Rabbis Without Borders
Rabbis Without Borders is a dynamic forum for exploring contemporary issues in the Jewish world and beyond. Written by rabbis of different denominations, viewpoints, and parts of the country, Rabbis Without Borders is a project of Clal – The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership.
On Passover, our collective memory kicks in. We remember that we were slaves in Egypt and celebrate our freedom from oppression. However, the reason we tell this story year after year and why it is so ingrained in our collective conscious is to teach us to never stand by when we see anyone being a victim of slavery or oppression.
It is easy to find modern relevance in that ancient story. In this country, we are reminded of its history of slavery and that African-Americans have continually been the victims of systemic racism and persecution. Human trafficking is a form of slavery that is very much alive today. Many in our country are slaves to addiction, which includes the opioid crisis. But, what about guns?
We are building collective memory in the United States. While Columbine happened 19 years ago, that was not the first school shooting. We have decades of school shootings in our history. We have an average of 13,000 gun homicides a year in the United States. On an average day, 96 Americans are killed with guns, 7 of them are children and teens. Every day. This has become our collective memory and it is our communal persecution (statistics from Everytown for Gun Safety) .
Parents are fearful when they send their children off to school not knowing if today will be the day mass murder affects their school. Children are afraid, because they know what happened at Parkland and wonder if this could happen to them. During Passover, when we are reminded to not stand by idle in the face of persecution, the epidemic of gun violence in our country and how it plagues the mental and emotional well-being of our children requires us to act.
To me, that is the bottom line. Our children deserve to feel safe and be safe in their schools and their daily lives. The Declaration of Independence acknowledges the unalienable right to life. Our children deserve that right and, in Judaism, that sacred right supersedes all else (the mitzvah pikuach nefesh).
It is our obligation to act and enforce laws that will protect our society, especially the most vulnerable. This includes our children who should not suffer because the adults who are supposed to protect them choose not to create and enforce smarter laws concerning safe storage devices for guns, requiring smart gun technology and universal background checks (info at Do Not Stand Idly By). If we do not protect them, we are liable.
As our sage, Maimonides, said, “If one person is able to save another and does not save him, he transgresses the commandment, ‘Do not stand idly by the blood of your neighbor’ (Lev 19:16).” May we be inspired to act as Jews and Americans, because of the pervasive reality of gun violence and mass murder in our country. May we never make the mistake of protecting the right to bear arms over our children and the unalienable right to life that we Americans and Jews hold dear.