There’s a new group on the Gun Violence Prevention landscape called Rabbis Against Gun Violence, and they have engineered a clever event today that deserves some attention. Actually, it’s a series of events they are calling a Sit-InTo Disarm Hate, and it is an attempt to carry forward the direct action of the House of Representatives sit-in last week to the district offices of Congressional reps, many of whom will be back home for the July 4th break.
Here’s the way it’s going to work. First you print out a sign. Then you share it on whatever social media platforms you use (and of course personalize with a pic,) then tweet it to: @RabbisAgstGunV and use the hashtag #DisarmHate. Then contact the Rabbis group on their website and they will help you coordinate or join an event.
It doesn’t really matter whether you are by yourself, or it’s just you and a few other folks, or maybe it’s an anti-violence or anti-hate group that is looking for something to do. The bottom line is that in many, if not most cases, you’ll be sending a message to the home office of an elected representative that they may not have ever received before. And you are also telling your rep that when he or she goes back to DC, the possibility of more direct action looms ahead.
Because the truth is that this issue is not going to fade away. We have reached a tipping-point because for the first time a grass-roots effort to promote an end to gun violence is beginning to take hold. And if nothing else, what Orlando demonstrated beyond the shadow of any doubt is that something has to be done. And it’s not just a question of ‘fixing’ this or ‘fixing’ that; serious and substantial changes have to occur.
I’m kind of an old-fashioned guy so the idea that religious groups should spearhead political change isn’t how I was brought up to think. Religion was religion, politics was politics, the two didn’t usually intersect. But it was the Civil Rights movement that started in the 1950’s which changed all that, and the rabbis who have put together this new group to confront gun violence are acting in a tradition which now goes back more than sixty years. Remember the Selma Bridge march in 1965? One of the marchers was a Rabbi named Abraham Heschel, who was an admirer and confidante of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., and it was his leadership that forged a Jewish commitment to civil rights that remains strong to this day.
Now it turns out that a member of the group’s Executive Committee, Rabbi Jill Jacobs, attended the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York, which happens to be where Dr. Heschel taught from 1946 until his death in 1972. So the mission and work of this new group flows directly from the previous generation of Jewish rabbinical activism and is reflected in the group’s founding statement that “we are rooted in and inspired by Jewish values, teachings, texts, history and traditions,” which if it isn’t rooted in Heschel’s life and work, I don’t know what is.
The NRA loves to advertise itself as America’s oldest civil rights organization. But I’m beginning to think that maybe, just maybe the attempt to link guns to civil rights may be about to take a different turn. Because when you stop to think about it, isn’t it everyone’s civil right to live a life free from violence and physical strife? And aren’t we actually advancing a civil rights agenda when we call for an end to violence caused by guns?
I hope this new group Rabbis Against Gun Violence continues to flourish and grow. I wish them and their supporters on June 29th a zissen tag, which means a sweet day. What they are doing needs to be done.