Category 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.

 

 

 

 

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.

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

Another Shabbat tinged with Sadness

Memorial candle copyThe mass shootings and murders at Umpqua College in Roseburg, Oregon has made this yet another difficult and tragic week in the United States.

 Again, another individual wrecked havoc on a community slaughtering unsuspecting innocents and destroying the lives of the families left behind. This murderer did this with weaponry that was too easily accessible.

 We need to commit ourselves to keep guns out of the hands of people seeking to harm others as evidenced by a violent criminal history or by a struggle with mental illness. People who are inherently irresponsible cannot handle guns responsibly. It is reasonable to keep guns from them.

 We cannot accept that mass murder and domestic terror are acceptable costs of living in the United States. Yet every time we allow no constructive action to reign in gun violence in this country we become part of the problem. These deaths are no longer just the responsibility of individual actors, be they angry or crazy. The blood is now on our hands. The responsibility is ours. As President Obama said in the wake of yesterday’s tragedy, “Our thoughts and prayers are not enough.” Indeed it is time to turn our revulsion into action. Write or Email your congressman as soon as you finish reading this and give the necessary support to overcome the politics of the gun lobby and demand an end to gun violence. Support responsible legislation that requires background checks of individuals for criminal and psychological issues; that requires documentation registration of all guns and all transfers of ownership, public and private; perform background checks on sale of ammunition; that requires training and licensing of gun owners.   This cycle of horror will cease only when we demand a change.

 Our condolences extend to the families that have been ripped apart by senseless violence. May we honor the memories of the slain through action to prevent this from happening again.

Shabbat Shalom.

A somber Shabbat

Last night I participated in the vigil at Mother Bethel AME church. People of all faiths joined to grieve these senseless tragic murders based in hate. We countered with a message of love and a call to action. In that sacred space we declared, “We are all AME” and we will move forward together to put a stop to this kind of violence that is all too common in our country.

 It is incumbent upon each and every one of us, not only to speak out but to also take action. Words are not enough to affect change. Without actions, words alone are hollow. All of us are diminished by this tragedy. Serious conversation about the underlying issues must lead to thoughtful and deliberate actions to stem the tide of hatred and violence. It is long past time. President Obama admitted to being stymied by the constraints of Washington. So we must look to ourselves, our communities and our states to find solutions to this horrible blight. It all begins with us.

 Today we grieve. Tomorrow we must act.

 Wishing everyone a Shabbat Shalom, a Shabbat where we might find Peace