“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.
Section 1: News articles and communications about Parkland shooting
- Statement from Central Agency for Jewish Education of Broward County
The Orloff Central Agency for Jewish Education extends condolences to the families and friends of the 17 young people and school professionals who perished in the terrible shootings at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. Our wishes for refuah sheleima, complete recovery to those who were wounded in the attack. May the community of Parkland and Coral Springs find healing together. As an organization that stands for education, we pay tribute to the teachers and students who protected others, sometimes at the cost of their own lives.
Our Jewish tradition teaches us the importance of protecting lives and ensuring that we take action to minimize potential threats to human lives. Pikuach nefesh, the Jewish value of saving lives, is of paramount importance. Therefore, as the organization that serves as a lead voice for education in the Jewish community of Broward, we are compelled to take a stand for actions that will serve to prevent future such tragedies.
The leadership and professionals of Orloff CAJE call on all government officials to work across political lines in taking meaningful, appropriate actions to bring to fruition the aspiration voiced by the students at Stoneman Douglas High School, that this tragedy in our community will “be the last mass shooting.”
With wishes of peace and healing,
Orloff Central Agency for Jewish Education
Bruce Greenberg, President Rabbi Arnold D. Samlan, Executive Director
- Prizmah: Center for Jewish Day Schools statement on Parkland shootings
- Opinion piece by Jonathan Cannon on eJewish Philanthropy
- Religious News Service provides interesting take from a Christian perspective (in this season of Lent)
- Statement from a father whose daughter was killed in Parkland school shooting demands action
- CNN reports on reactions from students returning to Parkland school, coping with loss and seeking normalcy.
- A prayer by Alden Solovy
Section 2: Jewish Values, Readings and Texts for Discussion
- Rabbi Joe Black: Opening Prayer for the Colorado State House in the aftermath of a tragedy (Read the online comments, a window into how emotional the debate can be)
- Sample text study pages to encourage open discussion:
- Links to articles using texts and value-based discussion in a more directed manner. These four examples can show that Jewish values (and historical experience) can argue both sides of the gun control debate.
- The umbrella value/mitzvah venishmartem meod l’nafshotaychem (Deuteronomy 4:15) is usually interpreted to guide food consumption as it relates to physical and spiritual health. This can go both ways in gun issues—what does it take to guard your life—guns and gun control.
- NPR news clip reports on The lives we lost in Parkland, Florida
- Links to readings and prayers appropriate for assemblies or text study:
- Resources to help parents explain the tragic situations. When frightening events occur, such as the horrific shooting in Florida, children need guidance and support as they try to process what they’re hearing and seeing around them and on the news. This resource can help parents manage their child’s concerns or questions and address these types of difficult topics.
- Songs and Poetic videos you can use as a text study:
- A gun-owning rabbi clarifies terminology and policies with a chance for passing a legislative body.
- Judaism & Gun Control – A source sheet
- Jewish Sources on Protesting
Section 3: Encouraging Civic Responsibility
- Article about school leadership: How the student activists of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High demonstrate the power of a comprehensive education.
- The following quote from the namesake of the Parkland Florida school reminds us that personalities can be inspirational, especially those whose names are linked to institutions of learning. We should actually believe “May their memory be for a blessing!””Be a nuisance when it counts. Do your part to inform and stimulate the public to join your action. Be depressed, discouraged, & disappointed at failure & the disheartening effects of ignorance, greed, corruption & bad politics — but never give up.” That is a quote from Marjory Stoneman Douglas; an environmentalist, journalist and activist whose name is now forever linked to the school shooting that rocked Parkland, Florida last month. Her own words are being echoed at walkouts, rallies and other moments of activism around the country, a month after 17 people were killed in a school shooting at a high school bearing her name.
- Civic action ideas from NFTY (Reform teen movement) teens leading the way in gun violence prevention
- Comprehensive website from NFTY with many ideas for civic action
- Letter templates, signs for rallies and examples of what local chapters are doing
- From the Religious Action Center, 40 years of proclamations and support for gun control based on Jewish values
- Programs and studies towards preventing gun violence from The Religious Action Center of the Reform Movement. Resources include text studies and educational materials to introduce a discussion on policy, moral values around gun violence, coping with tragedy in your congregations and communities in addition to some of our community partners.
- Books that help build skills for civic engagement:
- Guidebook: Six Proven Practices for Effective Civic Learning
“The necessary elements of effective civic education include classroom instruction in civics and government, history, economics, law and geography; service learning linked to classroom learning; experiential learning; learning through participation in models and simulations of democratic processes; guided classroom discussion of current issues and events, and meaningful participation in school governance.”
- Preparing students for meaningful, disciplined forms of protest
Since the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas HS in Parkland, Florida, students have been engaging in a variety of actions to force change on gun control, including preparations for nationwide student walkouts on March 14 and April 20.
- Videos of actions around the country
- New York Times cites 7 Times in History When Students Turned to Activism. They are hardly the first students to push the adult world for politicalchange. Learn about the historic precedents
- Article by Dr. David Bryfman, specialist in teen engagement. Today we are witnessing history unfold as the American teenage populace is mobilizing. This moment will be recorded as one in which adolescents were the catalysts for societal change – and they will keep fighting because they know that they are on the right side of history.
- 5 Books to Read With Your Budding Activist from PJ Library
- CNN overview of March 14 student walkouts
- For parents with younger kids: To march or not?