Shir Hadash service to focus on violence

At Shabbat services tonight, Congregation Shir Hadash in Los Gatos will focus on children's safety and gun violence.

The event, sponsored by the Children's Defense Fund, celebrates the eighth annual National Observance of Children's Sabbaths.

Speakers include state Assemblyman Ted Lempert (D-San Mateo), Chief Larry Todd of the Los Gatos/Monte Sereno Police Department and Fred Blum, the former regional president of the American Jewish Congress.

Rabbi Melanie Aron, who organized the service, said the spate of recent hate crimes made the event particularly topical. She considers this summer's shooting at a Los Angeles-area Jewish community center and the firebombing of three Sacramento synagogues as salient arguments for gun control.

"Guns have always been incongruous with Jewish tradition," said Aron, spiritual leader of the Reform congregation. "Even on the issue of hunting, the Bible states that animals are intended for food, not for sport."

Aron noted that while the Jewish community contains a wide divergence of opinions, only a few "splinter groups" are really pressing for laxer gun control laws.

"These are the groups that claim that if Jews had armed themselves 50 years ago, the Holocaust never would have happened. I can understand that perspective," Aron said, "but I think it overlooks the bigger picture."

The bigger picture, according to Lempert, is that even in California, gun control is still a hot-button issue. "What people have to understand is that the gun lobby is very vocal," he said. "They have a very grassroots organization that really gets the vote out."

Lempert said the "one-gun-a-month" initiative, the state bill that would prohibit individuals from purchasing more than one concealable firearm every 30 days, barely got enough votes to pass. "And that's with Columbine still fresh in people's memory," Lempert added, referring to the Colorado high school massacre earlier this year.

The AJCongress, is also taking a grassroots approach, gathering 1 million signatures in support of stronger gun-control laws.

"Children are inordinately easy targets," said Blum, an attorney. "They don't have that natural level of cynicism that adults do. They have very few natural defense mechanisms That's why it's imperative to enact stricter legislation."

Blum added that it's easier to purchase a gun than buy a car or a dog.

"It's truly an insane world we live in," he said.