Local Jews Taking Issue with Guns, Too

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Each time, the immediate public outcry against gun violence was deafening. Each time, the public vowed that it must stop. Each time, nothing happened. At least until now — maybe.

Orlando was merely the latest gun tragedy, preceded, in no particular order, by Columbine, San Bernardino, Aurora, Virginia Tech, Charleston and Sandy Hook Elementary School, among others.
Each time, the immediate public outcry against gun violence was deafening.
Each time, the public vowed that it must stop.
Each time, nothing happened.
At least until now — maybe.
On June 15, a 15-hour Democratic-led Senate filibuster forced Republicans to hold a vote on proposed legislation banning the sales of guns. The bills were subsequently voted down. A week later, Pennsylvania congressmen Brendan Boyle and Bob Brady were among those who staged an unprecedented sit-in on the House floor to force another vote.
Their actions have motivated others.
On June 29, Boyle and Brady were among those addressing the issue head-on during a rally outside City Hall as part of what was called a National Day of Action. The event was organized by CeaseFirePA, which is headed by Executive Director Shira Goodman, who said the issues of gun violence and targeting should be quite familiar to Jews.
“We know what it’s like to be targeted,” said Goodman, who, besides her work with the organization, is a concerned Jewish parent. “Kansas City JCC … Seattle Federation … Los Angeles Federation.
“All our schools have guards on every floor. But it’s also tikkun olam. Even if it wasn’t us who were targeted, we care about the world and all its problems.
“And even if we don’t like to talk about those issues, we have the same issues: domestic violence, mental health issues and suicides. So it really is a Jewish problem, but it’s also an American problem. That should be a concern to Jews who have always been concerned with our community and making it better for all of us.”
Goodman has been trying to enlist the support of the Jewish community.
She has spoken at several synagogues, delivering the message that change must happen now.
At the same time, through a different vehicle, word is going out to congregants to take action.
Created in the aftermath of Orlando by California Rabbi Menachem Creditor, Rabbis Against Gun Violence has already gained strength.
“The feeling was after these tragic attacks individual rabbis would respond in different ways consoling their own community,” explained Rabbi Elliott Perlstein of Ohev Shalom of Bucks County in Richboro, “but there was no organized effort.
“Many of us feel compelled to do something and don’t know where to turn. After Orlando, an email went out inviting rabbis to join.”
According to Perlstein, at last check some 1,200 rabbis of all denominations had signed on, a number he expects to grow.
Beyond that, he urged fellow members of the Bucks County Rabbis’ Council to get involved, inviting them to a special “Stand Up Shabbat” at Ohev Shalom on June 24.
On a summer night where the normal Friday night service might draw 35 people, some 125 showed up, while others expressed their regret being unable to attend.
“The whole theme was built around the issue of saving lives and creating a more peaceful environment,” said Perlstein, who had Goodman, among others, address the congregation that night. “The cantor offered four additional prayers tied into that theme, and I gave commentary throughout the course of the service on saving lives and preventing tragic gun violence.
“I also read a prayer by Rabbi Creditor, which he composed in the wake of the 2012 Sandy Hook massacre. I made it very clear it’s important for this not be a one-time event and we go back life as usual.
“We’ll be sending out emails inviting all others to be part of an ongoing effort. Summer is not the best time for organizing. But something like this transcends summer vacation.”
For starters, he and those at CeaseFirePA are alerting the public about proposed Pennsylvania Senate Bill 1330, which would permit the National Rifle Association (NRA) and other pro-gun activists to sue cities that enact their own gun control regulation.
This came just days after the Pennsylvania Supreme Court struck down a similar law as unconstitutional.
While unfamiliar with that particular measure, Rabbi Andrea Merow of Beth Sholom Congregation in Elkins Park said this issue goes beyond politics.
“We all believe this is a bipartisan issue,” said Merow, a CeaseFirePA proponent who regularly makes social media posts on the topic. “We don’t speak politics from the bimah.“We believe this is a health issue. We have to find a way to have less gun violence in America and to protect human life. I see this as a Jewish-American value. Our values dictate [that] we to want to preserve lives. Our politicians haven’t been able to figure out ways to do that.”
One way may be removing those who won’t support the kind of measures that might prevent the next Orlando or Sandy Hook or San Bernardino from taking place from power.
“There are plenty of people who are part of the problem in Pennsylvania,” Goodman said. “For a long time, people have said, ‘Oh, he’s good on Israel’ or ‘He’s good on education, but he’s not good on guns,’ and we give him a pass.
“We can’t give anybody a pass anymore. If you’re on the wrong side of this issue, you should pay the consequences at the voting booth.”
With November elections still more than four months away, Goodman said this is something that can’t wait.
“Jews have never shied away from civil rights battles when somebody else is being targeted,” she emphasized. “It’s not just their problem. It’s our problem. That’s how I was raised. If there’s a problem, I want to be part of the solution.”
So that perhaps Orlando can become the turning point. Not simply the latest name on the list.
Contact: jmarks@jewishexponent.com; 215-832-0729

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