Reversing the Trend: Rabbi Nosanchuk on Taking Action about Gun Violence

Due to the recent (January 16, 2013) announcement by the White House of an array of proposals and executive actions on responding to gun violence, and the array of congregants who are each week contacting Rabbi Nosanchuk’s office regarding our taking action, we are posting Rabbi Nosanchuk’s column from the forthcoming February Anshe Chesed Fairmount Temple bulletin early, here on “If Not Now, When?” our interactive blog. We hope this will be a means of sharing meaningful reflections and ideas and generating dialogue. Please feel free to share, make comments below, or repost this link in othe settings, as you wish. If you are interested in adding your name to the list of congregants working with our social action committee or our Greater Cleveland Congregations on this issue, please contact Rabbi Nosanchuk’s office at temple, 216-464-1330.

I did not grow up with a culture of guns in my home or community.

But my rabbinate has absolutely grown up in a period of an intense growth in the proliferation of guns. During these past 12 years, and especially in the last two years, all of us have seen far too many gun killings on school campuses, in community centers and shopping malls. Too many incidents have arisen in recent months that have been so very difficult to explain to ourselves – let alone our children!

I remember at my first pulpit in Baltimore in 2001, one of the first things I had to do was visit the young children in our day school to help them cope with the fact that we weren’t allowing them out onto the playing fields. That was because a pair of snipers armed with Bushmaster Rifles had turned Maryland into a shooting range and had yet to be apprehended by authorities.

During my service in Reston, VA, I will never forget the way our kids were impacted by the horrific 2006 gun attack on the Virginia Tech campus, killings perpetrated by a young man known to be mentally ill, but nevertheless able to purchase weapons with which to execute fellow citizens. Then, as now, gun enthusiasts suggested that the only way to maintain safety in our schools and public places is more arms and artillery, guards and teachers carrying concealed weapons.

Recently, among those speaking a quite different message have been two pub-lic leaders who are also inspired and engaged Jews. Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York City and former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords of Arizona have spoken out in ways that can inspire us as Americans seeking a safer society and Jews seeking a more peaceful world. Their activism can also remind us that Jewish citizens and leaders are in a position to respond the violence we face and promote safety and security for all in our nation.

As a Jewish leader, I am reminded of the leaders upon whose shoulders I stand, those who have sought to fulfill justice as a Jewish and an American value. This month in particular, I am especially drawn to the memory of my late and lamented predecessor Rabbi Arthur Lelyveld, whose 100th th birthday anniversary would’ve been Feb. 6th of this year, (I encourage you to watch out for an annoucnement of a Shabbat weekend this fall in which we will mark his 100th birthday milestone at Anshe Chesed, where Rabbi Lelyveld served so honorably for decades.)

Rabbi Lelyveld stood for many things- including our NOT being silent with our views on a whole range of issues facing our nation. Indeed it is my belief that our leaders have every right to assume we endorse or are indifferent to actions they propose if we remain silent.

That is the message that I’ve shared with dozens and dozens of congregants at Anshe Chesed who have reached out to me in recent momths, or who have attended meetings of our social action committee and other local coalitions working to prevent gun violence. I have told them that Judaism and the Jewish people are not neutral when it comes to the urgency of violence and bloodshed. Indeed, our advice is to focus on getting ideas together and counting on me and our temple’s social action chairperson, Peter Brosse, as resources to help you gather information on ways to take meaningful action.

As we evaluate the recent proposals offered by the Obama/Biden administration and the range of legislative and executive actions that are being pursued, I believe we should evaluate these proposals against the following questions:

  • Are we using the resources we have to improve the quality of life for us and our children?
  • Are we changing laws in such a way as to block the loopholes in existing gun laws?
  • Are we overcoming polarization on this issue, and improving the unity in which our society can peacefully operate going forward?

If you would like to be part of this initiative at Fairmount Temple, or want help in pursuing involvement in other community organizations, please let me know. Let’s work together to reverse this deadly trend of gun violence.

Robert A. Nosanchuk, Senior Rabbi