Moms in D.C. declare gun control a moral, Jewish issue

WASHINGTON — When Elaine Bayer heard about the Million Mom March, she thought of two families: her Hadassah family and her extended family.

First, the Chicago suburb resident helped the march organizers contact the national office of Hadassah. Then, Bayer organized her own family to travel to the march in Washington, D.C., on Mother's Day.

On Sunday, she was surrounded by seven relatives, including one grandchild in a stroller.

Contingents at the march representing synagogues and Jewish groups brought banners and signs, dotting the mall grounds with visible Jewish presence.

Standing among thousands of other American women on the National Mall, Jews called on the House of Representatives to enact "sensible gun control laws," such as background checks, firearms registration, licensing of gun owners and more handgun safety locks.

Congress' inaction on the issue is unacceptable, they said, pledging to make gun policy a top issue in November's elections.

"Make this moral issue political," urged Rosanne Selfon, vice president of Women of Reform Judaism. "We have a moral obligation that emanates from Torah and God. Today is the day to make our legislators listen."

But legislators in Washington are unlikely to do more than listen, as a major gun-control bill has been languishing in Congress for almost 10 months. Passage is unlikely this session.

Nevertheless, women such as Gail Powers of Los Angeles, the West Coast region coordinator for the march, believe the issue will be crucial for congressional races.

The Jewish community appears mobilized around gun control, perhaps due to last August's shooting at the North Valley Jewish Community Center near Los Angeles. Powers said she is "amazed and astonished" by the unity of various Jewish movements on this issue.

Rabbi Eric Yoffie, president of the Reform movement's Union of American Hebrew Congregations, spoke at the national rally.

Energizing the crowd, he declared: "We are ready for a knockdown, drag-out, no-holds-barred battle against the NRA, which is the real criminals' lobby in this country, and which is drenched in the blood of murdered children."

Gun control has been a compelling issue in the Jewish community, he said, but until now it has not translated into anything concrete.

Yoffie hopes this issue will make its way into the "Jewish "consciousness and Jewish legislative agenda," and encourages the community to coalition-build.

"We're too small to make the change ourselves," Yoffie said.

Rabbi Marc Israel of the Reform movement's Religious Action Center told attendees at a march-related interfaith service that it is not enough to avoid violence, but people must be "rodfei shalom," pursuers of peace.

"True peace can only be found…when gun violence no longer shatters our lives and the lives of our loved ones," he said.

A group of gun-control opponents, the Second Amendment Sisters, held a separate counterdemonstration at the march.

Several march participants expressed resentment at counterdemonstration signs trying to link their cause to the Holocaust, referring to opponent's signs that proclaimed "Never Again" and "Nazis Had Gun Control."

Smaller rallies were held in some 70 other communities around the country, including in Oakland.