Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel was a brilliant theologian and gifted writer, a social activist at the Jewish Theological Seminary for most of his teaching career. In 1963 he was invited by then President John F. Kennedy to a conference about the nascent civil rights movement . He responded via telegram ( a form of ancient social media ) and stated :
Likelihood exists that the (civil rights issues ) will be like the weather . Everybody talks about it but nobody does anything about it . Please demand of leader’s personal involvement and not just solemn declarations. .... I propose that you Mr. President declare a state of moral emergency. ....the hour calls for high moral grandeur and spiritual audacity.
Bob Dylan in his majestic anthem Blowin' In The Wind seized the moral high ground when he penned : Yes and how many times must the cannon balls fly before they're forever banned ?
Yes and how many times can a man turn his head and pretend that he just doesn't see.
With tremendous sadness, the answer is still Blowin' in the wind !
The events in Orlando that left 49 people dead, massacred in a night club , is not a tragedy . Tragedies are unanticipated calamities - floods, fires, earthquakes that happen and generally cannot be prevented and often incomprehensible and beyond our understanding.
What transpired in Orlando was an act of terrorism, an act of mass murder, part of a vicious cycle of mass killings and gun violence that has impacted upon our country with chilling and numbing frequency. Our political leadership grieves the losses and lowers flags to half staff and the gridlock in Washington precludes even the most common sense baby steps to prevent terrorists from having access to weapons designed solely to slaughter human beings.
The perpetrator of this attack targeted gays at the Pulse Nightclub. Yet his hatred was not limited to gender as the terrorist had Disney in his sights and Jewish institutions as well . The terrorist ( whose name I will not mention as a gesture that his constant photo and name being in the news and social media only engenders others to seek his poisonous infamy ) was inspired by virulent hatred espoused by radical Islamic jihadists .
This mass murder was a brutal attack on all Americans irrespective of gender, ethnicity , race or religion . This murderous rampage was inspired by those fanatic who betray and have hijacked Islam .
Abraham was called upon - in a test of his and our humanity - to bind his son Isaac upon the altar. God called out not to ever harm his son. Abraham passed this litmus test of humanity as the clarion message of God is that faith never calls upon adherents to murder others . The legacy of Judaism to Christianity and Islam is to absolutely ban all faith based terror - never to harm the children of God in the name of faith . To do so is to be godless and soulless.
And yet hate filled propaganda continues to inundate the web and radical Islamic terrorist groups advocate jihad unhindered in social media . The freedom of speech does not include the freedom to engage in hate speech or to incite violence against the government. We have abridged freedom of speech in order to protect those who are vulnerable and to preclude hate crimes . We legally ban texting as distractive driving in order to save lives and reduce accidents.
The number of violent deaths caused by guns in America stands alone in the world. No other country has this level of rampant gun violence and no other country has this level of mass murders. After 26 children and teachers were murdered at Newtown all that many had hoped for was to prevent assault weapons from being in civilian hands . Neither you nor I can buy a can of spray paint without presenting identification and the cans are kept behind locked metal cages . Yet assault weapons designed only to kill human beings are accessible to good guys and bad guys alike . We ban toys that are deemed too dangerous for children. We ban lead in paint as a health hazard . Yet the right to bear arms has become so sacrosanct that our country fears banning military weapons that are permitted to be freely sold to even those on the terrorist watch list .
Even many NRA supporters understand that the right to bear Arms would NOT be infringed if certain weapons of mass destruction would be taken off the commercial market in the same fashion that we preclude toys, hate speech and spray paints from being accessible to Americans.
As Americans we have rights and privileges that are granted to us ...and all of these are predicated upon the basic belief that we have a right to live, to be alive, in this great and free country. If this is to remain the land of the free and the home of the brave - now is the time for us to bravely advocate to safeguard our families and our communities ! Freedom involves responsibilities and a tenacious desire to protect our families from the ongoing gun violence in America. Over this past Memorial Day weekend , 64 people were shot in Chicago alone.
How long will turn our heads until the cannon balls are banned ?
The role of parents and of government is to protect all from the preventable hazards around us.
Laura and I have recently been blessed with the birth of our first grandchild, our grandson Lev born to Yael and Yair . Life is a gift that is nurtured, cherished, treasured and safeguarded at all times . My hope for all of our children and all of our grandchildren is that we do what we can in the great country to insure the safety and well being of those we love the most. Tragedies abound in our world that happen and are unpreventable.
Not all acts of terrorism , not all acts of violence with assault weapons can be prevented . but imagine how many acts of violence could be prevented if Americans worked together to resolve these issues. Doing nothing is no longer an option. The Torah declares that we should not stand idly by while the blood of our brothers cries out to us. How many more families will have to grieve when their children became victims of mass murder in their schools , on their university campuses, in movie theaters and at clubs? Isn’t there a better path that we can walk on as a civil society.
As a faith community and as part of the mosaic of faith communities can we band together against the inertia and cowardice of the political world. Can we find the inner courage of moral grandeur and spiritual audacity to take even small steps to make our world safer for our children and grandchildren ? To say that the answer is Blowin' in the wind is to condemn so many more innocents to die! Can we work together within our political and faith communities to find common sense answers to prevent the massacres that are defining the 21st century as one of devastating mass murders and acts of terrorism in America ?
We can't do much about the weather. We can do something to protect our future !
I hope and pray that my words will stir us to seek justice and act with righteousness .
Some reading this may disagree with these ideas. You may find it unconscionable that religious leaders are seeking to ban assault weapons or that this is an affront to your Constitutional liberties. You have that right and privilege to disagree. Yet all reading this would agree that our lives and protecting our children is a core value – a moral priority that far outweighs personal assault weapon ownership. Religious teachings are intended to have us question our long held beliefs and understand that there is a great moral compass . We live in a glorious county where we constitutionally place minor limits on rights for safety , life, health and well being . Protecting lives is sacred. Owning assault weapons is not a freedom - it is a harbinger of death . True liberty is to watch our children grow up in a country where they no longer need to fear the assault of terrorists and mass murderers. May freedom ring from sea to shining sea!
With warmest regards and soulful blessings from Yael & Yair, Aviva, Hillel, Elie, Noam, Laura and myself ! Shalom, Rabbi Howard R. Buechler