I served two years in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF/Israeli army).
I carried a gun. I was surrounded by guns. I shot a gun and I actually taught soldiers how to use guns.
My gun was kind of like a pocketbook.
I used to hang it over my shoulder or put it on my lap when I was on the bus.
It always amused me when tourists were uneasy about an 18-year-old carrying a gun. To me it was just something I did.
In the State of Israel there are no mass shootings, no crazy people walking into schools and randomly killing innocent children.
The issue of gun control and all of its implications in the United States is extremely frightening to me.
I find it absolutely appalling that you can walk into Wal-Mart and right next to the Barbie dolls, you can buy a gun.
The M-16 and the Uzi were part of my body for two years of my life. Ironically, even though I was trained to use it to kill, I never saw it as a weapon. Instead I thought of it as something that could potentially protect me, although in my everyday life the gun that I carried as a soldier was more of a burden.
I had to make sure not to leave in the bathroom or in the movie theater or in the restaurant when we had time out or time off from the base I was serving in.
When girls get out of Juvie I try to meet with them one-on-one to see what their needs are, where they are at, and how The Advot Project can help
them. We usually meet at a café or some place different from a fast food restaurant, which is their usual go to place.
She met me at a place that I like that is funky, earthy, and a little too vegan.
My goal is to introduce the possibility of healthy options through food they’ve never tasted. Most of the time they say out loud what I also sometimes think, “This tastes like crap!” and/or “Where is the ketchup?” or “Why aren't there any good dressings?”
With that said, food is an acquired taste. Culture is something learned and, usually, in time they might actually ask for whole wheat bread or vegan options. Recently at an IHOP excursion, one of the girls actually asked for an egg white omelet. Progress can be slow and, I must confess, I'm not always so happy with my egg white omelet option.
We were sitting and talking. I kept looking at her out of the Juvie clothes. She had a new haircut and was wearing cute jeans and a baggy shirt.
We had a great talk. As she was about to get into the Uber to go back to where she came from, I gave her a hug and when I let my hand go down her back I felt that she had a gun tucked into the back of her pants.
She must have felt my sheer astonishment and quickly got into the Uber and drove away.
I stood there and felt as if all of the blood had rushed out of my body.
I literally could not move for two minutes.
Crap, I thought, what is my job here?
What do I do?
How do I teach?
I chose to text her even though I am a much bigger fan of face-to-face confrontation.
I knew she wouldn't answer a call on the phone. She simply would have to read the text.
I wrote the text maybe 10 times changing the words “you can't” to “you shouldn't” to “you must not” and then added “ever”.
Phrasing and rephrasing, typing and erasing -- all while my hands were shaking.
The final text was gentle but harsh, intense and heartfelt. I made it very clear that she can never ever come to meet me with a weapon or ever dare to bring a gun to any of The Advot Project’s gatherings, plays, performances, or public places that we may use.
I told her I was worried, and I told her that when you have a gun you can use it and that could land her in adult jail not a juvenile detention center.
My text was as long as the sea. Those who text with me know that I have the capacity to send epic, long texts. This one exceeded them all.
She didn't answer and I continued to text her for the next few days asking to meet again but also talking about life, talking about death, talking about guns, talking about my army service, talking to her, talking at her, telling her I'm not mad, I'm worried, telling her everything I can possibly think of to make her get rid of that gun.
When I started this work I started in the boys’ facilities.
I remember talking to one particular young man who was the spitting image of a young Eddie Murphy.
I remember having a conversation with him about guns and how if you have a gun, there is a chance that you will take a life. His response was if you don't have a gun, there's a chance your life will be taken.
“You don't understand the streets,” he said.
“No, I don't,” I answered, “but I do understand guns.”
I didn’t hear from that girl again and I never told anybody about this encounter that happened over a year ago.
I recently bumped into her at Homeboys Industries.
She came to my anger management class. She waited and at the end came up to me.
There was a moment – and I simply leaned in and gave her a big hug.
I told her how happy I was to see her.
She told me she has a little girl. She also told me that she kept all of my texts, all of the 25 “long ass” texts that I sent her.
(Now that was a little embarrassing to hear.)
“I read your texts to my homies,” she said.
“They laugh about you, but they say that you are one wise motherfucker.”
I think this is a compliment.
“You know, Ms.,” she says.
“You talked about life and death and jail. It was a good thing.
I gave that gun back and never touched it again.”
I started to cry.
“You scared the shit out of me that day,” I said very quietly.
“Yeah, well you scared the shit out of me with your long text messages.”
And we both laughed out loud.
“Are you here now?” I asked.
“Sometimes,” she said.
“I am good. I promise,” she said.
“I have a kid now. I got my shit together.”
“Good,” I say.
“I gotta go,” she says, and walks out the door.
And I stand there in the room for a moment.
One of my sweet homies pops his head in.
“You good?” he asks me.
“Yup,” I answer.
Love that man for looking out for me!
In my car I try to text the number I have for her. Of course it doesn't work.
I don't even know her last name.
But I am happy she is alive.
I am happy she read what at the time seemed like a manic ramble to me.
I haven't seen her again. I don't know if I will.
What I do know is that change happens one person at a time.
One very small step at a time.
I imagine her reading my epic texts out loud and a group of rough gang members getting a good laugh at my expense.
But at the same time, I also imagine someone hearing MY VOICE as the voice of reason and possibly having it resonate.
There could have been a million things I should have or could have done that day. I chose to do what I truly believe in, and that is speaking the truth to power. Explain, ask, invite, tell.
How amazing that here in this small incident it actually worked!
I exhale. It took time to tell this story, to get it off my chest.
Time to remind us all to always speak up, always say what is right.
Even if you think no one is listening, because you never really know who is, and what adva → ‘ripple effect’ your words can have.