When Rabbi Faith Joy Dantowitz learned that the father of a friend and colleague had been shot in a robbery, she felt a deeper connection to what she calls the “epidemic of gun violence.” Just as Rabbi Joel Mosbacher of Mahwah was spurred to action by the murder of his father in 1999, Dantowitz was inspired to combine pulpit and public policy.
Dantowitz, who was ordained by the Reform movement’s Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, is a rabbi at the independent Temple B’nai Abraham in Livingston. She is working with Do Not Stand Idly By, a campaign run by Metro-IAF, a national network of multi-faith community organizations. Dantowitz and Mosbacher are members of New Jersey Together, a local chapter of Metro-IAF, as are Rabbi Steven Kushner of Temple Ner Tamid in Bloomfield and Rabbi Elliott Tepperman of Bnai Keshet in Montclair.
Their goal is to get gun manufacturers to support child-proof, theft-proof “smart gun” technology and to demand that dealers meet high standards of security, record keeping, and cooperation with law enforcement. Participants are also urging municipalities and counties to use their purchasing power to support those goals.
An event in Bloomfield on Thursday, Oct. 30, will highlight the effort.
NJJN: How would you describe your position regarding guns?
Dantowitz: I am not opposed to gun ownership but not interested in owning one. I don’t think there is any reason for individuals to own guns that are designed for military purposes, like assault rifle weapons. As an acquaintance who is a hunter said, you don’t need that kind of gun.
NJJN: What got you interested in the gun issue?
Dantowitz: Columbine, Virginia Tech, Fort Hood, Gabby Giffords, on and on. Just when it seemed we wouldn’t hear about another mass shooting, we were again offering prayers of comfort in synagogue. Words are beautiful but it is time for action. When the tragedy in Newtown, Conn., happened, I remember walking to the door of my son’s elementary school and staring at it. It could have been my son, my school, my town. Though I didn’t have a personal connection to any of the victims in Newtown, I knew those who did. One of my bar mitzva student’s camp friend’s sibling hid in a closet…and survived.
I thought that our national legislators would finally take action to address this epidemic of gun violence in our country. But they chose to stand idly by.
NJJN: Why did you decide to tackle this particular aspect?
Dantowitz: I think this is a smart strategy to approach the problem from another perspective. Since we can’t count on our national legislators to address this issue (at this time), this is an opportunity to build an emerging market. We are the consumers. As taxpayers, we buy 40 percent of the guns through police and military. As consumers, we ask questions about many products we purchase. Why not ask about the guns?
This campaign is not about removing guns but rather ensuring that the guns that are purchased have the smartest, safest technology. The campaign also focuses on asking for accountability of the gun manufacturers to prevent straw purchases.
NJJN: What results are you hoping for or expecting?
Dantowitz: Most guns are purchased from European companies [Sig Sauer in Germany, Glock in Austria, and Beretta in Italy], and it is time for us to show them there is a market for safer guns.
If many municipalities across the country sign on to the campaign, the gun manufacturers will take note.
NJJN: What do you see as the biggest obstacle to achieving a safer gun culture?
Dantowitz: The biggest obstacle to achieving a safer gun culture is developing a market for safer guns.
Today, we are concerned as a nation about Ebola. It’s time to recognize that gun violence, with 30,000 Americans dying by gun violence each year, is an epidemic. We worry about our children’s safety. Do we ask if there is a gun in the home where they are spending time at a party or on a play date?
NJJN: What has happened so far?
Dantowitz: This is an interfaith national effort. Community organizing is usually a local process but with the issue of gun violence, it’s national and local. Lay people, town council members, mayors, governors, and the Essex County executive are among the more than 50 people who are part of this campaign. Individual meetings are helpful to explain the campaign and invite towns to join. This past summer, Kevin Johnson, chair of the United Conference of Mayors, endorsed the campaign and invited mayors across the country to join. In some towns it may take one conversation or e-mail; in other towns, it’s many meetings and e-mails.