These are my remarks from last night’s rally. Stacey David posted a video, but I always prefer to read words. So, for those of you who are like me, here you go….
When I heard that the venue for this event had been changed, I was thrilled — for TWO reasons. First of all, of course, it meant that the expected attendance had grown. But, second, it meant that we were coming to Temple B’nai Abraham – which was the community served by Joachim Prinz as rabbi.
Some of you clearly recognize that name. For those of you who don’t, Rabbi Prinz came to this country after escaping the Nazis in Germany. He look at his new country and he saw African Americans being treated unjustly with white people hiding behind biased laws and arguing that change should come gradually, incrementally. But he knew that our tradition demanded more of us than simply hiding behind the letter of the law and doing things the way that they have always been done. He became one of the loudest Jewish voices in the Civil Rights movement.
Just a few minutes before Martin Luther King Jr delivered his famous “I Have A Dream” speech, Rabbi Prinz spoke from the same lectern. He said: “The most urgent, the most disgraceful, the most shameful and the most tragic problem is silence…. America must not become a nation of onlookers. America must not remain silent.”
We are here today because if we look at our country the way that Rabbi Prinz did, we cannot help but notice that something just isn’t right. Children should not have to worry about being shot down in schools. Club-goers should not have to worry about being shot down on the dance floor. Music fans should not have to worry about being shot down at concerts.
And we can’t allow people to hide behind inadequate laws. And we can’t simply do things the way we’ve always done it. And we can’t say that change should come gradually or incrementally — because when something is broken, we have an obligation to fix it.
Some will tell you that Judaism has nothing to say on the issue of guns or gun violence because our legal texts were written before the advent of the gun. But that’s not the way Judaism works. We take the ancient wisdom and values of our tradition and we apply to them to new situations. And as we face this epidemic of school shootings — and the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting was the 18th school shooting of 2018 — our tradition has quite a bit to say.
While I could stand here all day and share with you teachings that I believe are relevant to this conversation I know that’s NOT why you’re here. So, I will share with you only two.
The first is from the Bible – Leviticus 19:16: “Do not stand idly by the blood of your neighbor – לֹא תַעֲמֹד עַל-דַּם רֵעֶךָ“
The students of Stoneman Douglas High School are leading the way. They have seen the blood of their classmates and friends. Think about that for a moment — they have seen the blood of their classmates and friends. And yet, they are NOT standing still. How can we do any less?? We can no longer afford to be what Rabbi Prinz would call “onlookers.” It is time to speak. It is time to act.
The second text I want to share comes from the Talmud, Yoma 82a: “No word — no law, no teaching – stands in the way of saving a life – אין לך דבר שעומד בפני פקוח נפש.”
In order to save a life, we are instructed by the ancient rabbis to set aside virtually all of Jewish law — which they believed to be God-given — because they understood that whole point of a legal system to is to enable its adherents to LIVE according to the laws and not die because of them. As Jews, we must bring this principle to the American conversation about guns: no single law is more important than the lives of our children.
And so, as we come together in his House of God, I hope and pray that the time of being silent on-lookers is now over for our community. I hope and pray that we will not stand idly by the blood of our neighbors and children. I hope and pray that we will remember that no law should stand in the way of saving lives.
And then, we will take our places as heirs of the great sage Hillel who said in Pirkei Avot 1:14: “If not now, when? – אִם לֹא עַכְשָׁיו, אֵימָתָי.”