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our children and gun violence

02/23/2018 02:24:55 PM


Rabbi Jennifer Jaech

Mon, 02/26/2018 - 12:00am -- Rabbi Jennifer Jaech

Based on a sermon delivered February 23, 2018

This past Monday night, across Florida, people gathered for candlelight vigils.  On the news I saw images of teens shielding delicate candle flames with their hands as they mourned those murdered in yet another incident of gun violence.

A candlelight vigil:  In times of darkness, we seek the light.

Consider the light that continually burns in our sanctuary.   It’s called the Ner Tamid.   It gets its name from the Torah, from a verse in which the ancient Israelites we are instructed to bring “clear oil of beaten olives” l’haalot ner tamid – for kindling a ner tamid.[1]

The ner tamid in our sanctuary burns day and night, but in its original context, the menorah’s light did NOT burn all the time. It was only meant to burn “from the evening until the morning.” It burned throughout the dark hours of the night.

In times of darkness, we seek the light.  

This is a time of darkness.  My friend and colleague, Marci Bloch, is the rabbi of a congregation in Florida just a few miles from Stoneman Douglas High School.  She wrote the following and gave me permission to share it with you:

One of my congregants is in a hospital bed injured in the mass shooting at Douglas. We have numerous students who were locked down in closets with teachers for hours during the shooting, and other students who were on the floor with dead bodies praying for their lives.

We have kids who jumped the fence of the school and ran home. The stories of my teens are beyond anything I could ever imagine.  

…  I have no clue how our kids will be okay. I can’t imagine the PTSD they will have. One of my kids who was lying on the floor during the lock down at Douglas said the other day, “Rabbi I can’t go back there. I will never go back. I can’t go back to that place where I saw dead bodies and there will be so much stained blood and bullet holes. I will never feel safe there.”

My colleague ended her message with a plea: Please God…a day when our children are not afraid to go to school.

Our rabbis taught us to consider the ner tamid, the light that burns through the hours of darkness, as a visual reminder of our people’s mission:  We are to be “a light unto the nations.”[2] 

In fact, it is the darkness that may enable us to shine ever more brightly.  Consider what else my colleague Rabbi Bloch wrote: 

 …the three teachers whose classes were shot up were all our parents and all are Jewish.  They saw kids get shot in front of them as they huddled their kids under desks... One of them tied a towel around (a student’s) arm so he didn’t bleed to death. Two other parents of ours who are teachers at Douglas put 19 kids in a closet.  One said her kids are handicapped and they …were amazed how the kids helped the kids in wheelchairs get in the closets.  

In times of darkness, we need to let our light shine.

I saw a video the other day, posted by the leader of our recent congregational civil rights tour.   A group of teens on their own tour sit together in Birmingham’s Freedom Park, singing the gospel song “This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine.”

This was one of the songs sung by the children and teens in Birmingham during the civil rights era.  During that struggle against oppressive and dehumanizing segregation, it was the children who marched for justice.  It was the children who faced the firehoses.  It was the children who faced the snarling, biting dogs.  It was the children who were sent to jail.  The Birmingham children faced all this because their future was at stake.

Today, our teens know that their future is at stake.  Their right to attend school without fear has been mortally compromised.  Their lives are threatened.

And our teens know it. Consider the words of Daniel Bishop, age 16, quoted in a recent NY Times article:  This shooting is different from the other ones.  Sandy Hook, they were elementary school kids who couldn’t stand up for themselves.  Virginia Tech was 2007, a different time.  But this one, I just have a gut feeling – something is going to change.[3]

How will this change come?

Protests are part of the answer.  As we saw in the civil rights era, protests can strengthen our resolve. Protests can focus the attention of the public. But protests alone are not enough.

Advocacy is part of the answer.  Lawmakers must hear from the people they represent.  If you agree with the positions of your elected representatives, thank them.  Encourage them to keep up their good work.  If you disagree, respectfully argue your points.  But even with well-reasoned and civil dialogue, advocacy alone is not enough.

We cannot change the laws that must be changed until the NRA loses its grip on the political process.  I believe that the NRA has become an extremist organization and no longer accurately reflects the priorities of most gun owners in our country.

Then why is the NRA so powerful? Because it costs money to win elections.  We all know that politicians are beholden to groups that can provide the money they need. And the NRA spends lots of money to elect candidates for office – over $50 million in the 2016 election alone.[4]

But today there is another way to win elections. No longer do candidates for public office need to buy expensive television and print ads to get their message across.  No longer is raising vast amounts of money a sure way to win elections.

We live in an age when free social media can sway elections.  Social media can get our messages out.  Social media can help people organize.  Social media can even spark revolutions.  This is the time for a revolution.  And our children can lead the way, smartphones in hand!

We adults must be right there with them, supporting good candidates with our pocketbooks and our time, encouraging others to vote, and showing up ourselves on election day.

In this time of darkness, we pray for the strength of our children.  We pray for the end of candlelight vigils, for the cessation of empty words.  We cannot succumb to numb acceptance of the status quo.   

In this time of darkness, we must let our light shine.


[1] Exodus 27:20

[2] Isaiah 42:6

[3] NY Times article (“With Grief and Hope, Florida Students Take Gun Control Fight On the Road”), February 21, 2018.


Mon, July 6 2020 14 Tammuz 5780