Going Through the Holidays with Las Vegas on our Minds
Posted on Wednesday, October 04, 2017 by Shira Goodman
It's hard for me to say Happy New Year this week. It seems wrong. There is so much pain and loss now. On the heels of devastating hurricanes and the ongoing crises in those areas hardest hit, we have now experienced the deadliest mass shooting in modern American history. That "record," set in Las Vegas, is eclipsing the one set only last year at the Pulse Nightclub shooting in Orlando.
In the almost exactly five years I have worked in gun violence prevention, America has set two new records. And this, of course, is aside from the 93 people we lose every day to homicide, suicide and unintentional shootings. To me, those are all victims of gun violence.
While perhaps in keeping with themes of the ten days between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, my initial reaction is deep shame and personal responsibility for our collective failure — for 59 deaths and 500 wounded. The Unetaneh Tokef is still echoing in our ears and a shift demanded of us by tonight's holiday of Sukkot to "zman simchateynu" — joy even in fragility! — and I am haunted, as I know many of you are, by these seemingly random deaths. I feel shame that I have not done more. Shame that in our country's 93 deaths a day, 33,000 deaths a year, that I am part of a society that sees this, or operates in effect as if this, is somehow tolerable. And now I'm angry. I'm angry that we've accepted this as the cost of one of the amendments in the Bill of Rights. This is unacceptable and unreasonable.
Gun violence is a uniquely American problem. I can give you the stats and facts if you want, but trust me, no other modern, industrialized nation experiences gun violence like we do — despite similar rates of other crime, similar rates of mental illness and the same access to violent video games and movies.
So it demands a uniquely American solution. And this is what America is all about — solving tough problems. We send folks to our state capitols and to Washington DC to solve complex problems. They campaigned for those jobs and they work for us. So, if the job is too difficult or they're not up to the task, they should find another line of work.
I just returned from a Vigil for Las Vegas in Philadelphia, where I live. By all accounts, it was a huge success. Organized in less than 24 hours, we had the Mayor, President of City Council, the Governor, the Attorney General, an Imam, three rabbis, a pastor and gun violence survivors. Hundreds of people gathered with us. The speeches were moving, prayers were unifying and calls to action were issued. Here is what I told the crowd at the end of the event: "Thank you for coming tonight. But coming tonight is not enough. You need to go home and take action — whether it starts with a Facebook post, a letter to the editor, a call to your Senators, you need to do something."
And I tell this to you, my Wexner family as well, even those of you who own guns or strongly support the Second Amendment: We are not immune from gun violence. Whether you know it or not, you know someone whose life has been touched by gun violence — whether random crime, suicide, a mass shooting, an unintentional shooting, or domestic violence. Bullets do not discriminate. So, this is our problem, too.
Please, find a way to make your voice heard. I humbly suggest that those of you already in conversation with elected officials about other issues dear to you include gun violence now in your conversations and lobbying efforts. Join your local gun violence prevention organization — I can connect you. Talk about this with your family and friends; ask your rabbis to incorporate a gun violence prevention shabbat into your calendar.
As so many rabbis are now saying, please honor the victims and survivors with action, not silence, with deeds, not just thoughts and prayers. In Pirkei Avot we learn, "You are not obligated to complete the work, neither may you desist from starting it." Please, join me in this work. For if we can save one life, we will have saved the world.
Shira Goodman, a Wexner Heritage Program Member (Philadelphia 16), is the Executive Director at CeaseFirePA, where she leads a statewide gun violence prevention organization focused on education, outreach, coalition building and advocacy for a safer PA. She serves on the Board of Trustees for the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia and Camp Ramah in the Poconos, as well as the Standing Committee on Gun Violence at the American Bar Association. Shira has a BA in history from the University of Michigan and a JD from Yale Law School. Shira can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.