Bay Area Jewish moms take leading role in campaign against gun violence

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As soon as Sara Smirin heard the news about the Sandy Hook school massacre last December, she posted her heartbreak and outrage on Facebook.

She immediately heard back from friends who felt the same way.

“It started with a bunch of moms talking to one another and saying they were not going to take it anymore,” said Smirin, 45, marketing director for Jewish LearningWorks in San Francisco and the mother of two young sons.

Los Altos mom Ronit Bodner was one of them. “With every mass shooting since Columbine, I’d be shocked, but then I’d forget about it as the news cycle went on to focus on something else,” said Bodner, a

Outside the Capitol on Jan. 24 are (from left) Sara Smirin, Jennifer DiBrienza, Christine Tachner, Kim Samek, Michelle Sandberg and Nancy Rudin. photo/jennifer fiore

39-year-old attorney and mother of three. “But Newtown was my call to arms. Complacency suddenly felt like complicity.”

Smirin and Bodner reached out to Shannon Watts, the Indianapolis-based founder of Moms Demand Action For Gun Sense in America, a grassroots, non-partisan organization that sprang up in response to the Connecticut tragedy. Originally called One Million Moms For Gun Control, it has since been rebranded and has garnered 80,000 members, 2,000 of them in the Bay Area.

Smirin volunteered to become the group’s national COO. It’s a huge undertaking, but she believes that women like her with relevant experience should step up to lead this social media–based campaign. “In particular, moms in Silicon Valley have brought important networks and resources to help make things happen,” she said.

Kim Samek, another local Jewish mom and attorney, has volunteered to be general counsel for the organization.

Moms Demand Action is working on the local, state and national levels, pushing for key legislative items that it believes will greatly reduce the level of gun violence and gun fatalities. “We’re focused on gun safety and commonsense regulations. Our agenda is not extreme,” explained Michelle Sandberg, a 39-year-old pediatrician and mother of three from Atherton who sees this as a public health issue.

Sara Smirin at video filming photo/courtesy michelle sandberg

“We recognize the Second Amendment and the right to bear arms,” Sandberg said, “but we want a ban on assault weapons and ammunition magazines that hold more than 10 rounds; required background checks for all gun and ammunition purchases; required reporting of sales of large quantities of ammunition to the ATF [the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives]; and a ban on online sales of ammunition.”

Eileen Soffer of Mountain View added: “The gun lobby has been very powerful, but the numbers are not on their side.” The 53-year-old mother of two adult children is a veteran of election-year campaigning and other advocacy projects. Like many others drawn to Moms Demand Action, the horror of this particular massacre compelled her to get involved: “The children at Newtown were so young, it was impossible to avert your eyes.”

Soffer now spends 15 to 25 hours per week as the regional manager for six Western states, and provides support and guidance to 16 local chapters.

“It’s unbelievable how much is happening around the country. There’s been a flurry of activity,” she noted as she spoke of marches, rallies, town hall meetings, letter-writing campaigns, personal appearances at hearings and legislative sessions, and partnerships with other nonpartisan organizations.

One such partnership is with Mayors Against Illegal Guns’ “Demand a Plan” campaign. Sandberg coordinated the production of a “Demand a Plan” video featuring many Bay Area members of Moms Demand Action, including herself, Smirin, Bodner, and Bodner’s mother Yael. The video is available on YouTube. The San Francisco–based company Joyus donated its services to the project, and a series of video portraits of individual mothers personally affected by gun violence is forthcoming.

Several of the Bay Area moms, including Smirin and Sandberg, went to Washington, D.C., in late January to witness Sen. Dianne Feinstein introduce the assault weapons ban of 2013. They and many others are preparing to return to the nation’s capital for Moms Take the Hill Day on March 13, when mothers from around the country will converge on Capitol Hill to lobby for commonsense gun laws.

“I feel optimistic. I feel that public opinion is on our side. It’s going to be an uphill battle, but we’re not going away this time,” said Sandberg.

Renee Ghert-Zand
Renee Ghert-Zand

Renee Ghert-Zand is a Jerusalem-based freelance journalist. She made aliyah from Palo Alto with her family in June 2014.