A local memorial last week for the 49 people murdered at a nightclub in Orlando became a platform for gun control as speakers addressed the issue amid expressions of sorrow for the victims.
Rabbi Gil Steinlauf of Adas Israel Congregation, which hosted the June 16 event, said the mass shooting must invigorate Americans to take legislative action immediately on the gun epidemic in the United States.
“As Americans, we know that this attack strikes at the heart of everything we hold sacred in our society,” he said. “It’s a clarion call to take action now, to change legislation on guns in this country and to stop the madness perpetrated by those who would willingly fill our streets with easy access to military assault weapons.”
Some 300 people attended the hourlong memorial gathering, which was sponsored by the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington, American Jewish Committee’s Washington regional office and the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington, among others.
“It is the time to say that terrorism is terrorism is terrorism, that it can never be justified or contextualized,” said Jason Isaacson, associate executive director for policy at the AJC and one of six speakers at the event. “It is the time to reaffirm our common humanity.”
The shooting occurred during the Shavuot holiday, when the official Jewish community was closed for business. Organizers worked quickly to plan and publicize the memorial once the holiday ended.
“The fact that this massacre happened on Shavuot, when we read the Ten Commandments, it was on everybody’s mind, and it was immediately spoken about,” said Rabbi Aaron Alexander, Adas Israel’s associate rabbi.
“When we all came to the office on Tuesday morning, we all knew we had to have a response,” he continued. “There is a sense of outrage. If we don’t figure out as a Jewish community how to use our voices to help stop the onslaught, then we’re not living up to our best Jewish selves.”
Jeremy Kadden, a senior international policy advocate for the Human Rights Campaign, said, “Our hearts grieve for those who were slain. And yet, this must also be a time for self-reflection as Americans. The killer was born here in the United States and was somehow conditioned to believe that LGBTQ people deserve to be massacred.”
Cantor Arianne Brown recited the El Maleh Rachamim (“God full of Kindness”) prayer on the bima. Later, she said that while she came “in the service of prayer and remembrance,” she also came as an individual.
“I think it scares everyone when this happens. We need to be grateful for our lives, but absolutely it’s scary. It means a lot to come together,” Brown said.
Long-time congregant Monica Goldberg said she was there “to show solidarity with the community. It’s staggering [that mass shootings are] happening so often, but it’s important that we have this sort of gathering.”
Dan Haught said he attended because of a personal connection. “I have some friends in Orlando and I am concerned,” he said.
“You see things happen in Sandy Hook and in Orlando, but we don’t have the impetus to change things. We often forget about it until the next one. We don’t think of the day-to-day. How many people are dying from gun violence in Chicago? That’s not an epidemic, that’s a way of life,” he said.