By Rabbi Rick Sherwin
Exactly 20 years ago – August 10, 1999 – white supremacist Buford O. Furrow, Jr. walked into the lobby of the North Valley Jewish Community Center in Granada Hills, California, and opened fire with a semi-automatic weapon, firing 70 shots into the complex filled with children and teens at Summer Day Camp.
At the time, our son Josh was at the Atlanta airport with other staff members returning to their home cities after a rewarding Summer at Camp Ramah. He told us that everyone was talking at once, trying to get all the goodbyes in before departing. In the background was a CNN report. They all heard the words “Jewish Community Center,” and the conversation stopped: Something very important had happened, and they knew that it somehow affected each of their lives.
To me, it is tragic that 20 years later we continue to reel from attacks at the hands of white supremacists and neo-Nazis. From Granada Hills to Poway and Pittsburgh, what has changed? Which city is safe: Charlottesville? Dayton? El Paso? Parkland? Sandy Hook? We have to wonder if we will still need to fear to go to concerts and shopping in malls 20 years from now?
If there is to be a change, we will need to speak up, to rally, to vote.
In my mind:
We cannot object to an individual’s rights to carry a personal defense weapon,
But we must object to individuals carrying weapons capable of a mass attack.
We cannot object to commercial enterprises making enough money
to pay employees, to grow their business, even to increase profit for shareholders.
But we must object to them supporting and selling the very weapons
that lead to mass murder.
We affirm the government’s license to legislate, to allow, and to limit.
But we must insist the government focus directly on the fear
lingering over the lives of school children and concert-goers,
shoppers and worshippers in mosques, synagogues, and churches.
If we are to make progress, we must step out of our political echo chambers in which we open our ears only to voices agreeing with what we say. We must open our minds to divergent perspectives. If we listen, truly listen, we might create a reasonable middle ground that will balance individual rights and communal responsibility, establishing a foundation of respect and security.
Our goal should be that 20 years from now senseless hatred will be a matter of history, and we all hope it will happen long before 2039.
Rabbi Rick Sherwin, a graduate of UCLA, was ordained by the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York. Rabbi Rick’s passion is filling spiritual services and interfaith educational programs with creativity, relevance, dialogue, and humor.