As I sat in shul over the last couple of weeks, I thought about what we as Jews ponder when one year draws to a close and another begins. At different times, I imagine, we pray for different things.
Some of us, or our loved ones, are battling illness, and so we pray for a cure or recovery. Some of us pray for the strength to conquer a bad habit, or for more patience to deal with our children.
Many of us pray for the people of Israel, and for peace in the Middle East. We look inward, to see how we can act better in the future, seeking forgiveness for our shortcomings. And we look outward, granting the same to others, so that they can start over with a clean slate as well. Finally, we ask to be inscribed in the proverbial Book of Life, so that we can improve on our efforts in the 12 months to come.
Personally, this year, I prayed that all the children in Philadelphia and throughout the state be inscribed for another year.
I prayed for my own children, to be sure, and for my nieces, and for my friends' children, but I prayed extra hard for the kids in the cross-fire, children walking down city streets, and those sitting in one-room schoolhouses. I prayed that each one of these precious lives will be permitted to make it through the next year, so they can grow and enrich our world by their presence in it.
I know that this will be a tall order, because here in Pennsylvania, the abstract notion of the right to bear arms transcends the concrete and horrific damage that we tolerate by allowing guns to get into the wrong hands. I know this because every day in my job, I read a dozen or more news articles from across the state, recounting the latest killing or assault.
I know this because I speak to our state lawmakers about sensible policies to reduce gun death and injury, and rather than try to learn what their constituents want, they ask me what the gun lobby says.
I know this because too many of our political leaders don't view gun violence as a humanitarian crisis or public-health epidemic, but rather, as the price we have to pay for living in a democracy that values individual freedoms over the well-being of the broader society.
But they are wrong — and it is up to the Jewish community to take a leading role in showing these policymakers the error of their ways.
The Torah commands us to seek peace in our world, not just practice it on an individual level. We are exhorted to right injustices, to care for orphans, to be fair in our dealings.
Translating these biblical passages into a modern vernacular, we must do all we can to reduce the likelihood that innocent parties will fall prey to violence — and that children will be killed, maimed, or left without parents and guardians. We must do all that we can to stop the trade in illegal handguns that thrives here in the Keystone state, to provide police with the tools they need to enforce the laws, and to provide educational and job opportunities in the communities beset by violence and guns.
As I was praying for our children's futures, I prayed also that folks start thinking of all these vulnerable children, and revisit the policies that impinge so heavily on their fragile lives.
I prayed for our rabbis, social-action committees and congregations to embrace the notion that we can and must act to prevent gun violence, and to find the courage to challenge the status quo when it comes to our state's gun policies.
Many local Jewish organizations, such as the Jewish Community Relations Council, the Union for Reform Judaism, the Jewish Labor Board and J-SPAN: The Jewish Social Policy Action Network have already embraced this important effort, and we hope many others will, too.
Let us all strive this year to do everything we can to keep innocent lives from being lost to gun violence, so that next year, as we look back and forward again, we find ourselves in a better place.
Diane Edbril is the executive director of CeaseFire PA.