Tag Archives: gun violence

Shine into the Darkness, The Message we mean to send

“ I know you think you understand what you thought I said but I’m not sure you realize that what you heard is not what I meant”                              ― Alan Greenspan

Last week I went to the White House to meet with the Special Assistant to the President with the JCRC and Women’s Philanthropy Division of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia. Respectfully but rather forcefully we advocated for our concerns over the issues of DACA, Gun Violence, BDS, Anti-Semitism, and SNAP. I know we did not change the administration’s opinion, but we gave voice inside the halls of power to our values. Sometimes we do not do speak constructively and what we think we are saying is not the message heard. There is an important example of this making its way around social media.

An anonymous rabbi is attributed as responding to a White House request for a Menorah with a rebuff saying that the current administration is antithetical to everything the holiday and menorah represent, so their menorah is not available.

I believe this message does not take the moral high ground, and instead sounds preachy and filled with a self-righteous arrogance that makes dialogue impossible. The story resonates only for those who already believe it.   But for everyone else, the message is negative, generating pushback and defiance, not a moment of teaching and potential rapprochement.

Those of us who believe that the current administration undermines important Jewish values need to speak truth to power but to do so respectful of the institution and with the hope of carrying the message to not merely protest, but to hopefully persuade.

We are obligated to reach out to those with whom we disagree. Through building relationships and dialogue we might give insights and change viewpoints. We also are empowered to champion our causes publicly and we vote. These are sacred and important parts of what makes this an extraordinary country.

The only way our light will illuminate is if we cast it into the dark.

 

 

 

 

Shabbat Shalom – Peace and Reflection

ShabbatCandlesThis Shabbat, rather than a musical selection, I want to offer a moment to reflect on the recent tragedies and  acts of horrible violence we have experienced.

 Tonight the words Shamor v’Zachor will dance in my mind as the light from the flickering flames of the Shabbat candles fill the room. It will not be a joyful beautiful dance this evening. Tonight I will somberly reflect on what it means to remember and preserve Shabbat. So much violence, so many lives needlessly taken by fear and violence. How will I react?

 I hope to rise above my own anger and frustration. Instead of hate, I want to resolve to be part of something better. I will look to my community and join with them as my community joins with others. I hope to become part of something greater that aligns with the message of hope instead of despair, of love instead of hate, of joy instead of pain.

 Join me in committing to something better. Find your caring community and become part of it. Embrace and share the values that will transform our communities, our nation, and our world the place it ought to be. On this Shabbat let us dedicate that we will be an active part of bringing peace and wholeness to the world. May it begin with this Shabbat.

Shabbat Shalom

 

Hope from Desperation

JohnLewis_NEW_300x380 So many of us are rooting for Representative John Lewis. An icon of the civil rights movement and leader in the House of Representatives, he has stood up to injustice by sitting down. We applaud Mr. Lewis for galvanizing other members of the House to declare that Congress can no longer ignore its responsibilities.

 Our government, as Abraham Lincoln noted, is extraordinary because it is ‘of, by and for the people’. The overwhelming popular frustration with our government is largely because it lost sight of this value and has been serving particular special interests, be they political, economic or personal. The violence that pervades our land is like cancer, insidiously growing and infecting our society, killing off vital parts, threatening to metastasize and destroy this great place we call our home.

 We are desperately seeking some relief from this disease. And although a cure remains elusive, we see an opportunity to curtail the ability of the outlaws of our society to use weapons to inflict carnage. For the Love of God and our own children, the commonplace slaughter of people with these weapons needs to be curtailed. Curtailed, because sadly we cannot stop all gun violence. That does not permit us to do what we can to at least reduce the ease with which these horrific events take place.john-lewis-1

 Sensible and responsible rules to regulate access to guns and ammunition is not an attempt to repeal the Second Amendment or its current interpretation that citizens have a right to bear arms. There is no inexorable slippery slope leading to complete removal guns from society. But there is a desperate need for us to enact and enforce responsible access and use of firearms.

 The extraordinary action of Representative Lewis on the House floor is welcomed by a nation filled with heartache and despair. I pray that Representative Paul Ryan as the leader of both his party and the House of Representatives finds a way to join forces with Mr. Lewis and guide this nation with the vision and leadership we so desperately need.

It is War

Israel_Declaration_of_IndependenceIsrael is a strong Jewish Democracy filled with promise for her people and for the world. She must continue to strive to remain so. However, Israel is engaged in a two-pronged war that challenges this. One front is BDS (Boycott, Divest, Sanction). The other front is manifested by the wave of individual stabbing assaults taking place in the streets. These fronts are critical but they are not the places where the war will be won.

BDS is a clever maneuver in the public space to demonize Israel in the world of public opinion. Although BDS appears to be struggling to gain acceptance by national governments, it is resonating with the young on the college campus and other groups who want to support those they believe are the downtrodden and persecuted. It is part of the war for the hearts and minds of the public at large and it has become a force to be reckoned with.

The second front is on the streets of Israel. There is a de facto guerilla war underway. Individuals are arming themselves with any weapon they can: knives, guns and cars, attacking wherever and whenever, creating fear on the streets. This too is a shrewd campaign to inflict maximum damage with limited resources. Each knife-wielding individual creates a bit of terror. And every one, whether caught and imprisoned or killed, is a soldier sacrificed for the cause.

Two sets of actions are required, one tactical and one strategic. The first is to combat the immediate crises effectively arguing against BDS and containing the violence. These undertakings are necessary to promote the safety and welfare of the people of Israel. However these are tactical in nature; stopping the violence with better patrols, containing the violence by encouraging vigilance and raising the profile of law enforcement to preempt the violence. Unfortunately there is an insidious component to the tactical responses to the fear and terror.

In its efforts to protect itself, Israel ironically becomes complicit in the war to undermine itself. Israel undermines its promise of a democratic state by curtailing rights to citizens and non-citizens, it promotes a culture of animosity, seeing the other side as strictly an enemy who does not want peace, the Knesset considers punishing MKs without any consideration of “due process,” internal debate is squelched and not encouraged. The democratic and Jewish underpinnings of the state are compromised. Reacting this way to the situation actually plays into the hands of the adversary. Beyond tactics there is an urgent need to engage strategically, stepping back to consider the root causes of these offensives and how to grapple with the source of the discontent.  This is the critically important second set of actions.

Strategically, Israel needs to take the actions that only a strong powerful nation can and take the risks to build a society within the Palestinian people that gives hope. A future of prosperity and peace is far better than the hopeless squalor and disenfranchisement now suffered by most Palestinians. In Gaza, economic development such as the proposed port is a concept to be seriously considered. A decision on the West Bank is required. Whether it is the pullback of the Israelis to permit a Palestinian state, or the annexation of the West Bank into Israel, the State of Israel can no longer pretend the status quo, with its continued expansion of settlements, is viable. Which of the two choices is the subject for intense and deliberate debate. But after 50 years, Israel cannot pretend this situation is temporary or the disenfranchised people living in the land will simply become satisfied with it.

The risks of maintaining the status quo are arguably even greater than the risks of taking bold actions toward resolution of the conflict. Israel is strong. Its people are energetic and innovative with a deep love and commitment to their land.   With this solid foundation, Israel can build and move forward. It is an incredibly hard needle to thread, but it can be done. Watching Israel help Syrian war victims demonstrates Israel’s ability to do just that. Israel is at war and the threats are quite real. But Israel can still forge the way toward peace.

One Small Significant Step Forward against Gun Violence

hugRabbi Tarfon taught: “It is not your responsibility to finish the work [of perfecting the world], but you are not free to desist from it either” (Pirkei Avot 2:16).

 The Executive Orders signed by President Obama is such an example of Rabbi Tarfon’s teaching. We cannot eliminate all acts of gun violence, but we must do what we can to advance the cause. Regardless of one’s stance on the Second Amendment or the effectiveness of these Executive Orders, we cannot turn a blind eye to the horrifying levels of violence and death that occur in our country. These limited executive actions seek to better enforce existing laws. The idea that criminals and emotionally disturbed people will find it harder to gain access to weapons of death is a good one.

 I wish we could do more, but that is not a reason to do nothing. Progress comes in small steps, an incremental march toward what should be from what is. We measure a great civilization not by its great monuments but by its ability to protect the weak within its society. The victims of mass shootings, the victims of urban gun violence, the victims of suicide are all testimony to how much more we have to do to protect ourselves and lift everyone to a better place.

 “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step,” says the Chinese philosopher Laozi (Tao Te Ching). We have a long way to go before the work is complete, but at least we are started on the path.

Shabbat is Desecrated Again

Yet again a terror attack claimed the lives of 14 this time in San Bernadino California. We enter another Shabbat bloodied and battered seeking solace. But unfortunately this respite in our sanctuary cannot shield us any longer and Shabbat is buckling under the pressure.candle-flames-270x173

Each time there is a horrific mass shooting and we do not demand action to curb gun violence in this country, we abet the violation of Shabbat. We cannot retreat into a passive wish for peace, rest and the restorative nature of Shabbat when we know that the new week will likely contain another ghastly act of violence, which might have been prevented if our society took thoughtful deliberate action to stem the tide. It is in our hands. Only we can create a climate where inaction is unacceptable and we demand better laws and enforcement to protect ourselves.

I listened with great sadness the interviews of members of Congress who carefully parsed words lauding the 1930s ban on automatic weapons, but claiming restrictions on semi-automatic assault weapons would take away the right to own handguns and shotguns. Our illustrious Senate opposed the elimination of gun law loopholes that permit people on a Terrorist Watch list to buy guns ostensibly because the watch list itself may not be carefully enough defined. They tell us that exemptions and loopholes in the laws to buy weapons and ammunition remain in force because any more control becomes a defacto revocation of the Second Amendment. These arguments say that routine carnage is the price we need to be willing to pay to live in the United States.  That is unacceptable.  We must require change including:

-Action to create a comprehensive approach to reducing gun violence through
– Enforcing existing laws
– Educating gun buyers how to use firearms
-Adding new regulations to keep guns from those identified as unstable or a threat
-Closing loopholes in laws to prevent criminals from purchasing guns and ammunition
-Fully funding the enforcement programs and more robust mental health programs

We cannot sit idly by when the blood of our neighbor is spilled (Lev 19:16). For those who do not believe we are responsible for each other, think about the random nature of this violence (in centers for the developmentally disabled, schools, the streets, movie theaters, etc.) and pause to consider that the next bullet could well be aimed at you. This Shabbat, let us emerge into the new week committed to doing our part to eliminate gun violence.

Shabbat Shalom