Congregation B'nai Israel

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Guns Again

by Rabbi James Prosnit, April 2018/Nisan-Iyar 5778

Guns Again, but this time maybe we’ll learn from our students

 The weekend before the horrific shootings in Parkland, Florida we were in Washington D.C. on the annual confirmation trip to the L’takein seminar run by the Religious Action Center of the URJ.  Our students, along with almost five hundred others from across the country, spent the weekend studying a number of current issues that impact our nation. With the help of the RAC staff they consider a variety of topics through a lens imbued with Jewish values and write position papers so that on Monday morning they can go up to Capitol Hill and lobby aides of our members of Congress.

One of the topics that three of our students addressed was gun violence and the absence of even the most common sense legislation.

Here’s some of what they had to say.

“Hello my name is Noah Giglietti, and along with Jackson Weisman and Henry Szuchman, we are here on behalf of the Religious Action Center for Reform Judaism from Congregation B’nai Israel in Bridgeport. We are in favor of passing the Background Check Completion Act. … As the book of Leviticus says, “Do not stand idly by while your neighbor’s blood is shed.” We, as Reform Jews, cannot stand by and watch as thousands of people are impacted by gun violence.”

“Over 30,000 people are killed from gun violence each year. Those are at least 30,000 families broken, 30,000 communities affected, and an infinite number of lives changed.

“He who takes one life, it is as though he has destroyed the universe, and he who saves one life, it is as though he has saved the universe.” This saying comes from a rabbi’s commentary in the Talmud, ……..The fact that we as a society have begun to normalize gun violence casualties points to the troubled direction our country is headed in. In the first 41 days of the New Year, there have been at least 27 mass shootings reported. 35 people have been killed, and an astounding 103 have been wounded. …. In fact, seven people under the age of 19 die a day to the bullet of a gun. Most importantly, these are not just numbers. Every single one of these victims was a person, a friend, a family member. If we can save even one life with the Background Check Completion Act, then as the Talmud said, we save a universe.”

That was two days before the shootings in Florida.

And I must admit that on that Wednesday when the news first broke, I was more disheartened that ever.  All weekend long we told the kids that their voices matter and that they can change the world.  We told them that their views are respected, that not only will they be voters in a few years, but our elected officials value the opinions even of teenagers.  They’re taught that they and all the other students have unique access to the democratic process.

And then we bore witness to another school shooting where easy access to an assault weapon, by a person who should not have had one, laid bare Congress’ inability to craft even common sense gun legislation.  I wondered if I had lied and mislead our confirmands to think they could do more than they could.

The good news, however, is that in the days since, it has been the voices of the students, not only from Margery Stoneman Douglas High School, but from across the nation – students like Noah and Jackson and Henry that may be leading us to a tipping point on this particular issue.  My prayer is that these articulate and passionate young people having the staying power to make a difference.     

I am reminded of the late writer and social activist, Elie Wiesel, who tells this story.

A righteous man came to the wicked city of Sodom and pleaded with the people to change their ways. No one listened.

Finally, he sat in the middle of the city, and simply screamed.

Someone asked him, “Do you think that will change anyone in this town?”

“No,” said the righteous man.

“But at least, they will not change me.”

If nothing else how good it is to teach our students to scream — with the hopes that they are the ones who may be able to change our culture, and to heal our nation’s wounds!