On Feb. 14, former Los Angeles resident Shelley Faden-Focht, now living in Philadelphia, was back in L.A. to say farewell to her cancer-stricken friend Esther Elfenbaum, the former early childhood education specialist with the Bureau of Jewish Education.
Longtime friends Faden-Focht, Elfenbaum and Elaine Fidel were reminiscing about their lives when Fidel glanced at a bulletin on the television. “My God, there’s been a shooting in Parkland, Fla.,” she said. “Oh, my God,” Faden-Focht replied. “My great-niece, Joelle [Landau], lives there! She just started high school.”
When she learned that the site of the attack was Marjory Stoneman Douglas High, the same school her great-niece attended, “my heart sank,” Faden-Focht told the Journal.
She immediately telephoned Joelle’s mother and was assured the 14-year-old was safe.
“My first thought was, ‘Thank you, God, for letting Joelle be safe because she has so much to offer the world,’ ” Faden-Focht said. “This has been quite a year for her. First, her parents separated, and now this.”
Later, Joelle described the chaotic scene of the 90-minute ordeal to her great-aunt. Shortly after hearing the first gunshots, her classmates filed into the rear section of a double room and locked the door. Nearly everyone was crying, including the teacher. When a friend encouraged Joelle to stop crying, she explained that she wasn’t. She was praying, saying the Shema.
A week later, Faden-Focht was still in Los Angeles, and on Feb. 22, Elfenbaum died. That day, Fidel, whose psychotherapy office is across the street from the Pico Glatt Mart, picked up her weekly copy of the Jewish Journal outside the store, and she handed one to Faden-Focht.
The edition had printed numerous community responses to the Parkland tragedy, but what really struck Faden-Focht was the dramatic illustration on the cover showing a map of the United States with guns and dripping blood.
“I decided I wanted to send copies to Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School [after reading coverage of the tragedy in the Journal].” — Shelley Faden-Focht
After reading the coverage of the tragedy in the Journal, Faden-Focht said, “I decided I wanted to send copies to [Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School], to the teachers, to the students, to the survivors and their families. Parkland people should see these articles that are so eclectic.”
The viewpoints represent “an amazing array” of reactions to the shooting, she said. “Stories from young people, old people, even the security fellow from Israel,” Faden-Focht said.
A few days later, the Journal arranged to ship 400 copies of the issue to Marjory Stoneman Douglas High.