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On Day Before Jewish New Year Rabbi David Saperstein Joins Mayors, Legislators in Calling for More Stringent Gun Control

Saperstein: "In Jewish life, the turning of the year is a time of looking forward, . . . a time when we believe that that which was not possible before is possible in the coming year. And so it is that I stand here today with the fervent hope and a renewed belief that stronger gun control legislation - legislation that has heretofore been stonewalled, filibustered, pushed back, amended, weakened, denied, so many times before - can be passed.."

Contact: Jeff Mandell, (202) 387-2800

WASHINGTON, September 9, 1999 - Speaking this afternoon at a Capitol Hill press conference hosted by the National Conference of Mayors to advocate more stringent gun control measures, Rabbi David Saperstein, Director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, made the following statement:

As hard as it is for those of us here today to remember, there was a time in this world before the senseless gun deaths of 12 children in America every day. There was a time before the horrifying number of 35,000 people dead in America from gun violence every year. There was a time when we could turn on the news without the fear that we would hear, yet again, of lives tragically ended; a time when the scourge of gun violence did not intrude daily into our lives, when our culture of violence was less ubiquitous. Let me speak for a moment about a time even earlier still.

We are all familiar with the story of Genesis, with the story of creation.

For centuries, our sages have asked why God began the human race with just one couple? Why not ten, or one hundred, or one thousand? After all, he created multitudes of creatures and animals and plants, so why just Adam?

God, our Jewish sages teach us, began the human race with one single life to teach us the unfathomable value of every life. God meant to teach us that a person who destroys a single life, it is as if he destroyed the world. God meant to teach us that a person who saves a single life, it as if she saved the world.

Sadly, we gathered today know the truth of this lesson first hand.

Whether we have seen youngsters gunned down on our streets, students killed in the sanctity of our schools, or lives ended in the terror of a workplace shooting, we have witnessed lives shattered and worlds destroyed. For a shooting death is more than just the stilling of a beating heart, the ceasing of breathing lungs, the silencing of an active brain. It is the end of hope, of possibility, of the future. It robs children of parents to love and to guide them, and parents of children to cherish and to make them proud. It robs husbands and wives and partners of their lifemates. It robs loved ones and friends of good times shared, memories created, advice given. In every sense of the word, it destroys the world.

When Ricky Byrdsong was murdered in Chicago, a world was destroyed: the world of his wife, of his children and grandchildren, of all those who knew and loved and admired him.

When the violence erupted at Columbine, and at too many other schools across our nation, worlds were destroyed: the worlds of parents, of loved ones, of friends.

When gun violence took the relative of a valued employee, those of us who worked with him, who cherished him, who valued his contributions, watched as his world crumbled, powerless to do much beyond offering our support, our sympathy, our understanding. But we knew - as he knew - that no amount of kind words, of gestures of support, of hugging and hand holding could bring back his loved one and restore his world.

That is what gun violence does: it is the destroyer of worlds.

And as all of us know, it knows no economic or geographic bounds. It strikes in the largest of our cities and the smallest of our towns. It can happen to rich and to poor, to young and to old, to Black, white, yellow, red, and brown. It could well happen to anyone of us.

Indeed, it is happening to all of us.

For whether we are clergy or mayors, heads of organizations or heads of municipalities, our phones are among the first to ring with news of the latest gun tragedy. It is we who must pull communities together in the wake of violence, we who must comfort loved ones and friends, we who must attempt to make some sense of the senseless. And that is why we, together, today, must stand together to demand tougher, stricter, tighter gun control laws.

For with such laws, we can save lives. With such laws, we can save worlds.

Tomorrow evening, Jews everywhere will gather in their homes, their synagogues, their communities to celebrate Rosh Hashanah, the beginning of the new year. In Jewish life, the turning of the year is a time of looking forward, a time of unbridled and unparalleled optimism, a time when we believe that that which was not possible before is possible in the coming year. And so it is that I stand here today with the fervent hope and a renewed belief that stronger gun control legislation - legislation that has heretofore been stonewalled, filibustered, pushed back, amended, weakened, denied, so many times before - can be passed. I believe and I pray that this time, this year, this Congressional session, we can and will do what is right and what we have so long needed to do.

Note to editors: Tomorrow morning, September 10, 1999, Rabbi David Saperstein will join Attorney General Janet Reno and Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) at a roundtable community discussion about gun control issues on the occassion of the Jewish New Year. The event will take place at the Washington, DC Jewish Community Center. For more information, please call Jeff Mandell at the Religious Action Center, (202) 387-2800.

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The Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism is the Washington office of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations and the Central Conference of American Rabbis, representing 1.5 million Reform Jews and 1,800 Reform rabbis in 875 congregations throughout North America.



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