A broad coalition of political and religious leaders — including prominent members of New Jersey’s Jewish community — rallied Oct. 6 on the steps of Newark City Hall to demand that weapons manufacturers join them in their fight to halt gun violence.
Under a banner reading “Do Not Stand Idly By,” Christian and Jewish activists urged large and small municipalities to insist that the guns they purchase for police departments include safety features to prevent the weapons from being fired by people other than the officers to whom they have been issued.
Gun makers and lobbyists, including the National Rifle Association, have resisted such demands.
Bob Singer, vice president of the men’s club at Temple B’nai Abraham in Livingston, praised his town’s mayor, Alfred Anthony, as a leader “who has brought accountable corporations to the table,” including some that have been responsible for polluting areas with cancer-causing chemicals. “If he can hold multinational chemical companies responsible, I am excited to see what he can do with gun manufacturers,” Singer said.
Jane Young, outreach director of Beth Haverim Shir Shalom in Mahwah, said her “committed community was dedicated to stemming this epidemic of gun violence.”
Loretta Weinberg (D-Dist. 37), majority leader of the New Jersey State Senate, said she was “one of those grandmothers who is sick and tired” of gun violence, “but not so sick and tired that I’m not going to continue the work that needs to be done.”
She labeled it as both a public health issue and a religious one, noting that the effort has particular resonance in the week between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, when “we are reminded of a sentence in our liturgy that translates into ‘repair the world.’”
One of Weinberg’s targets was Gov. Chris Christie, whom she lashed out at for vetoing a bill that would require gun retailers to offer childproof safety features on the weapons they sell. “The work will continue when we have a new governor,” Weinberg vowed.
Pointing out that this the holiest time of the years for Jews, Rabbi Matthew Gewirtz of Congregation B’nai Jeshurun in Short Hills said, “There is no holier place to be” than on the steps of Newark City Hall, rallying “for some of the most sacred reasons any of us can imagine — the safety of our brothers and sisters, of our children, of our cousins, of our parents.”
Gewirtz introduced Newark Mayor Ras Baraka, who told the few dozen people gathered of the toll gun violence takes on residents of his city, victims of shootings involving both legal and illegal guns.
“We are talking about automatic weapons, not pistols,” Baraka said, calling on other mayors to insist that their police departments purchase safe guns. Addressing the manufacturers, Baraka said, “Because we buy all these bullets, all these guns, we want you to be responsible to our community.”
One man in the forefront of the gun safety movement, Rabbi Elliott Tepperman of Bnai Keshet in Montclair, said family members of two among the synagogue’s six staff members have been murdered by gunfire.
Although “we are asking too much of police officers in this country, we are not asking enough of gun manufacturers,” said Tepperman. He argued that the companies that make the weapons used by police “are in a position now to make a real difference.”
As others assembled on the steps held aloft large photographs of the chief executives of gun companies, the rabbi made a plea: “Do your part to make America safer.”
Following the rally, Tepperman told NJJN that his campaign to persuade municipalities to purchase safe guns for their police departments is growing. More than 100 local governments are in accord, including the state’s three largest cities, Newark, Jersey City, and Paterson.
Asked whether there is a “Jewish component” to the issue of gun safety, Gewirtz said, “In Leviticus, we are commanded to not stand idly by as people die.”
Interjected Tepperman, “You can go back further than Leviticus,” he said. “You can go back to the first words of Creation, that we are all created in God’s image, and Adam is the father of all humanity. We are not able to stand by when blood is shed. We have an obligation to find a way to act.”
The rally was organized by the Metro-Industrial Areas Foundation, a national coalition of faith and community leaders who are pressing for local laws mandating safe guns. They view that tactic as a way of getting past the stalemate over gun control laws on state and federal levels.
“Legislation in this country moves so slowly that we have to move in a more expedient fashion,” said Gewirtz.
“We are not giving up on” pushing for gun control laws, said Tepperman, but it must be acknowledged that such legislation is not happening now.
However, said Tepperman, “we can say to gun manufacturers, ‘You have accountability for how your product is sold.’”