How Our Congregation Went Shopping to End Gun Violence
When the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting happened in Florida, we were once again dismayed at the ongoing specter of gun violence that plagues our country. And once again we wondered what we could do as individuals and as a synagogue to move beyond thoughts and prayers to concrete actions.
We have preached around the subject before and held discussions within our synagogue community. There is frustration at the inertia on the federal level, with a sense that given the gridlock in Washington, nothing will be accomplished there. And living in Massachusetts we are lucky to be in a state with significant fire arms legislation and representatives who take a stand, actively speaking out against gun violence.
In the aftermath of the Parkland shooting, we were inspired by the words and actions of the teenagers who took a stand and provided both a moral voice and conscience for this country. For me (Cantor Schachner) this tragedy was also personal. I grew up in Florida, not far from the Stoneman Douglas High School, and today my brother is a high school teacher of students who are frightened that they could be next. We were also heartened to see the action businesses are taking to offer leadership and direction to confront this issue.
When Edward Stack, the CEO of Dick’s Sporting Goods, issued his statement, we were heartened and impressed. As he wrote:
"Gun violence is an epidemic that's taking the lives of too many people, including the brightest hope for the future of America - our kids. Following all of the rules and laws, we sold a shotgun to the Parkland shooter in November of 2017. It was not the gun, nor type of gun, he used in the shooting. But it could have been.” He then resolved to extend the ban on the sale of assault style rifles from their stores, to no longer sell firearms to anyone under the age of 21 and to no longer sell high capacity magazines. He implored “our elected officials to enact common sense gun reform” and he concluded: “We deeply believe that this country's most precious gift is our children. They are our future. We must keep them safe."
What we read in his statement and actions was an act of teshuva (repentance). Maimonides suggests that full teshuva happens when people find themselves in a position to commit the same action again but decline to do so. Through its decisive action Dick’s Sporting Goods ensured that if Nikolas Cruz walked into a store today he could not buy an assault style rifle, he could not buy high capacity magazines, and he, as a19-year-old, would not even be allowed to buy a firearm.
And so, as we prepared, once again, to offer a sermon on this subject, this time we had concrete action to speak about. Our synagogue’s Mitzvah Day was scheduled for earlier this week – March 18th – and we had plans in place for a morning of packing meals to support Rise Against Hunger, an international hunger relief organization. We decided to extend our activities so after packing 40,000 meals, we met up at our local Dick’s Sporting Goods to shop and, equally important, to say thank you.
We wanted Edward Stack and all his employees to know that we support their actions. We wanted to do our bit to let them know that rather than being detrimental to their business, this would actively encourage support for their courageous leadership. And we simply wanted to feel empowered to act to stem the plague of gun violence.
So we went shopping.
We gave everyone who participated a card to present to their cashier as a way of saying thank you and in the hope that the cards would be passed on to management. Alongside a statement of thanks, the card included words from the Torah portion Vayikra 19:16: “You shall not stand idly by the blood of your neighbor.” We encouraged our shoppers to purchase items for use in their own homes and, if they wished, also to purchase items that the congregation would donate to the Waltham Boys and Girls Club. Thanks to the generosity of our community, an entire carload of useful equipment was brought to that deserving organization.
As we gathered at the store, our members were excited for the opportunity to act to express our feelings about the gun violence that blights our country. People were grateful to the synagogue for taking a stand on this issue and allowing them to raise their voice. In turn, we were excited that members of Temple Shalom, a neighboring synagogue in Newton joined us to express their support.
We know there is much more work to do, and that our action is but one small step in the fight against gun violence. Nonetheless, it provided us with a tangible way to move beyond thoughts and prayers. Judaism teaches that the person who saves one life saves the entire world. We believe that the decision made by Dick’s Sporting Goods will save lives and we were proud to support them and thank them, an act we hope will strengthen their resolve and encourage others to follow their example.
Rabbi Danny Burkeman and Cantor Hollis Schachner are the clergy at Temple Shir Tikva in Wayland, MA.