Through the Eyes of a Survivor

Just yesterday, there were 14 dead and 17 wounded at the Inland Regional Center for people with developmental disabilities in San Bernardino, California.

On November 29, it was 3 dead and 9 injured at a Planned Parenthood Clinic in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

On October 1, it was 9 dead and 9 injured at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon.

On July 16, it was 5 dead and 3 wounded at a military recruiting center and a Navy-Marine training facility in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

On June 18, it was 9 dead at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina.

On May 23, 2014 it was 6 dead and 7 wounded in Isla Vista, California.

On April 2, 2014 it was 3 killed and 16 inured at Fort Hood, Texas.

On September 16, 2013 it was 12 killed and 3 injured at the Washington Navy Yard in Washington D.C.

Should I go on? The statistics are frightening. One in three people in the United States knows someone who has been shot. On average, more than 11,000 Americans are murdered with a gun every day. Every day, an average of 55 people kill themselves with a firearm, and 46 people are shot or killed in an accident with a gun. The homicide rate from firearms in the United States is 20 times higher than the combined rates of 22 countries that are our peers in wealth and population.

There is an epidemic of gun violence in our country and, frankly, no one is safe. Every time an episode of gun violence takes place, which seems to happen with alarming frequency, those who witness it react with shock and disbelief. How could anyone do such a thing, they wonder. But gun violence is becoming so commonplace that we risk getting used to it.

We, the Jewish people, are commanded to honor the sanctity of life and to do whatever we can to preserve even one human life. The Talmud teaches us that “he who takes one life it is as though he has destroyed the universe and he who saves one life it is as though he has saved the universe” (Mishnah Sanhedrin 4:5). Jewish people have always had an aversion to violent behavior. We are obligated to try to save lives at risk from gun violence.

What will compel us to embrace this obligation- this mitzvah- with passion and commitment? How can apathy be overcome or, worse, the feeling that nothing can ever be done to make a difference? What will it take to inspire us to act?

One small step toward action is to put a personal face on the tragedy of gun violence. The story of the Holocaust became more compelling for millions of people through the eyes of Anne Frank and her diary. Perhaps in a similar way the tragedy of gun violence can become real for us by seeing it through the eyes of a single victim, someone whose life was nearly lost because of a gun crime.

Living for 32, the story of Colin Goddard surviving the gun massacre at Virginia Tech in 2007, personalizes the gun violence crisis and, hopefully, motivates action.  Oheb Shalom Congregation is sponsoring a screening of the film tonight at 7:00 PM at SOPAC, to be followed by a question and answer session. Tickets are $5. I hope that you are available and will make it a point to be present for the screening.

Hayom katzar v’hamlacha m’ruba…the day is short and the task is great, says Pirkei Avot (the Ethics of the Sages). The task of overcoming the scourge of gun violence is great, and we don’t have time to waste in solving this terrible problem. It’s time to act. Perhaps Colin Goddard’s story will inspire us.

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