This past week I attended the national convention of the Central Conference of American Rabbis. During my four days in Irvine, I studied with scholars, participated in workshops that may enhance our congregation, and enjoyed the company of friends.
Without a doubt, what impacted me the most were two presentations about gun violence. The first was a study session with Rabbi Aaron Panken, president of the Hebrew Union College, the Reform Movement’s seminary. Rabbi Panken shared with us a text from the Mishnah which inquires whether it is permissible to carry a weapon on Shabbat. The sages find this possibility abhorrent. Another text addresses how teachers are the guardians of the young and by implication, it is through instruction, and not by carrying weapons, that children are kept safe. Through study of these texts, it was enlightening to see how our tradition offers perspective on our national debate about firearms.
The second presentation about gun violence was a panel discussion on Tuesday evening. It was riveting. Mike Feuer, City Attorney of Los Angeles, addressed how we can best influence our elected officials to pass sensible gun control legislation. The second panelist, Sally Weber, is a social worker who shared with us how rabbis can best respond to people who have been traumatized by violence. The third panelist, Rabbi Joel Mosbacher, whose father was murdered, is a champion of focusing our attention on gun manufacturers and ways we can pressure them.
The fourth panelist was the most impactful of all. Adam Friedman, a senior in high school in San Rafael, was incredibly articulate. I heard him speak about what it means to grow-up in an age in which he and his peers have always been aware of mass shootings, especially in schools. Adam talked about how the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School murders on February 14 galvanized him as well as tens of thousands of teens across the country. He expressed his conviction that he is in it for the long haul in making our country safer for everyone. He stated that his participation in tomorrow’s March for Our Lives is a meaningful protest against gun violence. However, it is not the end or the middle of a social movement but only the beginning.
The prophet Joel spoke of a time in which “the old shall dream dreams and the youth shall see visions.” This is the moment for adults not just to dream of a nation free of the plague of gun violence. It is time for us who are older to be inspired by our youth, to catch hold of a vision of how to work practically and persistently to reduce violence in homes, schools, and workplaces. We adults can offer our children nothing less than our support and partnership. The time is now.