AJCongress arms rabbis in gun battle

The American Jewish Congress is supplying rabbis with enough religious ammunition to fight an epidemic of gun violence.

Judaism on Violence, a newsletter the agency is sending to spiritual leaders this week, will present scriptural support for gun control as well as match it with staggering statistics on a "culture of violence."

"As Jews, we have a responsibility to seek peace and pursue it," said Carol Kingsley, widow of former AJCongress President Jack Berman, slain in the 101 California St. massacre of 1993.

She is also chair of the Jack Berman Advocacy Center, an AJCongress project that publishes the newsletter.

"Many Jews today view gun control and other anti-violence issues purely as politics, when in fact such issues are intimately related to our religious ideals," she said in a statement issued jointly with current AJCongress President Bill Rosenfeld.

The publication offers suggestions that rabbis can share with their congregants, such as co-sponsoring after-school programs for at-risk youth or lobbying lawmakers on an upcoming bill. It also offers examples of anti-violence in Jewish Scripture, including "In turning and stillness shall you be saved, in tranquility and trust shall be your strength" (Isaiah 30:15).

"The question before Jews at this point in history is how the lessons of our tradition and our own history can be applied to diminish the brutalities that, in so many forms, bring unconscionable suffering," writes Rabbi Alan Berg, spiritual leader of San Mateo's Peninsula Temple Beth El.

According to AJCongress statistics, gun violence claims 35,000 lives a year in this country — including 14 people a day under the age of 19 who are killed by guns in suicides, accidents and homicides perpetrated by other youths.

Lawmakers are listening, said Tracy Salkowitz, executive director of AJCongress's Northern Pacific region.

"I absolutely think we are at a crossroads," Salkowitz said. "Our legislators are realizing Americans have had it. They cannot keep caving in to the gun lobby."

The Berman center also works collaboratively with agencies in other communities.

"There is so much people can do if they want to make changes in this area," Salkowitz said. "We need people to do research, to lead workshops, to make sure organizations are putting this issue on their radar screens, to do legislative tracking. We're here and we're doing it."

Rebecca Rosen Lum

Rebecca Rosen Lum is a freelance writer.