Human life is sacred. Our shared humanity creates an obligation to honor and protect that sacredness. When our actions can honor human life or prevent murder, we have a divine responsibility to act. Mitzvot can be violated to save a human life because saving a life saves an entire world. At this moment of violence and murder and mass shootings, we have a responsibility to act and affirm the infinite value of each human life in ways that can prevent violence and that affirm our shared humanity.
I believe there are three key ways to make a difference in this epidemic of violence, when there have been more mass shootings than days in the year so far (as reported in USA Today).
First, I am deeply concerned about the availability of guns that can be easily modified for rapid fire shooting. The shooter at the Gilroy festival obtained his weapon legally in Nevada, for example. Even though California’s laws are more restrictive, federal solutions are needed for effective limits. I urge you to reach out to Congress and encourage them to heavily limit the sale of these weapons as well as their ammunition, to increase background checks, and to pass “red-flag” laws that make it easier to remove weapons from people who are a danger to themselves or others.
Second, the sensationalizing of these crimes makes them more attractive to the perpetrators. Most of these mass shooters experience social isolation and anxiety. They rarely have face-to -face community. Online communities of hate can further inflame already unbalanced individuals to perceive of violence as a heroic act that will let them be seen and known. By devoting so much press coverage to the perpetrators, we give them an unholy outlet through which to have an impact. I urge you to write to your favorite media outlet and encourage them to stop sensationalizing these shootings. Urge newspapers and online media to write about them less. They should focus on the victims and their lives, and profile the heroes who may stop or limit an attack. We should stop calling these shooters “lone wolves,” as if they were mighty warriors. They are sad, lonely people unable to find a healthy way of connecting. Finally, click less. Every time we read yet another story rehashing what we already knew or telling us one more detail about the shooter’s life, we encourage the next attack.
Third, let’s be serious about valuing each human life. These shootings highlight an epidemic of isolation and loneliness. We need to stop the violence AND build more whole communities in which people find healthier ways to be seen, known, and loved. Synagogues play a key role in creating shared sacred spaces that are multi-generational and loving. Jewish ritual can be a tool to combat loneliness by opening our homes at Shabbat or festival times or seeing in Kiddush a chance to respond lovingly to loneliness and social isolation. Jewish teachings and ethics can remind everyone of the deep sacred value of life. Sustaining Kol Emeth as an institution dedicated to building whole and holy community with a broad outreach agenda is a key response that sanctifies the names of those murdered, that brings healing into the world, and may even prevent a shooting by grounding and humanizing a vulnerable person.
It is time to act in ways that see each life as holy and meaningful. We can fight the hate by urging policy solutions to limit gun violence, to focus sensationalist media, and honor the humanity of the people around us.
Rabbi David Booth