Life After Surviving the Seattle Jewish Federation Shooting
On the ten year anniversary of the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle shooting, one woman who was shot and the rabbi who stood by her side through her recovery recall the experience, how their lives have changed since then, and the action they feel we must now take.
Dayna Klein: Friday morning, July 28th, 2006 seemed like any other morning. I had Shabbat dinner plans with my colleague and friend Pamela Waechter. I picked up my usual two challahs for the weekend, one for dinner and one for French toast the next morning.
There was reason to celebrate: I was marking the 17-week mark of my pregnancy! I had finally relented and put on maternity clothes; now I looked like a pregnant person.
That’s the way the day started. Never could I imagine it would end with a shattered Shabbat and lives forever changed.
Ten years ago, on July 28th, 2006, a lone gunman came to the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle, where Pam and I worked, intent on “killing Jews.” I was shot and permanently injured, along with 5 other colleagues. Pamela was murdered in the stairwell of the Jewish Federation building.
Rabbi Michael Adam Latz: I had arrived home to Seattle from Jerusalem earlier that week. I heard about the shooting from a colleague and raced to the hospital. In the waiting room, people began to gather and I was called in to see Dayna. The vision of her haunts me still – strapped to a gurney, a hole in her arm so big I could put my fist through, weeping as I held her other uninjured hand.
No words were spoken.
We both sobbed.
She placed my hand on her belly. “A Mi Sheberach,” prayer for healing, she instructed, “for my baby.”
There are moments in our lives so powerfully imprinted in our souls that they change our names. I prayed with a fierceness, a tenderness, I never knew possible. “God, let this baby live!” I cried.
The doctors wheeled her away for surgery. When she came to recovery, I was there, weeping once again.
“Your arm will be ok,” I whispered.
“And my son?”
“He’s ok.” We sobbed.
When the gunman reached Dayna’s office and raised his gun to her, she made a split second decision and lifted her arm. The bullet pierced it—but it missed her abdomen—and her son was spared.
Dayna Klein: Rabbi Latz had arrived at the hospital nearly at the same time as the ambulance brought me. He and my beloved friend, Dani Ruthfield, spent the evening and days and weeks after the shooting by my side as I worked to recover and rebuild my life as a person with a permanent disability. I was buoyed by the support of my synagogue community, Kol HaNeshamah, whose members helped in myriad ways, from taking out my trash to driving me to doctors’ appointments to showing up in the courtroom when the gunman was brought to trial.
Rabbi Latz, Dani and members of Kol HaNeshamah were there to bless my beautiful son, Charley Paz (named for my father of very blessed memory and my dear friend Pamela) who arrived 16 and a half weeks after I was shot.
In the 10 years since the shooting, our families have had many blessings – the birth of children, new loves and unions, the adventure of moving to new cities and building new homes.
In those same 10 years, over 330,000 Americans have died from guns.
Since that Shabbat night in Seattle, Rabbi Latz and I haven’t stopped thinking and talking about the shooting – the sadness that we felt at the loss of a dear friend and the pain of watching those of us who were shot try to recover from our injuries; the inhumanity of the action and the damage that gun violence did to our community.
We could’ve stayed “stuck” – paralyzed by fear, by the power of the gun lobby, by the failure of elected officials to do anything to slow the epidemic of gun violence. We could have allowed racist rhetoric to seep into our hearts and used that hate to blame and explain away the senseless violence. But we are Jews. And to fail to respond to the suffering from gun violence would mean that we’d have our sisters’ and our brothers’ blood crying out to us from the earth. That was simply morally intolerable to us both.
Rabbi Latz: As Jews, we are commanded in Torah, “Choose life, so you and your children live.” There is no morally acceptable choice other than to get involved, to raise our voices as men and women of faith, to cry out and proclaim: “ENOUGH!” As Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin (z”l) taught so powerfully, “Enough of blood and tears. Enough!”
Dayna: Getting involved to end gun violence meant a return to my professional roots as a social worker and community organizer.
I am currently collaborating with the Gun Violence Survivors foundation of Philadelphia, the only non-profit organization in our nation working directly with people who have been shot and survived to raise money to help them purchase items that they need to improve their lives.
Additionally, I am working to empower other survivors to lobby legislators and the US Department Health and Human Services to create a permanently funded system so shooting survivors and their families are fast tracked through their systems so that they can immediately access health insurance, housing assistance, and financial assistance to keep themselves and their families afloat.
Rabbi Latz: 10 years after that Shabbat afternoon, I am on the Executive Leadership Team of Rabbis Against Gun Violence, a national grassroots coalition of Jewish American leaders and faith activists from across the denominational spectrum mobilized to curb the current gun violence epidemic plaguing our communities. I am also active with Everytown for Gun Safety.
Why? Because to be a Jew means I cannot stand idly by while my neighbors bleed. To be a Jew means I must be an active part of the redemption of our world from the idolization of guns so our neighbors and our congregants and our children might live. To be a Jew means I stand with the wounded and the wandering, the questioning and the grieving, to give voice to a world where no rabbi is ever again called to her congregant’s bedside with a bullet hole in her arm. To be a Jew means I remember what happened to Dayna and Pam (z”l) and all the employees of the Jewish Federation of Seattle and give voice to their story, their pain, their death and their survival.
This is our commitment, our prayer, and our promise.