Categories
Gun Control Healing

Hineni

Hineni.   I am here.    Like Abraham of old i stand ready to serve thee
Today.
Today i am here in Shul.
With my friends and neighbors
Filled with sadness and anger
Searching for words

Today.

But what about tomorrow?

I will not sacrifice Isaac.

Sarah must not die from the pain of a child’s death.

Nor will we be fooled by Satan’s fake news.

Tomorrow must be different

So I will rise up early but I will not pack my bags.

Instead I will stand resolute as a Jew

I will work for a world where Isaac and Ishmael live as brothers.

And I will try harder to find 10 righteous,
Davka because yesterday 11 gave their lives

Tomorrow I will know that despite the sadness and the tears, the killing and the hate, good people walk with us
And God’s promise will not lie curdled in our mouths like spoiled milk.

For I believe that someday, one day
all the families of the earth shall be blessed through love.

Yes.  These things I pledge for tomorrow.

But today, today I mourn.  Today I heal.  Today I look forward to
Tomorrow

Rabbi Sanford Akselrad serves Congregation Ner Tamid in Henderson, Nevada.  
Categories
Gun Control Social Justice

Praying With Our Feet at the March For Our Lives in Washington, DC

Dear Friends,

I write this while on a plane en route from our nation’s capital after having shared in a remarkable and life-changing Shabbat experience. On Friday night, I was honored to be asked by my dear friend, Rabbi Bruce Lustig, to participate in an Erev Shabbat service at Washington Hebrew Congregation along with other musicians including Dan Nichols, Stacy Beyer, Noah Aronson and Alan Goodis. Our Director of Youth Engagement, Megan Garrett, and two parent chaperones also accompanied a delegation of several of our teens.  They spent the night in the Synagogue along with over 450 young people from across the country. During the service,we were joined on the Bema by several young people who spoke – many who were students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.  Others were leaders of their NFTY regions.  After the service, my musical colleagues and I led a short concert and song-session during which I sang the protest anthem that Steve Brodsky and I co-wrote, “Praying With Our Feet.”  While the music was an important part of the evening, the primary focus was on the teenagers. The poise, pain and incredible leadership that these young people displayed while sharing their stories was both moving and inspiring.

On Shabbat morning, the entire NFTY delegation and many other adults prayed together in a pre-rally Shabbat service.  We were joined by many dignitaries – including Debbie Wasserman Shultz – the US Congresswoman who represents Parkland, Florida, and Rabbi Rick Jacobs who addressed the congregation via video feed. But once again, the major focus of the service were the young people who led us in prayer and song.  There was one incredibly moving moment towards the end of the service when my friend and colleague, Rabbi Brad Boxman, who serves a congregation in Parkland, FL, shared how, on the first Shabbat following the shootings, he asked all of the adults in his packed sanctuary to turn to the children who sat with and near them and bless them.  He then asked all of us who were present to do the same.  As we placed our hands on the heads of these beautiful teenagers and said the words of the Priestly blessing together, tears flowed freely down our faces. You see, we knew that we had come to DC to protest. We knew that change had to come. We were charged and ready. But there was something about praying for God’s protective blessing on these precious, beautiful souls that shifted our focus and made everything very real. We were not about to march for a cause: we were marching for our children’s lives.  And then we started our journey to the rally.
We carried signs and banners with sacred texts:
  • “If not now, when?”
  • ‘It is not up to you to finish the task, but neither are you free to desist from carrying it out.”
  • “Do not stand idly by while your neighbor bleeds”
We chanted, we sang, we enjoyed a beautiful sunny day. But our march soon came to a halt when we realized that there were so many people filling the streets that we could only go a few blocks. Every space in the street surrounding the Capital was filled.  But it didn’t matter. We watched on video screens, heard from loudspeakers and felt the determination in the million other marchers who were with us. We came from all walks of life – all colors and creeds – but we shared in our determination to speak up and say enough:
  • Enough killing;
  • Enough pretending that the issue is not guns, but people;
  • Enough ignoring the plight of people of color;
  • Enough manipulation from the gun lobby;
  • Enough silence from legislators who are afraid to address the issue of easy access to weapons of mass destruction.

This was not a political rally – although, after today’s events, many politicians will be worried about keeping their seats – and they should be. We marched for moral, not partisan reasons. This was not, as some have charged, a volley of Left Wing talking points – it was a rising up of a generation raised in the shadows of Columbine, Sandy Hook, Aurora, Las Vegas, Parkland and too many other tragedies that have been lost in the endless cycle of shootings that have become yesterday’s news.

The rock stars and celebrities who were on stage were not the focus of the rally either. No, it was the children- the survivors who have taken on the mantle of leadership – who stirred our souls and compelled us to action. We heard about the toll that daily violence on the streets of Chicago, Los Angeles and Washington DC has taken. We wept along with speakers who had lost brothers and sisters to bullets. We heard the passion of the newly-energized victims of school shootings who have watched as the adults in their lives relinquished the responsibility of protecting them and, as a result, have taken it upon themselves to give notice to their elected officials that silence is complicity, and that they refuse to remain silent.

As I contemplate this remarkable 24 hours, I am in awe. The vision, poise, leadership and power that these young activists have discovered gives me hope that not all is lost, and that the future will be in good hands. I also am more determined than ever to both speak out against and call out the hypocrisy and callous disregard for human life that the gun lobby and its enablers have fostered in our society.

Let me be very clear:  I am not opposed to guns per se. I am, however, opposed to the idolatry that gun worship has spawned in our nation. We owe it to our children to speak out as loud and proud as they do. They have taken on the mantle of leadership. I am compelled to follow. Will you join with me?

We can do no less.

Rabbi Joe Black serves Temple Emanuel in Denver, Colorado.  This blog was originally posted on his personal blog
Categories
Gun Control Healing Prayer

Prayer in the Aftermath of a Tragedy

Our God and God of all people,
God of the Rich and God of the poor.
God of the teacher and God of the student.
God of the families who wait in horror.
God of the dispatcher who hears screams of terror from under bloodied desks.
God of the first responder who bravely creeps through ravaged hallways.
God of the doctor who treats the wounded.
God of the rabbi, pastor, imam or priest who seeks words of comfort but comes up empty.
God of the young boy who sees his classmates die in front of him.
God of the weeping, raging, inconsolable mother who screams at the sight of her child’s lifeless body .
God of the shattered communities torn apart by senseless violence.
God of the legislators paralyzed by fear, partisanship, money and undue influence.
God of the Right.
God of the Left.
God who hears our prayers.
God who does not answer.
On this tragic day when we confront the aftermath of the 18th School shooting in our nation on the 46th day of this year, I do not feel like praying.
Our prayers have not stopped the bullets.
Our prayers have changed nothing.
Once again, a disturbed man with easy access to guns has squinted through the sights of a weapon, aimed, squeezed a trigger and taken out his depraved anger, pain and frustration on innocents:  pure souls. Students and teachers. Brothers and sisters. Mothers and fathers- cut down in an instant by the power of hatred and technology.
We are guilty, O God.
We are guilty of inaction.
We are guilty of complacency.
We are guilty of allowing ourselves to be paralyzed by politics.
The blood of our children cries out from the ground.
The blood of police officers cut down in the line of duty flows through our streets.
I do not appeal to You on this terrible morning to change us. We can only do that ourselves.
Our enemies do not come only from far away places.
The monsters we fear live among us.
May those in this room who have the power to to make change find the courage to seek a pathway to sanity and hope.
May we hold ourselves and our leaders accountable.

Only then will our prayers be worthy of an answer.

AMEN
Rabbi Joe Black serves Temple Emanuel in Denver, Colorado.  This prayer was originally posted on his blog
Categories
Books Gun Control Prayer Social Justice

The Relevance of Prayer in the Face of Tragedy

The morning after the Las Vegas Massacre, several identical posts appeared on Facebook, many from rabbis, declaring that ‘Prayer is not enough.’ As I was reading them, I received a note in my message box from a long-time anti-gun activist. She asked: “Do you have a prayer to help give us energy and hope as we fight this battle?”

The contrast was stark. Faith leaders were deriding the importance of prayer while an anti-gun activist – crushed with the enormity of the work ahead – turned to prayer for hope and inspiration.

Clergy said it after the Las Vegas massacre. Clergy said it after the Pulse Massacre. Clergy said it after Hurricanes Harvey and Irma. After each horrific tragedy – natural or not – a handful of Jewish clergy said: “Prayer is not enough.”

Yes, prayer must be accompanied by action. Tikun olam comes from our involvement in bettering the world. Yet as a liturgist and pray-er, someone who works every day to help people connect to prayer, I worry that stating that ‘prayer is not enough’ minimizes the importance and the impact of prayer. It perpetuates a simplistic understanding of prayer.

What I want to say to my beloved rabbis is this: Be brave in demanding action. Be direct. Tell your congregants this: Get up out of your seats, do something that will make a difference. But in the process, don’t intimate that prayer is irrelevant.

Prayer can give strength to activists. Prayer can remind us of our best selves, helping to galvanize action. It can comfort the wounded and the newly bereaved. Prayer can remind us – when the moment of tragedy has passed – to continue our work. Prayer can unite faith leaders and political leaders with one voice.

Prayer helps us bury the dead and provide solace to their kin. Prayer gives our grief a voice and that voice should be a call to engage in bettering the world.

It’s true that our prayers will not stop a bullet. They won’t keep automatic weapons off the streets. Prayers will not clean up in the aftermath of a natural disaster. They will not build homes. They will not pass legislation. But we have no business believing that about prayer in the first place.

I’m concerned about the conflicting message that we may send by  one day declaring that ‘prayer is not enough,’ the next day leading worship services in synagogue and the next representing the Jewish people in interfaith prayer gatherings. It’s strange to think that one can minimize prayer one day and the next day expect a congregation of worshipers to arrive at your synagogue ready to pray. The question is not when we need prayer and when do we not, but rather, how can we enable prayer to go hand in hand with meaningful action.

Prayer can be a potent and important part of the solution. We shouldn’t expect more of prayer. But we shouldn’t expect less, either.

This is the prayer I sent my friend, the anti-gun advocate: Against Gun Violence

Alden Solovy is a liturgist, author, journalist, and teacher. He has written more than 600 pieces of new liturgy, offering a fresh new Jewish voice, challenging the boundaries between poetry, meditation, personal growth, and prayer. Solovy is a three-time winner of the Peter Lisagor Award for Exemplary Journalism. He made aliyah to Israel in 2012, where he hikes, writes, teaches, and learns. His work has appeared in Mishkan R’Fuah: Where Healing Resides (CCAR Press, 2012), L’chol Z’man v’Eit: For Sacred Moments (CCAR Press, 2015), Mishkan HaNefesh: Machzor for the Days of Awe (CCAR Press, 2015), and Gates of Shabbat, Revised Edition (CCAR Press, 2016). He is the author of This Grateful Heart: Psalms and Prayers for a New Day, from CCAR Press, now available as an eBook.

CCAR Press has created unique programs for you to host at your congregations, schools, libraries, and Jewish Community Centers. Want to host a Grateful Heart Event? Click for details. Contact us with questions at info@ccarpress.org or (212) 972-3636 x243.

 

Categories
Gun Control News Social Justice

Of Hugs and Vigils: Standing with Orlando

The Orlando International Airport bustles with excited children hugging their favorite characters to their hearts; it’s surrounded by palm trees and a sunny, humid atmosphere. Where were the signs that this city that had just days before experienced the worst mass shooting in U.S. history? As we left the airport we saw them: an American flag and a rainbow flag flying half-mast. Barber shops, law offices, highway billboards, theaters–these places displayed rainbow hearts and #OrlandoStrong signs publicly and proudly.

In the wee hours of June 12, forty-nine lives were taken and fifty-three people injured when a gunman armed with an AR-15 rifle opened fire inside Pulse, a nightclub serving the Latinx and LGBTQ community. A safe haven was targeted, decimated. Its owners and workers–more a family than a business–mourn and suffer. They have no jobs; they feel–though not at all deserved–guilt and worry.

In New York, we heard the news. We were shocked. The worst mass shooting in U.S. history carried out in a place that had been both a safe haven and a beacon of freedom for so many who are marginalized, dehumanized, ostracized, and targeted with discrimination and violence. We mourned.

And I wasn’t sure what to do next. As a queer woman and as a rabbi–and simply as an empathic person–I felt both called and hesitant. I wanted to jump on that plane to Orlando, but I wasn’t sure what I was going to do when I arrived.

The short version is: the NYU Bronfman Center for Jewish Student Life, where I serve as a rabbi, went to Orlando. We hugged folks. We listened to their stories.

A delegation of two staff members and three students traveled on Wednesday. What we discovered is this: Orlando is a beautiful city that has pulled together to show support, solidarity, and unity. Churches and counseling centers have opened their doors nearly around the clock to offer free trauma counseling in Spanish and in English. Thousands of people attended a vigil on Monday night in front of the Dr. Phillips Performing Arts Center; its lawn has become a memorial, with flowers, messages, cards, mementos, and images of the slain laid out on the ground. People gather, add their condolences, pray, and weep.

A beacon of giving has been the Center, Orlando’s LGBTQ Center. Mountains of water bottles, granola bars, non-perishable food, toiletries, and other much-needed supplies are pouring into this hub of direct service and community support. The moment a volunteer posts to social media that an item is needed, a car pulls up behind the modest building to deliver it. We encountered dozens of volunteers, some of them staff members like Ben who direct the activities, some regular volunteers like Laura who simply take charge when they see a lull, and some first-time volunteers who came with hands ready and hearts open. The outpouring of support was staggering. And, yes, we helped: we sorted supplies, assembled boxes, stood at the ready.

But there was more important work to be done: asking questions, listening, and hugging. Each person we met that day had a story: “My girlfriend and I had our first kiss at Pulse; we could easily have been there that night.” “I don’t feel safe anymore.” “If I slow down and stop, I don’t know what I will do.” “It’s so hard to hold up for our students when the staff are also mourning.” In some ways, what we did that day was nothing: we offered an ear, a shoulder to cry on, a hug. But in other ways, it was everything: we traveled from afar because we cared enough to listen. We told people they are valuable and showed that love conquers hate.

And of course there is more to do, and the Bronfman Center will be keeping in touch with Orlando’s LGBTQ Center to ensure that we provide help when and how we can, and in ways that are most needed. If you are able to travel to Orlando, you will be needed to help form a human chain to protect families of those slain from hateful protesters who plan to attend the funerals happening throughout the coming week. If you can donate money, you can help support families of the murdered and the injured who are living in hotels in Orlando and are in need of meals and supplies. We will keep you informed as best we can.

Our day in Orlando ended at Valencia College, the alma mater of Amanda Alvear, Oscar A. Arancena-Montero, Cory James Connell, Mercedes Marisol Flores, Juan Ramon Guerrero, Jason Benjamin Josaphat, and Luis Omar Ocasio-Capo; these seven young people were killed that night at the Pulse. Their college community–four hundred strong, and more watching via closed-circuit television–gathered to honor them and celebrate their lives, to mourn, and to unite against homophobia, transphobia, racism and islamophobia. I was honored to speak some words of (I hope) comfort at the vigil, sharing the stage with student leaders like Krystal Pherai, LGBTQ community leaders, college administrators, and a local imam. Krystal urged us all to remember that acting as an ally is not easy and it requires us to move well beyond our comfort zones: “Talk to those you see as the ‘other.’ Learn from each other. Have difficult, crucial conversations. Speak your truth.” The City of Orlando sits shiva. For forty-nine souls. It already rebuilds its sense of security and unity. It refuses to blame an entire religion for one man’s horrific actions. It acknowledges that homophobia and transphobia come in many forms, and that our individual communities must examine our actions. Do you want to know whether you are ensuring that the LGBTQ folks in your community or family feel safe? Then don’t wait for them to come out to you or reach out for help: Tell them and show them that you value all lives.

Rabbi Nikki DeBlosi serves as Manager of Religious Life at the pluralistic Bronfman Center for Jewish Student Life at New York University.  This blog was originally posted on Rabbi DeBlosi’s blog.

Categories
Gun Control News Social Justice

Three Ways to Participate in National Gun Violence Awareness Day 2016

On June 2, millions of people across the county will be observing the second annual National Gun Violence Awareness Day, also known as Wear Orange Day.

On January 21, 2013, Hadiya Pendleton – a majorette and high school student from the South Side of Chicago – marched in President Obama’s Second Inaugural Parade. One week later, after finishing final exams, Hadiya was shot and killed in a park near her school. Soon after this tragedy, Hadiya’s childhood friends asked their classmates to commemorate Hadiya’s life by wearing orange.  They chose the color orange to symbolize the value of human life, as hunters wear orange in the woods to protect themselves and others. This call to action from Hadiya’s classmates has grown into a national movement, and orange is becoming the symbol of gun safety.

Last year, the Reform Movement participated in the first ever National Gun Violence Awareness Day, and this year the RAC and NFTY are once again working with Everytown for Gun Safety and dozens of other organizations, to draw awareness, to educate and to take action to prevent gun violence. Here are three ways that you can get involved with Wear Orange this year:

  1. Incorporate gun violence awareness into Shabbat: Join the Reform Movement’s participation in National Gun Violence Awareness Day by using our new Wear Orange Shabbat Toolkitin your congregation or home.
  2. Contact Your Members of Congress: Currently, many people are still able to legally purchase guns at gun shows and online, even if they would be prohibited from doing so in a store. On June 2, urge your Members of Congress to support legislation which would improve our background check system on gun sales, further preventing gun violence.
  3. Wear Orange and Share! On June 2, wear a piece (or more) of orange clothing to show your support for gun violence awareness. At some point during the day, take a picture of yourself, share it on social media and tell us why you are wearing orange. Be sure to tag us in your post (@theRAC, @NFTY) and use #WearOrange. Here are some examples of Reform Jews showing their support on June 2, 2015.

To learn more about gun violence prevention, visit the RAC’s issue page.

Categories
Gun Control News Social Justice

In Response to the Massacre in Charleston

“God Bless America!” In these times especially we implore: “God Bless America.” How we need your blessings, O God. How we long for your presence, your grace, your forbearance, in the face of the horrific massacre in Charleston.

In Your house O God, in your own house, the Emanuel AME Church, the murder of your faithful, quakes the very pillars on which our nation stands. Nine citizens of the United States of America gathered to exercise their constitutional right to free expression of their religion, executed, not by some young outlier from our culture, but from the learned hatred endemic in American society. We cannot afford to sweep this under the carpet like we have the white gunman in the Colorado movie theatre, or the white gunman who murdered the Sandy Hook school children. We dare not pigeonhole these murders as the random acts of a crazed loner.

The racist ideas that filled Dylann Roof’s head did not come from random thoughts – one is not born a racist. Racism is a bred response. Roof’s actions reflect his environment. They reflect the Confederate battle flag that hangs outside of South Carolina’s Capital. They reflect the actions of the white policeman who gunned down an unarmed black man running away from him in South Carolina, just weeks ago.

That is not to say that Dylann Roof is not accountable for his heinous actions. The courts will undoubtedly rule swiftly on his guilt. Nonetheless, we have an accounting to make as well. Twentieth Century theologian, Abraham Joshua Heschel reminds us that: “few are guilty, but all are responsible.”

The mass shooting at the historic Emanuel AME  Church, comes after a year of turmoil and protests over race relations, policing, and criminal justice across America. Up until now that unrest has been punctuated by a series of police killings of unarmed black men sparking a renewed vigor in the civil rights movement under the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter.

Clayborne Carson, founding director of the Martin Luther King Jr Research and Education Institute at Stanford University, framed the Charleston violence: “The reality [is] that racism is alive and well and that we have a problem with guns. People will throw up their hands and say ‘how terrible’ … and then will get back to passing more laws that allow people to carry guns.”

Ecclesiastes teaches:  “For everything there is a season…  A time to be born and a time to die… A time to keep silence and a time to speak…”

Nine citizens of the United States of America executed, citizens participating in the constitutionally protected right to freely express their religion, gunned down in the service of God, and before the stunned hearts of America. It was not their season to die. Another United States Citizen, not some foreign terrorist, but a 21 year old, soft spoken, white man, sat in bible study and prayer with them for about an hour before he took out his gun and began shooting, reloading time after time.

Today their relatives in mourning rightfully bemoan: “It was not their time to die, not their time.” God bless America, how we wish we could wash over the pain with bucolic mountainsides and sandy beach shores.  How we wish that post card of America was not marred by the racist actions of Dylann Roof. How we long for an America that elevates God’s blessings over man’s curses.

“There is a time to keep silence and a time to speak.” Do not heed the voices isolating the perpetrator, making him sound like a freak of nature, rather than a product of American culture. The mayor and governor of South Carolina have been beating that drum this week, while they desperately try to console and heal their City and State.

Charleston’s Mayor Joseph Riley said in an interview with TIME: “Whether he was a terrorist and exactly how you define a terrorist, I don’t know,” he says. “I put him more in the [category] of the shooter of the children in Connecticut, the shooter in the movie theater—they’re deranged people.”

“The takeaway, Riley says, isn’t about racial hatred as much as it is about the easy availability of guns. “This guy that obviously wasn’t 100% emotionally stable could get a gun as easily as he could buy a diet beverage. I think this raises that same alarm bell that our country just hasn’t been able to deal with.” He also pointed out that Roof grew up over 100 miles outside of Charleston, noting that this “wasn’t something that emanated from the civic culture of this city.”

While Riley is right on point about the availability of guns and their link to violence, he misses a real opportunity when he denies the racism endemic to his city, to every American city.

None of us want to believe that the civic culture of our city could produce a Dylann Roof. Even in the town where he grew up they deny that he could have learned racism in their back yard. In Mr. Bunky’s Market across from Roof’s father’s home, Preston Rivers Jr., a 68-year-old bricklayer who is black, said even during segregation black and white children got along.

“They came to our house to eat and we went to their houses to eat,” he said. “We didn’t have a problem. We hunted together, fished, no problems. Manager [of the store] Kim Fleming, who is white, said most of the people near the store are black, and she never felt any racial tension. “His issues were his issues only,” she said of the alleged shooter. “I don’t see [racial tension] in this community.”

No, not in my back yard – no racial tension here. I have lots of black friends. We hosted an African American Church in our Temple for three years. I sit on the Triangle Martin Luther King Jr. Committee and am committed with the MLK Committee to spreading King’s message of economic justice and civil rights, not just on the MLK Commemoration holiday, but day in and day out.

And I also have a grandmother who was a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution and the Daughters of the American Confederacy. My grandfather’s family owned farm land in Mississippi before the Civil War. My grandmother has letters written to her grandmother from a Confederate soldier fighting in the war.

“There is a time to be silent and a time to speak.” As much as I work for Civil Rights, as much as my life and my rabbinate have been influenced by outrage at the racist and classist effects of American society, I cannot be silent about my own part in that society. I cannot deny that I have never lived nor worked in a racist free community. And yet, I have never spoken about the racist culture that so surely had to be tied to that plantation my ancestors owned in Mississippi.

If we are to have a true conversation about racism, we cannot be silent about our own country, community or family.  We have to own that we live in a country that has harbored and nurtured racists for all of its existence. We have to admit out loud that we, each one of us, have our own prejudices that plague us.

We must have these conversations both intra and inter communally. We dare not pretend that the racism all around us does not exist, just because the Emanuel Church murderer grew up across the street from a country store that employed blacks and whites.

We have to have these conversations, and we have to act in ways that work to curb the gun violence that pervades America like no other civilized nation. “If guns were outlawed only outlaws would have guns,” they say. And if reasonable restrictions were put on gun ownership, there would still be unreasonable people who found a way to get a gun – but statistics in nations around the world prove there would be a lot less gun violence in America, if we strengthened our laws on who can own guns.

We cannot be silent in the face of repeated fire arm massacres in the United States of America. How many more have to die before their time? How many more will not see the next season, because we did not demand change?

“God bless America, land that I love, stand beside us, and guide us.” If we truly love the America that we ask God to bless, then we must seize this moment to speak up and to speak out. To assure that along with God’s blessing it will be our voices and our actions that transform the racism and violence of our nation.

Rabbi Lucy Dinner serves Temple Beth Or in Raleigh, North Carolina. 

Categories
Ethics Gun Control News Rabbis Reform Judaism

Gun Safety Is a Jewish Issue

images-1Gun safety is a Jewish issue.  Since the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut, Jews have played a prominent role in advocating for gun safety.  There are, to be fair, Jews on the other side of this debate and some in between.

Nevertheless, a compelling case for sensible legislation aimed at reducing gun violence can be framed from the Jewish tradition.  The Torah urges us to conduct ourselves scrupulously and safely (Deut. 4:9:  “Take utmost care and watch yourself scrupulously”) and commands a homeowner to build a railing around the roof “lest you bring bloodguilt upon your house if anyone should fall from it” (Deut. 22:8). From this precept the Rabbis concluded that a person should not keep wild dogs, shoddy ladders, or other dangerous objects in the home lest they cause bloodshed (Babylonian Talmud (BT), Bava Kamma 15b).

The Talmud forbids a person to sell weapons to anyone who might use them inappropriately (BT Avodah Zarah 15b). After John Hinkley attempted to assassinate President Reagan with a handgun in 1982, Orthodox Rabbi J. David Bleich wrote a powerful open letter to the Jewish pawnshop owner who unknowingly sold Hinkley that handgun:

“Jews ought to be in the vanguard of those seeking to impress upon our legislators that handguns are indeed ‘stumbling blocks’ which must not fall into the hands of the ‘blind.’” (“Should Jews Sell Guns?”, referencing Leviticus 19:14, “You must not insult the deaf, nor place a stumbling block before the blind.”).

safe_image.phpOur Movement must continue to lead the way on this issue.  In February, the RAC (Religious Action Center) helped organized an interfaith call-in; thousands of people of all different faith traditions picked up the phone to put religious pressure on our legislators, and another such day is being organized for April 9th.  The URJ seeks partnership with Pastor Rick Warren; they also got Mike Bloomberg to promote the message for NFTY.

What might sensible gun safety legislation look like? 

One.  Universal Background Checks should be utilized in every gun sale, including guns sold online, at gun shows, and through private sales.

Two.  Ban the Sale of High-Capacity Weapons and Ammo Clips to Civilians.  No legitimate self-defense or sporting purpose exists for these military-style, high-capacity weapons and magazines.

Three.  Gun Trafficking Should Be Made a Federal Crime.  Currently, prosecutions only happen through a law that prohibits selling guns without a federal license, which carries the same punishment as trafficking chicken or livestock.  Existing laws must be enforced more effectively, and new laws–with harsher consequences–drawn up to criminalize gun trafficking.  We would like our legislators to propose a (remarkably!) modest limit to the number of gun purchases to one gun per person per month.

We should also work Movement-wide and with partners within and without the Jewish community to initiate direct discussion with key players in the firearms industry, meeting with manufacturers and distributors to request their adoption of responsible practices:  imprinting firearms with Firearms Identification Numbers; researching new technologies such as “smart guns” (guns that only owners can fire); and video recording all gun purchases at the point of sale.

By 2015, it is projected that annual deaths by gun in America will exceed traffic fatalities for the first time in history, at around 33,000.  That’s more than ten times the victims of 9/11, each year for the conceivable future, unless we stand together and demand change.

Gun violence has besmirched not only the honor of our country, but also the honor of responsible gun owners.  The   intransigence of a politically influential minority has impeded our ability to save thousands of lives each year with just a few common-sense measures–measures favored by a majority of Americans.

To be a Jew is to hope.  To lead a community of faith is a hedge against despair.  And to champion the cause of Reform is to believe that change is never impossible. 

I for one still hold aloft the Divine promise of the Prophet Micah, of a day when each of us “shall sit beneath vine and fig-tree, with none to make us afraid” (Micah 4:4).

 

Rabbi Jonathan Blake serves Westchester Reform Temple in Scarsdale, NY.

Categories
Ethics General CCAR News Reform Judaism Statements

Arming Rabbis? Not in My Time, I Pray.

Yes, I have fired a gun on more than one occasion; most recently at a training range on a Kibbutz in Israel* in 2009 and early on as a teenager at target practice with a friend and his dad.  The experiences unnerved me; the echoing boom, the kick of the weapon and even more, the thought that the gun I fired, no matter how small, had the potential to take a human life.

Mourning in Newtown, CT
Mourning in Newtown, CT

My limited experience with weapons affirms for me the sentiments I have been hearing these past two weeks from my colleagues, friends and so many grieving families across the nation.  Guns are far too easy to use — and misuse — and we must continue to demand from Congress reasonable regulations for guns and assault weapons.

The “solution” suggested last week by the NRA- placing armed guards in schools- is beyond absurd. Even since Newtown there have been other mass shootings, including in a church, to which Gail Collins of the NY Times said in context of the NRA’s comment, “We will await the next grand plan for arming ministers.”

Not in my time, I pray- may we not see armed ministers, rabbis or school security guards.

For decades the Central Conference of American Rabbis (CCAR) has decried “the power of the NRA in controlling the debate on gun control” (2000) and called upon “the U.S. Congress to eschew the support of the NRA and to vote their support of stringent gun-control legislation”(1987).

Our resolution has not changed; we continue to support meaningful gun control legislation that will stem these senseless episodes of mass violence.  In the CCAR’s recent public statement about the Newtown shootings, we expressed our condolences to whose who suffered losses, sympathies for those wounded, and fear that the NRA will continue to thwart not just legislation, but even conversation, about the need to stop the gun violence.

But expressing these feelings is not enough.

Reform Rabbis who are on the front lines of Jewish communal life can join together, and with clergy of other faiths, to advocate in support of meaningful gun control nationwide and in their own communities- (studies indicate that “states with strong gun laws and low rates of gun ownership had far lower rates of firearm-related death”).  At the CCAR we remain committed to providing rabbis with resources on ways that they may advocate and organize, such as in partnership with Reform Movement’s Religious Action Center.

Importantly, the CCAR also provides our rabbis personal support and resources as their communities turn to them for religious and pastoral comfort in time of tragedy.  Our volunteer Rabbis on Call and Rabbinic Hotline, as well as CCAR’s Rabbinic Staff, support rabbis who themselves offer prayer and comfort to their communities.  We also provide resources grounded in Jewish text, theology, and philosophy on subjects ranging from the sanctity of life to the abhorrence of violence.

Our rabbis also benefit from the strength of partnership.  At the end of last week, the CCAR joined forces with the Rabbinical Assembly (the Conservative Rabbis), and the Religious Action Center to provide hundreds of rabbis the opportunity to learn from other leaders in our faith; including one of our rabbis who is serving Newtown as the Director of Spiritual Care at Danbury Hospital; a rabbi and advocate for Faiths United Against Gun Violence; and from the Executive Director of the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence.

In the CCAR’s latest statement, we expressed our understanding that comprehensive laws cannot stop all gun violence.  But we must continue to act in the words of our tradition: “one who saves one life saves a whole world.”

*Important footnote:  As to the incorrect statements made last week by the pro-gun lobby, Israel is actually a country with strict control over weapons in the civilian population.