“When words are not enough”
Resources and responses to the plague of tragic shootings
There have been many responses to the increase in gun violence across America. Every instance is tragic and is followed by reactions of grief, anger, fear and calls for action. The JCRC and The Jewish Federation of Greater Washington have issued statements from time to time expressing horror about the events, support for those affected, as well as suggestions for using our political system to respond. Sadly, until now, very little of substance has been accomplished, and with the next seemingly inevitable outrage, the cycle repeats.
Federation is providing this resource page to offer a curated list for educators and parents of the many resources that have been posted on websites and through social media. We have tried to categorize the educational resources in ways that will help practitioners select those appropriate for their audience and context. Following the latest school shooting at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida, it is important to expand resources and continue to increase awareness that has been generated by the outstanding teens in Florida. Their demands for action to back up the pronouncements of “thoughts and prayers” resonate around the nation. This gives us an opportunity to be both reactive, providing comfort and support, and proactive in guiding our students and ourselves towards increased civic engagement.
In today’s world, everything is political. But the partisan arguments and social pressure must not prevent us from learning about an issue, distinguishing fact from emotional rhetoric. Careful use of specific language may help keep discussions focused. As you explore these resources, avoid framing “What Judaism says about gun control,” because Jewish sources do not directly prescribe any legal responses, and indeed Judaism may have a variety of values that can be interpreted to support all sides of the issue. Instead, it may be better to use the framing, “How Jewish sources point to responsible gun ownership.”
The purpose of discussion should be to gather and share knowledge. The purpose of lobbying and activism is to use knowledge to stimulate change. Keeping these two activities separate yet linked can help keep communication open and allow individuals to select many paths to accomplish similar goals.
- The first section of resources includes communications and statements about the recent shooting incident in Parkland, Florida. This material may serve as a reference to the event, a review of reactions from students, family, and community, and it could provide language to frame discussions. We can use some of these texts to remind us to have sympathy for those most affected. Other articles illustrate that although reasons and logic are not to be found in the event, comfort may be had in the reaction of a community or the courage of first responders.
- The second section offers a list of values from Jewish sources that could help anchor discussions about follow-up activities, unpack complex and possibly contradictory guidance and place the specific issue of gun violence or responsible gun ownership within a larger context of responsible behavior and our aspirations for society. Many turn to Jewish sources for values to guide ethical decision-making. It is human nature to desire a clear answer, to view the issue as black or white, with the Jewish values clearly guiding our opinions and actions—but that is rarely the case. As stated by Ethicist Rushworth Kidder, “As we practice resolving dilemmas we find ethics to be less a goal than a pathway, less a destination than a trip, less an inoculation than a process.” The text study and discussion should include the following features:
• Active listening and role-playing • Imagining other perspectives • Using moral terminology to discuss problems and issues • Stepping back from a situation to determine whether it has moral implications • Avoiding euphemisms • Eschewing ad hominem attacks • Refusing to excuse misbehavior • Accepting personal responsibility • Practicing humility and openness to other points of view.
Towards this path, we take inspiration from the classic debates between the schools of Hillel and Shammai, first century CE sages whose debates were known to be “for the sake of heaven” and where everyone’s dignity and openness were preserved.
- The third section examines strategies for action; short-term approaches to action on this specific issue and long-term skills building towards a life of positive political and civic activism. Long before the Department of Homeland Security came up with the phrase “If you see something, say something,” the Torah reminded us to not stand idly by (Leviticus 19:16) and that we must not remain indifferent (Deuteronomy 22:3). Later, the classic biblical prophets saw injustice, spoke truth to power, and took to the public square to heal society. It is this legacy that must be passed on to our children as Jews and as Americans. The American political system is a treasure that must be utilized appropriately. In order to pro-actively engage in it, there are civics lessons, language/speaking skills, rules of debate and engagement that need to be reintroduced to our schools, camps and youth groups. Investing now in these activities will give us an avenue to channel our frustrations and energy, and hopefully will lead to a society changed for the better in the future.