I have been engaged in the issue of gun violence prevention within my synagogue, interfaith community, and greater Boston area. I am proud of the work that we have done and see much work to be done down the road. Below is a reflection that I offered at a recent gathering of our interfaith community on June 5 organized by our local faith leaders, both clergy and lay. I hope that you agree that gun violence is an issue for all of us and an issue of public health – hence, it is very much a women’s issue. Happy to hear feedback. How are you and your communities engaging in this issue?
Good evening. My name is Rabbi Jill Perlman and I stand here tonight because I feel an obligation as a human being to be here. Perhaps like you, I am saddened and horrified by the prevalence of gun violence that I have witnessed around me and I feel the need to call out for change.
I also stand here tonight because I feel an obligation specifically as a Jew and a rabbi to be here.
This past Yom Kippur, on the bima of my congregation, I acknowledged the spate of gun violence that I saw overtaking the nation… I had no inkling of the pain that was still to come.
This past September when Yom Kippur fell, we were still reeling from the deadly shooting and rampage in a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado that left twelve dead and many more injured. We were still processing the shooting and murder of six worshippers at a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin.
I asked publicly what role I had to play, we all had to play in these events even as we sat here in Massachusetts so geographically removed from these places. For I believe that I did hold some responsibility as we did we all.
I derive this sense of communal responsibility in part from my understanding of my faith tradition and specifically from a liturgical piece called the vidui, our prayer of confession, which Jews recite the world over on Yom Kippur.
Jews beat their chests as they recite the litany, Ashamnu bagadnu gazalnu… We have sinned, we have betrayed, we have stolen… The list goes on and on in the first person plural. We say WE even if those particular acts are not ones that we have personally engaged in.
Embedded in this ‘we’ – I believe - is an essential notion: it is the notion that we are all responsible, the notion that each of our actions and our acquiescence to each other’s actions have contributed to the culture that feeds these actions or these non-actions, if you will. It is the notion that we are all in this together.
My understanding of my Judaism demands that I speak out for the common good when we are at risk; for the safety of all of us: men, women, and children when there is danger.
When I consider the epidemic of gun violence that occurs on a daily basis in our country, I know that I must not remain on the sidelines, that I must not remain silent.
From Leviticus, we learn that we must not stand idly by the blood of our neighbor (Leviticus 19:16). Friends… the blood of our neighbors, perhaps the blood of our own bodies is flowing; it’s in the streets and in our homes.
From Genesis, we learn that we are indeed our brother’s keeper (Genesis 4:9). We are responsible for those around us. We must not shake the sacred responsibility that one human being holds for another.
From the Talmud, we learn that when the community is in trouble, a person should not say, “I will go into my house and eat and drink and be at peace with myself” (Babylonian Talmud, Ta’anit 11a). We must not to shut our doors, shut our ears, shut our hearts and be content with our lot while others are suffering around us.
I am not and cannot be at peace with myself at this time, not when nearly everyday gun violence persists in ways that we have the power to stem.
I am honored to stand here amongst my colleagues from across the spectrum of faith traditions and amongst all of you tonight to call upon our state and our country’s leadership to actively pursue common-sense gun legislation.
For there is no acceptable alternative. None at all.
The rabbinic sages teach us: If one destroys one life, it is as if he has destroyed the whole world. And if one saves one life, it is as if he has saved the whole world (Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 37a).
Let us raise our voices collectively to demand the creation of sensible gun laws so that we can indeed save lives and insodoing, save this world.
Ken y’hi ratson – May it be God’s will.
Rabbi Jill Perlman serves as a rabbi at Temple Isaiah in Lexington, MA. She is excitedly awaiting the arrival of her third child and first daughter as she careens into the 38th week of her pregnancy.