Interfaith effort takes aim at violence, promotes peace

But his act wasn't one of violence; it was of peace — he placed the gun in a 4,000-degree oven at a recent "gun bake," destroying its lethal possibilities forever.

He's only 8 years old, yet Zachary knows more about violence than most adults.

Berman's "gun bake" actions sharply contrast those of a crazed gunman, Gian Luigi Ferri, who entered 101 California Street and left the boy fatherless at the age of 1. Ferri's gunspray hit and killed Zachary's father, Jack Berman, the former president of the American Jewish Congress and a distinguished lawyer.

Zachary's mother, Carol Kingsley, applauds her young son's efforts. Her hope is that more youth will follow his path. As chair of the AJCongress' violence prevention arm, the Jack Berman Advocacy Center, she is also dedicated to spreading the message of peace.

"If we reach the young people in our country and give them skills on how to resolve conflicts, we can empower them with a self-confidence," said Kingsley, who lives in San Francisco. "Then they won't have to resort to releasing their stress and tension with firearms and other weapons."

The AJCongress' latest effort to spread the message of peace is due to reach synagogues and churches this fall.

The pamphlet, entitled "Creating a Caring Community," is a joint project of the AJCongress and California Council of Churches aimed at the interfaith religious community.

"Religious beliefs can help reduce anger," said Kingsley. "So many religions — Judaism certainly — have a foundation of beliefs and values when it comes to violence."

The lessons within the 36-page booklet refute stereotypes, religious or otherwise, which lead to violence. It also identifies factors affecting at-risk youth and provides models of peacemaking for both youth and adults in religious communities.

"We want members of our congregations to better understand the dynamics of violence," said Tracy Salkowitz, executive director of the AJCongress regional office in San Francisco. "Hopefully that will increase their commitment to making a difference."

There is also a set of "lessons," compiled by the Rev. Patrick E. Davis of Pleasanton, that provides steps for five separate learning sessions that can be used as handouts, encouraging communication between youth and adults.

"It brings senior high-schoolers together with adults to have a dialogue," said Scott Anderson, executive director of the California Council of Churches. "This is a very exciting model for adults to hear how kids feel."

In a section on the Jewish perspectives on peacemaking, Peninsula Temple Beth El Rabbi Alan Berg writes: "Jewish values have shaped our response to all [different] levels and forms of violence…The Jewish community provides leadership for diminishing the use of firearms in America…We seek to have a Jewish voice in the state legislature on violence-related issues."

But Berg also encourages other faiths to utilize their traditions and values as a response to reducing — and eventually ending — violence.

"We join our hands and hearts with all people of all faith traditions to do mitzvot, good deeds and to bring God's presence more fully into the world," he writes.

"The lessons of our own tradition and our own history can be applied to diminish the brutalities that, in so many forms, bring unconscionable suffering."

Kingsley says she felt it necessary to instill these Jewish values in her son. In his own short history, Zachary has had to endure a painful reality of losing his father. Although he can't erase that, his commitment to combating gun violence may be able to prevent others from this same grief.