd of concert goers at the Route 91 Harvest music festival. Fifty-eight people were left dead and 851 were injured. On Halloween, Stuyvesant witnessed a terrorist attack when Sayfullo Saipov killed eight along the Hudson River bike path. For a long time, we thought we were victims of a terrorist shooting.

Most recently, a school shooting occurred on February 14 at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida, where 17 were killed and 17 more wounded. These shootings throughout the US have added to roughly 19 incidents this year. “The situation we’re in right now is really terrible, and the statistics are insane. The US has a lot of problems, and this is a big one,” said Bromberg. She wrote in her speech that gun violence in the form of school shootings is a uniquely American experience; the rate of gun violence in this country is up to 20 times more than in other developed countries, which results in nearly 34,000 deaths a year.

These incidents, in addition to her personal experiences during the terrorist attack near Stuyvesant on Halloween, prompted Bromberg to research the topic of gun violence prevention and lobby for the issue. “The fact that a school shooting could have happened, and that some people thought that was the case, was scary and was not okay,” Bromberg said. “I spent four hours in my school under the impression that I had come this close to being a victim of a school shooting, and I'll never forget how frightened I felt,” she wrote.

Bromberg's family history has also had a huge impact on her decision to lobby and speak out about the issue. Her grandfather worked for non-profit organizations, including the Anti Defamation League, and spent lots of time on Capitol Hill lobbying throughout his life. Naturally, this spread to Bromberg’s father, and has continued on to influence her. “I think their ‘liberalness’ has rubbed off on me,” she remarked with a smile.

“The want for change and the knowledge that everyday citizens make change in the world have been something my parents have always taught me, and they’ve encouraged me to do things like this,” she said. “There’s never been a moment where my parents didn't want me to speak out for what I believe in.”

In addition to Bromberg, a number of Stuyvesant and New York City school students alike were deeply provoked by school shootings in recent years and decided to take action. Sophomores Grace Goldstein, Morgan Hesse, and Rebecca Collins founded the Stuy Says Enough! organization earlier this year. They created a platform on Facebook to spread awareness of the school shootings throughout the nation, and organized two school walkouts to protest gun violence. The movement quickly gained momentum around the school; many Stuyvesant students took part in the walkout on March 14, and more walked on April 20th for the collective “NYC Says Enough” rally. Bromberg participated in both walkouts.

“I think it’s fantastic that they’re using their platform to speak about these issues. I think Stuy students more than others often need encouragement when it comes to this sort of thing. We think of ourselves as ‘go to class, study, get 100 on the test, and you’re a success,’ but there’s so much more than that. Especially as teenagers in New York City, we have voices that deserve to be heard, and Stuy students aren't as good at expressing those voices because of our environment and the way we are taught we should be acting,” Bromberg said.

Bromberg also effected change within this community of encouragement. Before her trip to Capitol Hill, she reached out to the Stuyvesant community through Facebook, where she informed the student body about her trip and welcomed further contributions to her speech from her peers. “I was affected [by these events], but so were so many others. It made sense for me to see how people were feeling and if there was anything they wanted me to talk about; it wouldn't be fair if I didn’t. I got really lucky in that I had this opportunity to speak to these representatives,” she said.

There was also a strong sense of personal duty that went into Bromberg’s actions. “I thought it was my responsibility as an American citizen and as a global citizen. But also, it was knowing that someone [office representatives] took time out of their busy day to listen to what a bunch of teenagers had to say. That’s important, even if what I said did not automatically cause cause immediate change.”

“I think that the way our government works is that people are forced to listen to their constituents and hear their voices— it’s a beautiful thing. Especially with our current administration in this day and age, it’s most important for us to at least try and speak our minds. Because if we don't, then we’re just not taking advantage of [the system], which is just sad.”

Bromberg delivered her speech with one of her best friends, Violet Kopp, who lobbied separately in front of representative Nydia Velazquez and senators Kirsten Gillibrand and Chuck Shumer. In addition to speaking of the vast statistics surrounding the effects of gun violence, Bromberg and Kopp supported the Assault Weapons Ban of 2017, which would ban 205 military-style weapons from the factories and marketplaces, and the Background Check Expansion Act, which would expand background checks to occasions not previously covered by the background check.

Through sharing her experiences and showing her support for these bans, Bromberg and Kopp received positive feedback. “The response that we got from chiefs of staff was really positive. You could tell that they wanted to hear from us—this was my main takeaway. Because young people are going to become the adults, and it's our opinions and our thoughts that are going to change the world in the next couple of years—so why not now? All over the place, there are opportunities [to lobby], and it’s only one Google search away from finding them and trying to make your voice heard. Literally all you need is to want to do it.”