LIVINGSTON, NJ — The Men’s Shul Softball League, consisting of teams from temples throughout Livingston, West Orange, Short Hills and other neighboring communities in Essex and Morris counties, gathered in Livingston prior to regular play on Sunday morning in support of Make Our Schools Safe, an organization started by the parents of a Marjory Stoneman Douglas (MSD) High School shooting victim.
League members and their families united at Mt. Pleasant Middle School wearing “MSD Strong” shirts for a ceremony led by Livingston resident Cary Bayer, whose two nieces are students at MSD and were directly affected by the mass shooting in Parkland. His younger niece, 14-year-old Eden Hebron, sat alongside her best friend, Alyssa Alhadeff, in their English classroom as Alhadeff died from the nine gunshot wounds she sustained that day.
Alhadeff’s parents have since started the “Make Our Schools Safe” foundation to honor their daughter's memory and to prevent other families from enduring similar tragedy.
“My younger niece watched her friends get shot and die,” said Bayer. “A witness, she has become an advocate for safe schools and gun violence prevention. I chose to support this foundation because it has a message and mission that everyone can accept regardless of political affiliation or views about gun ownership.”
Bayer not only grew up in Livingston and attended the public school system, but also raised his own children there. When he and his wife sent their children to Livingston Public Schools, he said they “always felt that school was a safe place” and “did not worry about mass shootings.”
“Parkland is like Livingston and other neighboring suburban towns,” said Bayer. “The feeling that ‘it can never happen here’ is no longer. We know that school violence can happen anywhere.”
For most of his adult life, Bayer said the men’s softball league has been his "village," and that when he was tasked with hosting this event, he knew he could count on the village to support his family as well as the Parkland community. The group raised money for Make Our Schools Safe by selling the MSD Strong shirts, and wore them on Sunday as a display of support for the Parkland community.
“My wife has been to Parkland several times since February, and unlike everywhere else in the country, it is not yesterday's news,” said Bayer. “It is still as fresh as it was four months ago. The community and especially the families of the innocent victims are still grieving.
“All the teams wore the same shirt for solidarity. We want to show Parkland that we support them, that we have not forgotten about them and that we are all on the same team: a team that wants to ‘Make Our Schools Safe.’”
Bayer said he hopes that showing New Jersey’s support “will go a long way in their recovery.”
“Thank you to Cary Bayer for putting together such a wonderful event for something that touched his family so personally,” said Livingston Mayor Ed Meinhardt, who also spoke at the ceremony. “It was a beautiful, well-thought-out event and had a lot of meaning to not only his family but to all the participants and I was very happy to be part of it.”
The well-attended event is one that the league hopes will become an annual pre-season ceremony, with the Temple Brotherhood selecting a new charity to stand behind each year to create a meaningful tribute before games.
During Sunday’s ceremony, Bayer read the following poem written by his niece a few days after the shooting:
We walked into class together and sat down
It was Valentine’s Day in our sweet Parkland Town.
We were laughing and doing our work, me and my best friend,
But little did I know that 5 minutes later, her life would come to an end.
I hear a sound. One, Two, Three, Four, Five.
Gunshots? That’s funny, Alyssa, of course, we will survive.
We live in Parkland, I thought, how could this be?
But sometimes your thoughts are not what you see.
We run under the table in disbelief.
I have my friends next to me, what a relief.
They move to the teacher’s desk to seek safer shelter,
But I stayed there thinking the sound was just bad weather.
I close my eyes and wait for my teacher to say it’s a drill,
But before I knew it, our door was shot through and I saw his first kill.
Elaina, Alex, Justin and then Alyssa,
I’m next and this is not just paranoia.
He went to the next floor and then the next.
All I could think about is, how many will be left?
The screams blasting in my ear,
The blood still won’t disappear.
I scream their names, call for my friends.
Nothing else to do, they are gone, they are dead.
Didn’t think I would live my worst nightmare.
I kept hearing shots and seeing gunpowder in the air.
I check the news. How could you do this Nick Crus?
More and more I find out died,
I wish this didn’t happened and he never got inside.
There are no words to describe, nothing else to say
That will justify my English class on Valentines Day.
Support Make Our Schools Safe at makeourschoolssafe.org.