Tag Archives: gun violence

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

A Time for Somber Reflection

It is more than just bad policing

We are in the throes of mourning the death of two New York City Policemen, on the heels of the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner. We are raw. Emotions have spilled like blood from deep wounds. We need time to process. We need time to grieve. We need to catch our collective breath.   We need time to come to grips with the tragic series of events that have shaken our country. What we do know is that the violence is overwhelming and somehow we must get it to stop.

The deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner have galvanized people across the country. Initial protests over the deaths of these two individuals increased dramatically in the wake of the Grand Juries not indicting the police officers involved. Uncovered a deep gulf between the police and the people they serve.

My concerns run deeper than whether indictments were handed down. There are other frankly more important issues that must be addressed. I am deeply troubled when a man repeatedly pleads 11 times that he cannot breathe and the police who have subdued him are unable to move from actively bringing him under control to actively engaging in the humanity of helping him once he was down. I am deeply troubled that a man’s body remained laying in the street for four hours rather than being treated with basic dignity. The lack of humanity is deeply distressing, and it goes far beyond bad actions of particular police.

Our problems are a deep divide separating whole segments of society from the institutions that are supposed to protect, defend and nurture them. Oppression is the result of the separating segments of society already prejudged as unsavory from the rest of “civil” society. It is more than a new approach to policing and re-examining the way our criminal justice system metes out punishment, as important as these changes are. It goes to the fabric of our country. It permeates our society and cannot be simply fixed by changes implemented at the top. All of us have responsibility to understand what is wrong and how we might change it.

Government can make the police of Ferguson look more like the people of Ferguson. But it is the people of Ferguson who must also invest in the infrastructure the schools and the families to build minds and to instill values. It is up to the locals and their police to be sensitive to each other. It is up to the broader society to bring economic opportunity and the possibility of upward mobility, the opportunity to aspire to become something more. It is up to us.

Marching is important if it serves as a first step to spur the people. Now the next step is to organize and develop goals and a strategy with political clout to effect change. And the rest of us need to support this work knowing that through this process we are all strengthened. This is the beginning of the next important phase of the Civil Rights movement in our great country.

The Attorney General of the United States seems as perplexed as many of us and has ordered a Federal Investigation into the death of Eric Garner. This might shed light on a process that many found disappointing to say the least. But this investigation cannot provide justice for Eric Garner; it is for our future. The civil rights advances of the past did not happen solely by new law or court order. The advances happen and endure only when there is sufficient will of the people to demand we overcome the status quo and demand better of our institutions and ourselves.

Our demonstrations proclaim “Black Lives Matter.” All lives matter. Everyone deserves to live. We are a nation of laws. And those laws must apply to all to protect the weak so that all may have the opportunity to pursue, free from violence and fear, the inalienable rights upon which our nation was founded.

But for now, let us take time to grieve and bury our dead. Then let us return and start the process of making change.

College Students and Esther – What Purim might teach us about power and our future

Tonight we start the holiday of Purim where we read Megillat Esther, the Book of Esther.  Purim is a Jewish story.  And like so many Jewish Stories, it has multiple levels of meaning.

 Purim is a lovely children’s story- good triumphs over evil, a savior rescues us from the clutches of despair.  Righteous deeds are rewarded and the people rejoice and live happily ever after.

 Purim is also a great adult story, the story of sex, power and palace intrigue.  As gripping as any modern drama on cable; forces vie for control, often ruthless in tactics.  The heroine uses all her skills and wiles to rescue her people. Shonda Rhimes has at least a full season of Scandal right here in our Megillah!

 Purim is also a story with a deeper and darker side, which I believe is the reason why the Book of Esther is included in the Bible; it is a cautionary tale.  Purim admonishes us about the use and abuse of power.

How power can work and how it can corrupt.

What happens when power is not challenged and what happens when it seduces.  What might happen when we move from being drunk with complacency, to being drunk with power.  Megillat Esther portrays when the powerless are subjected to the whims of the powerful- those who are consumed with only their own power driven by the sense of self importance that comes from it.

 Haman plans to destroy the Jews because Mordechai does not bow before him.  Mordechai and Esther work together, conspiring if you will, to overthrow Haman’s power and gain power for themselves.  To achieve these ends they use nothing less than seduction and lies to lure Haman into a trap and inflame the wrath of King Achasverus.    The book of Esther demands us to question, “to what lengths are we willing to go to acheive power?”

 But then Megillat Esther continues to push us and asks,“What do we do with power once it has been acheived?”

 In a kind of  “Perverse Dayenu” we learn that it is not enough that the Jews triumph- Esther is the Queen and Mordechai becomes the King’s Vizier.  Nor is it enough that in an ironic twist of fate that Haman is executed on the very gallows he built to hang Mordechai.  The Jews then demand the execution of all of Haman’s sons and then 50 and then yet another 750 people in Sushan.  But it is still not over; for then there is a wholesale slaughter of 75,000 Persians in retribution.  This is a place where the phrase “Absolute Power corrupts Absolutely” could surely have been coined.   (Lord Acton 1887)

 We go from powerless, to powerful; from innocent to corrupt; from holding the moral high ground to losing all moral authority giving way to the basest of human emotion.

 So how this story resonate for us today?

 We are taught that with power comes responsibility.  That responsibility includes protecting those who are less fortunate and powerless, protecting our system of free expression, and protecting our ability to remain a full and vibrant part of this nation we call home. We have come a long way to achieve our comfortable public place in American society. But like our Purim story it was not always so.

 Esther concealed her identity from the king until Mordechai gave her the strength to step forward.  But what if she did not have the strength?  Who would have spoken for the Jews of Persia?  Mordechai says that if it was not Esther, someone else would step forward, but in the story we know only two, Queen Esther and her Uncle Mordechai.

Our tradition suggests Mordechai placed his hope in a higher power, but he knew his life was actually in Esther’s hands.  And likewise, the future of our next generations is in our hands.

 But ominous signs are on the horizon.  What if we became unable to advocate for ourselves?  It is not as outlandish as it may sound.  Many of you can recall the deafening silence of the American Jewish community in the 1930s and 40s. With only a few exceptions such as Rabbi Stephen Wise, our American community retreated into its fear as the Nazi’s systematically executed the Holocaust.  Today we can hardly imagine such gripping fear.  But this fear is alive as is the hatred.  It lives on our college campuses around the country and the implications are foreboding.

 We have just finished the national Israel Apartheid week.  This is a week of consciousness-raising held on campuses around the country protesting that Israel is no more than an apartheid state dedicated to the oppression of the Palestinians.  The attempt to De-legitimize the State of Israel also finds a voice in the growing organized economic boycott of Israel known as Boycott Divest Sanction or BDS.  This group was responsible for the commotion surrounding the Soda Stream company’s factory in the West Bank.  Students for Justice in Palestine (the SJP) is vehemently anti-Israel and actively protests against the State and its legitimacy on campuses across the country.  Not to be outdone, the academic community has, in real terms, taken up the Anti-Israel cause of the Palestinians by supporting the boycott of Israeli scholars through the American Studies Association, the ASA.

 The groups on campus have used thuggish tactics to bully and intimidate our college students. And as their teachers align with these politics, the classroom becomes a very uncomfortable, threatening place, instead of a place that is supposed to nurture.  The effect on our youth is profound.

 Many kids become turtles.  They withdraw into their shells and hope that it will all blow over.  Many of our kids find themselves fearful.  Unable to express an alternative point of view, students on campus are ostracized.  They are alienated from their Judaism and any relationship they may have to Israel. These young people are scared to think for themselves or express their opinions. And if they are courageous enough to try, they are subjected to public ridicule and humiliation.    If we do not work to support our youth, then we risk raising a whole generation of Jews, our future, unable to withstand the onslaught of hate and bigotry.  We will have completely ceded our power to those who would oppress us.

 So we must heed the lessons of Megillat Esther and embrace our power with respect.  We need to reach out to our youth by giving them a solid understanding of their Jewish identity and Jewish values before they leave for school and begin to explore the world.  But we must also support them in these college years of discovery by continuing to be present.  We can do this by supporting vibrant Hillels on campus, and as Congregations by remaining in contact with them while they are away and by making them feel warmly welcomed back into our temples when they return.  Finally, but so importantly, we must place a Reform Rabbi on every college campus with a significant Jewish population to nurture and care for our children.

The future is theirs, but the power to make that future bright lies with us and what we do now.

Grieving for our loss in the Washington Naval Yard, Where do we go from here?

It is truly heartbreaking.

The events in Washington this week have left me wondering.

12 people with stories of life and love were all catastrophically taken away in an incomprehensible moment of horror.  The voice of the mother thankful that her boy is now in a place where he cannot hurt anyone else makes the tragedy even sadder, if that is even possible.  Right now it is time to grieve the loss of those precious souls.  But then we must move on.

 We are at a crossroads of sorts and we can go one of two ways.  First, we can accept as sad fact that this level of violence is the price we pay for living in a free society.  These tragic events are bound to occur and we must accept that every 90 days or so, we will find ourselves mourning the loss of another group of tragic victims.  We will walk around with heavy hearts, and perform the rituals that we will use to move through the loss.  We will lower the flags, offer condolences to the survivors and then continue to live or lives as best we can. But we run the risk of becoming so callous to the pain and suffering that our hearts will harden and each passing slaughter will become easier to bear.   I am not prepared to accept this path.

 Our alternative is to recognize that this tragedy is not only senseless, but it is unacceptable.  We must rise and say this must end.  Human life is precious and deserving of protection.  We therefore must begin the conversation to try to understand why this level of violence persists.  What are the underlying causes and what might the remedies be?  Honest discussion and study needs to occur.  Preconceptions must be set aside.  We must search deep within our society and ourselves and grapple with the extraordinary level of violence that permeates our otherwise civil society.

 Certainly one issue is that of mental health.  Access to mental health treatment is apparently a major issue.  But access requires that we remove the stigma associated with seeking help and even more; provide adequate treatment when help is sought.  Other issues are the pervading place of violence in our culture, access to weaponry regardless of competency, lack of enforcement of existing laws as well as loopholes within existing laws that make those laws toothless.  There certainly is more, but this is a good place to start our analysis.

 In a country such as ours, these events affect us all.  Those who are victims of violence are on some level our brothers and sisters, regardless of their background; we are all Americans.  And if we do not stop this, one day the one who will be mourning the direct loss of a loved one might likely be you.