Do Not Stand Idly By

As most of you know, I have been
active in the Chicago Board of Rabbis since I arrived in the area seven years
ago. I have served on the Executive Board for four years, the last two of which
have been as Executive Board secretary. Recently I was nominated to serve as VP
of the Board for the next two years.

You might wonder, how did I reach such lofty
heights among the constellation of Chicago Rabbis?  The simplest answer is that I simply showed
up! I have not missed a single Executive Board meeting and I have attended most
of the programming that our organization puts on for rabbis. I have no doubt
that my fellow rabbis are  particularly
impressed that I drive all the way from Naperville to Wilmette for these
meetings. Most of my colleagues, who live on the North Shore,  are convinced ,as you might have guessed, that
somehow our beloved Naperville is on the border with Iowa …No wonder  they are in awe of my capacity to travel long
distances to our discussions. I also don’t say much and therefore, I like to think,
they may believe I am wise as well.

To tell you the truth, once in a
while I am not that interested in the subject matter of the programs I
attend.  However, how can I impress upon our
own Board of Directors at CBS to show up for services and programs if I, as a
Board member of the Chicago Board of Rabbis, do not set a good example?  So, I go, sometimes reluctantly, in part
because I then feel I have the right to lecture our Board members on attending
synagogue functions.

Such were the nature of my feelings
upon receiving the announcement of the program that I attended this past
Wednesday in Wilmette. Rabbi Joel Mossbacher was scheduled to speak about his
efforts to curb gun violence in this country. I did not have a burning desire
to attend.  But I went, and, as usual, I
was glad I did.  I learned quite a
bit.  This evening I want to tell you a
little about it this event.

Rabbi Mossbacher grew up in
Glenwood, Illinois. He has been the Rabbi at a congregation in New Jersey since
2001. His father was killed by a handgun in 1999 in the course of a robbery at the
Chicago store he owned. Rabbi Mossbacher became an activist after telling his
eleven year old son how his grandfather died. He spoke the Board of Rabbis in
his role as spokesperson for a national campaign called “Do Not Stand Idly By
which takes its name from the verse in Leviticus, “Do not stand idly by the
blood of your fellow.”  The campaign
seeks to reduce gun violence –not by passing gun control legislation — but
through harnessing the forces of the market economy.

Before launching into his
presentation, Rabbi Mossbacher went around the room and asked us to introduce
ourselves and tell how we personally have been affected by gun violence. Each
rabbi had a story. One rabbi lived next door to a family where there was gun
violence. Another rabbi said that his brother had been held up with a gun and
held hostage for a period of time. He and his brother had very different
reactions to this event. The rabbi himself had been inspired to work for gun
control in his community. His brother said he thought that was foolish, and
bought a gun to protect himself. A rabbi of my generation recalled with
fondness playing with toy guns when he was a child. He reflected on how things
have changed in our society.   When my turn came I said that my first thought
to his question – how had I personally been affected by gun violence — was of the
assassination of President Kennedy. Then came the assassination of Dr. Martin
Luther King and not too long after that the assassination of Bobby Kennedy.
These events touched us all in profound ways and had forever changed the
history of our country, and through that, all of us. I wondered out loud how
many potentially good leaders have been lost because people were afraid to put
their lives on the line by going into politics.

Rabbi Mossbacher then told us about
“Do Not Stand Idly By”. This campaign does not challenge the rights of Americans
to own and use firearms. Rather, it seeks to convince gun manufacturers to make
guns safer through the use of “smart gun” technology. When a person owns a
“smart gun”, only the actual licensed owner of the gun is able to fire it. Since
many guns used in crimes are stolen, the thinking goes that this would reduce
their use by unauthorized users.  It
would also prevent children from accidentally firing a gun they found in the
house. However, gun manufacturers have little interest in developing this type
of gun. The “Do Not Stands Idly By Idly” campaign seeks to get manufacturers to
act through the market power of the public sector. 40% of firearms are bought
by the military and the police in this country. The hope is that public
pressure can be brought upon the military and the police to demand these smart products.
If that large market demands a product, then firearms manufacturers will be
incentivized to provide it. Once it is readily available, the thinking goes, at
a reasonable price, ordinary citizens will choose to buy these safer guns as

Will this make us safer? It is hard
to say. A comparison could perhaps be drawn between the desire for safer
firearms and a desire for a safer cigarette. E-cigarette sales have soared in
this country, and usage has tripled among teen-agers in the past year alone.  E-cigarettes do not have the tar and the
chemicals of regular cigarettes, but do deliver nicotine, one of the most
addictive substances we know.  Are
e-cigarettes safer, or do they actually increase overall, long term danger
because more people are using them at younger ages because they are marketed as
safe? Are they leading people to “smoke” who otherwise would never have picked
up a cigarette?  In the same way, will
“smart guns” make us safer, or will they simply encourage people who ordinarily
would not buy a gun to do so – thereby increasing the total number of firearms
in our country?

I really admire Rabbi Mossbacher
for working toward a solution of a problem in our society that he has been personally,
deeply, affected by. Like most of the vexing challenges in our world, like most
of the problems we face in our personal lives, there really is no one answer
that will solve it for us once and for all. The most we could do is meet our
challenges – whether in our society or in our personal lives — with courage,
conviction and faith. Most important of all, we must not simply stand idly by. We
must not stick our heads in the sand, turn our faces away, or otherwise ignore
a problem just because it appears to be intractable. Our sages teach that we
may not be able to solve a problem in our own lifetimes, but this does not give
us an excuse to ignore it completely. And who knows – perhaps we may, in even a
small way, succeed.
Shabbat Shalom