This whole week has been very difficult. For me. For my children. For you. And for our country.
Nine people were killed and 27 injured early Sunday morning in a shooting in Dayton, Ohio, the city where my wife lived during her teen years. The attack came less than 24 hours after a man killed 22 people at a Walmart in El Paso, Texas.
The El Paso and Dayton murders are only the latest instances of deadly mass shootings in our country – Gilroy, Virginia Beach, Aurora, Pittsburgh, Annapolis, Parkland, Las Vegas, Poway, to name a few – and, sadly, we know the list will only grow. USA Today reported that just in the past 216 days, 112 people have been killed in 32 mass shootings (defined when three or more people die), each one tragically impacting the victims, their families, and friends.
Wednesday’s New York Jewish Week editorial wrote, “As numb as we fear we have become on learning of mass shootings, there is still the shock of each incident, the poignant profiles we read of the victims, and the endless speculation about what drives people to commit such heinous crimes. And, it should be noted, we wonder, as well, what motivates would-be victims, bystanders and police officers to risk their lives to save people and prevent further mayhem.”
Saturday night is the observance of Tisha b’Av, the ninth day of the month of Av on which both Temples in Jerusalem were destroyed, as well as other major Jewish catastrophic events are said to have occurred. One of the central lessons of this day is that the Temple was not destroyed by any external enemy but by sinat chinam — “baseless hatred”— that, according to our Sages, ultimately destroyed the Jewish community from within.
(See this related post Oregon Jewish Life ran last week before the shootings.)
This Tisha B’Av, we are all too aware of the toxic sinat chinam that is so clearly on the rise and hurting our nation and our global community.
I often ask myself, what can I do? We do? Our government do? There has to be a way to put a stop to this. I am sick and tired of sending notices expressing our heartfelt prayers for the victims and their families. It should never need to be done.
Now is a time for action — to stand in common cause and solidarity with one another.
The Jewish Community Relations Council and our community’s clergy are working with other faith-based communities and targeted populations to stand against hate and bigotry of all kinds. The Jewish community has always had a deep and abiding concern for all people.
However, less easy to deal with are the anonymous, unfiltered posts on social media where the cruelest expressions of hatred get shared without hesitation.
In addition, driven by our belief in the sanctity of life and the commandment against murder, we are committed to a comprehensive approach to confronting gun violence. No single solution will prevent all future tragedies, which is why our Jewish community advocates for a balanced, multipronged approach that includes the following measures:
- Meaningful legislation to halt or limit access to the most dangerous weapons (including, but not limited to, assault weapons) and high capacity ammunition magazines that serve no other purpose than to inflict maximum carnage.
- Appropriate waiting periods, volume sales restrictions, and universal background checks for all firearm sales, including criminal and mental health reviews.
- Registration and tracking for all firearms at the time of sale or subsequent transfer and periodic licensing for anyone that purchases, owns, carries, and/or uses firearms.
- Diligent enforcement of firearm regulations and expansion of federal laws prohibiting gun trafficking and straw purchases.
- Robust efforts to ensure that every person in need has access to quality mental health care. These efforts must take great care not to mischaracterize those with mental illness as violent, but rather to address all possible causative factors.
- Resources for schools and religious institutions to enhance their security through infrastructure improvements and other support programs.
- A serious national conversation about violence and violent images in all forms of media.
Judaism instructs that prayer without action is just the recitation of words. Many feel the same about the discourse in Washington, DC. The time to act is now – for all of us.
Rabbi Benjamin Blech of Yeshiva University this week wrote, “America needs a national day of mourning like Tisha b’Av. We need to set aside a day to mourn for what was and is no more; to strive for the goodness and the vision that made America so great and the envy of the world; for civility, for respect, for graciousness, for tolerance and for love of others.”
Let me conclude by quoting the end of the New York Jewish Week editorial, “On Tisha b’Av, as we mourn the tragedies of the fallen Temples and the persecution our people suffered over the centuries, we should take time to think about how each of us can commit to extending ourselves — to our neighbors, to our community, to ensuring that our society’s noble ideals are more than words. Unless and until we take a share of responsibility for ‘America The Bloodied,’ the shootings will continue and we will become increasingly deadened to the pain.”
We must all do our part.
Shabbat shalom and may we all have a reflective Tisha b’Av.