A moving tribute to the victims of the Majory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting was unveiled in the form of memorial artwork, during a ceremony at the Michael and Betsy Brauser Chabad of Parkland Center for Jewish Life.
The MSD Eagles Nesher Memorial was completed and unveiled on Feb. 13, the eve of the two-year anniversary of the shooting tragedy at the high school located in Parkland. The artwork consists of 3,320 eagles representing every student who was affected by the shooting. These eagles form the shape of 17 Eagles, representing the 17 people that died in the shooting, that are soaring to heaven through a heart. The eagle is MSD’s mascot.
Chabad of Parkland, which is the headquarters for Chabad of North Broward and Palm Beach counties, commissioned Israeli artist and sculptor Joel Amit to create the memorial. Rabbi Shuey Biston, the Chabad center’s outreach and program director, was in Jerusalem shortly after the shooting and was impressed by Amit’s artwork and asked him if he could create something with eagles for the community.
At the memorial’s completion, in which the last 17 eagles representing the victims that died in the shooting were placed by a family member or special representative, Biston told the attendees that each eagle is unique in its own way to represent the unique qualities of every MSD student.
“As you’ve heard, no bird soars higher than the eagle, and our 17 angels will watch over us from up high,” Biston told the attendees. “The heart symbolizes the love that we have for each angle and of course, for each other.”
Biston said in an interview, regarding the event’s attendance, “To have the community come together is us saying ‘we’re in this together.’”
“Every student and every family has been affected by this, and our response has been with love. Everything we do in this community is about helping other people, giving snd caring.”
Rabbi Mendy Gutnick, the Chabad center’s educational director, said “It’s a very important time for the community to come together.”
“I think we all find solace in each other in every way. This is a time when we find each other’s camaraderie, love and optimism.”
Among those who placed one of the 17 eagles were Lori and Ilan Alhadeff, parents of Alyssa Alhadeff, one of the victims who died in the shooting. She was part of the synagogue as she attended Hebrew School and had her bat mitzvah there.
In a service before the artwork’s unveiling ceremony, Ilan Alhadeff addressed the audience, informing them that “Alyssa’s Law,” a piece of legislation named after his daughter that would require silent panic alarms in every public school building in Florida to alert police and rescuers to emergencies, was scheduled to be heard on Feb. 18 in the State Senate’s subcommittee.
“That didn’t happen by chance,” he remarked about the legislation’s hearing. “It happened because each and everyone one of you, and your friends and family members, are calling and asking for it and demanding that it happens.”
Alhadeff continued, “This art work reminds me that we need to keep soaring high and keep pushing.”
“While we will never forget, we will continue to fight on and honor each one of the victims every day of every year.”
Alhadeff also expressed his family’s gratitude to the Chabad rabbis who have been a “tremendous support” in everything they have done.
“We’re very grateful to be part of this community.”
The service also included remarks from local elected officials, including Parkland Mayor Christine Hunschofsky and Broward County Commissioner Michael Udine.
The event included attendance from people who survived the shooting two years ago.
Caleb King, a junior at MSD, said he feels the memorial will help him in the healing process from the shooting tragedy he experienced as a freshman.
“It has a religious aspect to how religion can help with this healing process.”
Madison Hersch, a sophomore at the University of Florida who survived the shooting as a high school senior, said, “As an artist, I think art is extremely important for healing as I’ve used it myself.”
“This [memorial] is something that you’ll be able to come to and visually see, and you’re never going to be alone here to see this. I also think knowing that an artist that we don’t even know did this for us is very meaningful.”