My Heart is in the West
As most of the Jewish people in my world prepare to head west for the warm climates and fantastic community that is the Biennial convention of the Reform Jewish movement, I have boarded a plane bound for a Europe immersed in its first serious winter spell, seeking justice on an issue that burns for me.
As many of you know, my father, Lester, was gunned down at his place of business in Chicago nearly 15 years ago. My beloved father, past-president of our Reform synagogue, my father, a first-time grandfather who only days before was doting on my baby son, was stolen from us in January 1999. The issue of gun violence in America has been deeply personal for me for a long time. And when 26 children, teachers, and administrators were gunned down one year ago in Newtown, CT., it became personal for all of us.
The issue of gun violence is sadly nothing new for my traveling companions, Reverend David Brawley of Brooklyn, Reverend Patrick O’Connor of Queens, and Bishop Douglas Miles of Baltimore. They have each buried more victims of gun violence than they can possibly count.
We are all tired, but not from the flight.
We’re tired of thinking that all we can do as people of faith is bring comfort to bereaved families whose loved ones were senselessly ripped from their lives. We’re tired of lamenting the state of a union and a political system which has become so immune to the horrors of 30,000 gun deaths a year that even Newtown couldn’t move the dial on sensible gun violence legislation. We’re exhausted by the hopelessness that suggests that there’s nothing to be done about this plague.
So we’re headed east, with great emotion and anticipation. “Why Europe?” you’re probably asking.
We’re off to Germany, Austria, and Italy because the vast majority of weapons purchased by our police departments and military are produced by European gun manufacturers. In fact, 40% of all weapons purchased in America each year are purchased with our tax dollars, by our police and military. That’s a lot of purchasing power– a lot of money flowing overseas.
And we have a theory. We think that if police departments across this country, and our commander in chief, decided to demand that the companies they buy guns from take a constructive and responsible part in the unfolding saga of gun violence in America, those companies would have to listen.
What could Glock and Sig-Sauer and Beretta do, along with other gun manufacturers? They could start by agreeing to sell their products only through licensed dealers, even if state laws didn’t require that. They could invest in safer gun technology. Since the technology exists such that my shiny new IPhone 5S can only be activated by my thumb print, we think that gun manufacturers should be able to build that into their weapons so that the Adam Lanzas of the world couldn’t fire their mothers’ guns. And, too, foreign gun manufacturers who sell a million guns in America each year could agree to stop pumping millions of dollars into the American political system.
Over the past several months, leaders of the Metro Industrial Areas Foundation, the nation’s oldest network of community organizing, have held more than 100 meetings in 7 states with mayors, police chiefs, military and other executive branch officials to test out this idea. And now, many of those officials are beginning to reevaluate their procurement processes. The next time those departments are ready to put out a bid for new weapons, they’ll be ready to demand that qualifying bids will take into account the social quality of weapons, not just their technical quality.
So this interfaith team of clergy is headed for a week of meetings in Europe that we believe will begin to move the dial in the battle against gun violence. We’ll hope to meet with CEO’s of these major gun manufacturers. We’ll meet with Ambassadors, Vatican officials, Ministers of the European Union, gun violence victims groups, clergy, unions that manufacture weapons, and members of the press, all in the interest of drawing attention to our unique strategy, hoping to get a reaction from foreign corporations that would bring us closer to a world in which, as the prophet Isaiah says, “each shall sit under their vine and under their fig tree, and none shall make them afraid.”
To follow the progress of our mission on Twitter, follow #MetroIAF.
This is a national campaign because we have to tackle gun violence in a national campaign. And yet, the power of the work comes from individuals– clergy, lay leaders, young people– meeting with the mayors and police chiefs wherever you live. You can join this work. Ask your local official to join us in not standing idly by the blood of our neighbors. Ask them to use their power to affect change on this vital moral issue of our time.
Rabbi Joel Mosbacher
Beth Haverim Shir Shalom, Mahwah, NJ
On Friday, December 13th, add your voice to the chorus of others from diverse backgrounds and traditions who have spoken out to end gun violence and participate in Faiths Calling. Call your Senators on Friday and tell them that we are committed to stopping the rampant gun violence problem plaguing our communities.