“The epidemic of gun violence continues to plague individuals and communities across the United States, including our own Jewish communities as well as those of our friends, neighbors, colleagues, and partners. The Reform Movement, led by students and NFTY, is outraged at the current lack of legislative action and political leadership that allows this horrible violence to continue. This epidemic is not natural, nor normal and gun violence can be prevented. Drawing on Jewish traditions and values, we remain committed to taking action by engaging in community and legislative advocacy to end the gun violence epidemic.”
—Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism
True to form, Passover’s arrival tomorrow evening coincides with the first signs of spring. The crocuses made an appearance early last week, and in just the last few days, buds began to appear on branches that have, until now, been dormant. And as the earth returns to life, we too are seeing renewed signs of hope that we will soon emerge from this pandemic. So while I am disappointed that the vast majority of us will once again celebrate our Passover seders from a distance, I am optimistic that the freedom and liberation that are at the heart of the Passover story are soon to be our reality as well.
From a communal perspective, we saw the first tangible signs of that last weekend when Cantor Moses gathered with a few families for a socially distanced, in-person Havdalah, and 17 of our teen leaders gathered with our amazing STISY Advisor Tracy Horwitz for a socially distanced STISY Board bonding event. In the coming weeks, we look forward to beginning to gather in person more frequently. We are doing so incrementally, making the health and safety of all involved our top priority, but we are doing so!
And I’m excited. But as Shabbat arrives I’m also outraged.
For over a year we have longed for some sort of return to normalcy.
Over the last week and a half, we have had a taste of what a return to the “old normal” will look like… if we are not careful. Because it seems that the first bit of “normal” that has returned is our national epidemic of gun violence. The fact that the only respite we have had in the last few years from the constant reports of yet another mass shooting was caused by a pandemic is a sad commentary on the state of affairs in our nation. And the renewed chorus of “thoughts and prayers” but ZERO action is an abomination.
God willing, the steps that we are currently taking to address this pandemic will make it safe enough for our students and teachers to return to the classroom. But what about the threat they were already dealing with long before COVID-19 reared its head? Are we going to accept the fact that our students returning to the classrooms also means a return to regular reports of mass shootings in schools, theaters, and now, grocery stores?
Or are we going to demand action?
Will we accept that our “new normal” includes a return to the old norm that saw 39,707 deaths by firearms in 2019? Or will we finally recognize that, like COVID, when we work together in common purpose, we can find solutions to the most daunting of issues?
Are we, as a nation, willing to accept exchanging one epidemic for another? Or will we finally demand action?
If we have learned anything from COVID, it is that ignoring an issue allows it to fester and, if left unchecked, impact every aspect of our lives.
As one of the readings we will be sharing during services tonight states,
“Wherever we live, it is probably Egypt. There is, there really is, a better place, a promised land. And there is, there really is, a promised time. And there is no way to get from here to there, from now to then, except by joining together and marching—and sometimes stumbling—through the wilderness, watching, this time, not for signs and wonders, but for an opportunity to act.”
Wishing you all a meaningful Pesach,
Rabbi Daniel Cohen