Two Shabbats ago, 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 to end gun violence beside clergy and lay colleagues of various religious traditions. Over time we have become numb to the scourge of gun violence, discouraged by our inability to effect lasting change. But this particular Saturday renewed my hope that change is possible. It 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. I cannot stand idly by as my neighbor’s blood is shed in any school, house of worship, movie theater, concert hall or other place, public or private.
In the wake of Newtown just over five years ago, we thought there would be a tide of change in this country. 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.
As a member of Jewish Women International’s Clergy Task Force on Domestic Abuse in the Jewish Community, I 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 statistics are shocking: Women in the United States are 11 times more likely to be murdered with guns than women in other high-income countries. Of those, more than 90 percent of women killed by men knew their killer. In fact, 35 percent of all women killed by men are killed by intimate partners with guns, and an abuser’s access to a firearm increases the risk of homicide by at least 400 percent. The perpetrators of most of the recent mass shootings have been found to have also terrorized their intimate partners.
The rabbis of the Talmud, the 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.” Those words hold just as true today.
On the Shabbat of the March for Our Lives, 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 — and they must pass a host of lifesaving violence prevention laws. The commonsense FixNICS Act promoting background checks, which passed last month, is but one introductory step to reducing gun violence.
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.
Our legislators must heed the call for justice, and ensure the safety and well-being of all people. Is that not the purpose for which they were elected? 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.
Rabbi Susan Shankman of Washington Hebrew Congregation is a member of JWI’s Board of Trustees and its Clergy Task Force to End Domestic Abuse in the Jewish Community.