When I think back to December 14, 2012, I remember that it should have been a celebratory day for me. I had my two last final exams for the semester—logic and operations management—and quickly said goodbye to my friends as I drove from college back home. It had been a busy semester, and an even busier final exam season, but I had found the self-discipline to devote a lot of time to study for these finals. When I turned in my exams, I felt both proud of my work in preparing myself and excited to take a break from studying for a while. Packing my dorm room, I felt ecstatic—I felt that I could finally put a tough semester behind me and spend some much-needed time with my parents. Yet, as was packing, I got a message from my phone, an alert from the New York Times about an attack on a school in Newtown, Connecticut, what would later be known as the Sandy Hook shooting. I prayed to see good news: a swift end to the attack or a false alarm, but no such news came. By the time I had figured out what was happening as I sat in the backseat of my parents’ car, 26 people were dead, including 20 children. Even for me, as someone with no connection to Connecticut and no experience with gun violence, I felt like I had been punched in the gut. I couldn’t celebrate the end of my finals when I knew that dozens of children fell victim to an act of senseless violence. I knew that the tragedy was caused by many things, but I could not shake the knowledge that it might have been prevented with stricter restrictions on guns and assault weapons, and that looking the other way was, as Rabbi David Saperstein says, an “offense against God and humanity.” Last week, I had the opportunity to go to the National Vigil for Gun Violence Victims, and in that moving service, the day of the Sandy Hook shooting weighed heavily on my mind. Between the shooting and the vigil, two years had passed. Congress has tried and has been unable to pass meaningful legislation to close the dangerous loopholes that exempt gun shows and online sales from background checks. Some states have passed common-sense gun violence prevention reforms, while some states have backed away from even the modest gun violence prevention legislation currently on the books. Still, accessing deadly firearms is too easy. Still, 30,000 lives are lost every year to gun violence. And yet, I’m hopeful. As I looked out upon the National Cathedral, I saw hundreds of people, from all walks of life, who are fighting day in and day out to prevent the tragedy of gun violence. We have a growing movement, a movement that is not going anywhere until the tragedy of gun violence is addressed. We can see it on the national level: after the failure of the universal background checks legislation, the Senate introduced new legislation aimed at preventing stalkers and domestic abusers from accessing firearms. We can see it in cities: after the indifference of gun companies, mayors are standing up to gun manufacturers and demanding safer gun technology. In our own community, our NFTY teens are standing up against gun violence. Since Sandy Hook, 60,000 Americans have died from gun violence—a national tragedy that has been repeated 60,000 times over the past two years. Yet when I see all the work being done to lower that number, I’m filled with hope that two years from now the United States will have heeded the commandment of God in Leviticus: do not stand idly by the blood of your neighbor (Leviticus 19:16).
In 1994, Rabbi Robert Klensin urged the congregants of his Arnold, MD reform Jewish synagogue, Temple Beth Shalom, to take a stand on gun violence prevention. Now, 30 years later, his grandson, 17-year-old Elijah Paul, carried the torch l'dor vador.
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