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Now is the Time to Act to End Gun Violence

On Friday, March 23, Washington Hebrew Congregation hosted the Reform movement for a moving and powerful Shabbat for Our Lives. It was a service led by our own teens who partnered with peers from around the region and were joined by students from Margery Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. They were backed by some of the musical voices of our Movement, and we were inspired by their words and their conviction to join in the March for Our Lives and bring an end the epidemic of gun violence that plagues our nation. The following is an excerpt of an essay I shared through Jewish Women International.

At the March for Our Lives on the Shabbat morning of March 24, I prayed with my feet as I marched with hundreds of thousands of every race and religion, gender and ethnicity, socio-economic background, and political proclivity. I stood in awe, inspired as our youth called upon our elected officials to use their power to effect positive change - power which we adults have granted to them, the purpose of which they have disavowed.

I have long been engaged in multiple campaigns with clergy and lay colleagues of various religious traditions to end gun violence. Over time, we have become numb to the scourge of gun violence, discouraged by our inability to effect lasting change. Saturday, March 24 renewed my hope that change is possible. The March for Our Lives renewed my commitment to raise my voice whenever and wherever possible. To preach it until it is true.

Fear of gun violence has become an all too accepted part of our national landscape. It is a fear that has already cost too much. It is a fear that threatens us in our everyday lives. It is a fear that as a mother, a rabbi, a human being, I cannot stand idly by (Leviticus 19:16). I cannot stand idly by as my neighbor’s blood is shed in any school, house of worship, or other public place.

In the wake of Newtown just over five years ago, we thought there would be a tide of change in this country. And there was. But rather than ensuring that similar scenes would never again unfold as breaking stories or on our nightly news, every week brings new images. And those are merely the images we see. There are myriad incidents of gun violence that occur every day, that do not warrant media coverage because of where or to whom they take place. But they are no less newsworthy.

For a number of years, I have served as a member of the Clergy Task Force of Jewish Women International (JWI) and have learned about the daily impact of gun violence beyond the public square, in the homes of our neighbors. JWI is an organization dedicated to empowering women and girls, in part by ensuring their physical safety. As clergy, we are often called upon to provide pastoral care and healing in the aftermath of violence against women. Violence which is often perpetrated with guns.

The majority of mass shootings are actually related to domestic violence. Data shows that women in the United States are 11 times more likely to be murdered with guns than women in other high-income countries. Thirty-five percent of women killed by men are killed by an intimate partner with a gun. An abuser’s access to a firearm increases the risk of femicide by at least 400 percent.

The rabbis of the Talmud, a composite of Jewish law written approximately 1,800 years ago, taught a valuable lesson:

“If you can stop your household from committing a sin, but do not, you are held responsible for the sins of your household. If you can stop the people of your city from sinning, but do not, you are held responsible for the sins of the city. If you can stop the whole world from sinning, and do not, you are held responsible for the sins of the whole world.” (Shabbat 54b)

Those words hold just as true today.

On Saturday, March 24, as I heard the eloquence and pain paired in the voices of our youth, their words reverberated, not just through the crowd, but against the backdrop. For there they stood, framed by the dome of the Capitol. Our legislators have the ability to stop this pandemic. What they have done thus far is unacceptable. The Fix NICS Act that they have adopted takes introductory steps, but it does not go far enough. It goes only as far as those with money and power and political influence will allow. Congress must take this seriously and act on behalf of all people, not just those who have a fixed agenda that seemingly places little value on human life. Or as our youth informed us on Saturday, $1.05 a head.

We need real and lasting change. We demand real and lasting change. We must continue to show up; we must continue to remind our Senators and Representatives of their responsibility to all of their citizenry, not just those with big money and power. They must heed our call for justice and ensure the safety and well-being of all people. Is that not the purpose for which they were elected? They can’t just stand idly by. They have the power to bring about the world we desire, the world we want our children to inherit, the world that God entrusted to us.

May they act now; the fate of our world rests upon their actions.