By Shira Goodman
This week is a fitting time to consider what our role is as Jews in the national fight to solve America’s gun violence problem. Too often, we Jews complain that holidays are too early or too late. But everything this week seems just right: This week began with the mournful Tisha B’Av, a day when we mark the anniversaries of so many tragedies of our people. An apt moment, falling as it does a week after back-to-back mass shootings inspired by hate and racism. We close the week with Tu B’Av, the Jewish holiday of love, the force we need to motivate us in this work to disarm hate.
Gun violence presents a challenge to our morality: Forty-thousand people die every year because of guns — homicide, suicide and unintentional shootings. In Pennsylvania, more than 1,600 people died because of guns last year, more than in car accidents. The mass shootings grip our collective attention, but every day in America 100 people die from gunshots, and many more are wounded. As Jews, we should be ashamed of those numbers. We should count them among the tragedies we mourned on Tisha B’Av.
If we are to be part of the desperately needed solution to gun violence, we must confront the problem honestly. Here’s the truth: Our gun violence problem is at base a gun problem. We tolerate — if not promote — such easy access to guns that those who should not have them can easily get them. We have seen the consequences: From the shooting at the Los Angeles JCC 20 years ago to Tree of Life and Poway in the last year.
We Jews demand the right to feel safe and be safe in our synagogues, our community centers, our workplaces and schools. That right is shared by all people, in their houses of worship and in their communities. We have never fought for ourselves alone, and we can’t start now.
Some in our community claim the right to self-defense is all that will protect us. I disagree, and the evidence bears out that armed worshippers in shul won’t make us safer. But we can find common ground as we together define safety and take action that will not overly burden gun owners who are lawful and responsible.
Solving our gun violence problem requires work, innovation, money and commitment — to policy change, law enforcement, investment in communities, develop new technologies, and economic and cultural changes that ensure that picking up a gun is never the better option. Most of all, it requires political will regardless of political party. And that’s what’s been most lacking in the past.
But that’s changing. Voters are making gun violence prevention an issue on the campaign trail and in the voting booth. Candidates, regardless of party, need to have plans to address this problem. The voices calling for change are only getting louder.
Jewish voices must be among those voices. America’s gun violence problem is our gun violence problem. We have suffered the consequences of the ongoing failure of our elected officials to act. We cannot afford further inaction.
In Genesis, God says to Cain, following the murder of his brother Abel, “the blood of your brother is crying to me from the ground.” This is where we are right now; we cannot stand idly by. So get to work. Visit your elected officials here at home before they return to Washington, D.C., or Harrisburg. Tell them why you are engaged in this fight against gun violence and what you are expecting of them. Make clear that this is a voting issue for you, and that you are watching what they do. Take action so that when asked what you did this time, you can stand up and be counted among those who mourned on Tisha B’Av and committed to take action rooted in love on Tu B’Av.
Shira Goodman, who serves on the board of trustees of Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia, is the executive director of CeaseFirePA, whose mission is to end the epidemic of gun violence in Pennsylvania.