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Answer Our Prayers: Remarks at the National Cathedral Gun Violence Vigil

Posted on Dec 21, 2012

Julie Schonfeld spoke today at the National Cathedral Gun Violence Vigil, where leaders in the Jewish community joined together with Roman Catholics, Episcopalians, Muslims, Baptists, Methodists, Quakers, Evangelicals, Sikhs and other faiths to call for increased gun control.

Her remarks follow below:


Rabbi Julie Schonfeld

By Julie Schonfeld

All of God's children are born with eyes at full size.

This is how the Creator assures that our babies will be irresistibly beautiful to all of us and that adults will protect all of our young. 

Last Thursday night, I brought my first grader, Gabriel, to a holiday party in Washington where he hoped to shake the President's hand. He was one of the first to arrive and spent the whole evening at the rope line, waiting to fulfill the fantasy that all little boys and girls share in this great country. I told Gabriel that there are millions of children in America and that we had done nothing to make us especially deserving of this privilege, but that from the gratitude that the Jewish people feel to live in America, he had a duty to bring the message of the future, the message of children, to Washington.

When the President finally came out a few hours later, he reached for the many outstretched hands behind me and above my head, and I called out to him -- Mr. President, there's a little boy right here, excuse me, Mr. President, right down here, just want to make sure you see him, a little boy.

President Obama looked at me with a warm smile and said, "I never miss the little kids, don't worry, I never miss 'em."  My Gabriel, whom we call Gabi, got his handshake.

Last Friday morning, still exhausted, Gabi fell asleep on the train lying on my lap at just about 9:30 and woke up when we arrived, insisting that we go to his school so he could tell his big brother and his teachers and his friends what he had done.

It was there, at about 12:30, with hundreds of children running past me for early dismissal before the Jewish Sabbath, and my children's beloved teachers coming over to give me a hug and kiss, that I got the first tweet of what had happened in Newtown.

All faiths share many things in common – one of them is a recognition of a certain type of religious experience, whether in joy or anguish when the boundaries between ourselves and other people melt away.

Such an experience I had, and my mind and heart cannot turn away from last Friday morning, spent with my first-grader, and his first grade. I cannot comprehend God's inscrutable presence in the world, but Judaism has reasserted for 3,000 years in the face of every tragedy that we are all God's beautiful children, and we are all responsible. 

Americans are one people in one great country, and we are all the parents of all of our children. 

I can only pray to God for the strength and courage to fulfill these responsibilities. A month before Yom Kippur, the solemn day of atonement, Jews begin to recite s'lihot, prayers that ask God's forgiveness for our sins. Jewish tradition teaches that we must first face ourselves and ask for God's forgiveness in order to fulfill our sacred duties, the most important of which is to protect the infinite sacredness of every human life. 

One week later, I have come back to Washington, to bring not only to the President, but also to Congress, the message of my first-grader, the message of Gabriel, the message of children.

Across the aisle and across the country, we are the mothers and fathers of all of our children whom we must protect from the ravages of gun violence. Gun violence is taking a huge toll on our society, and the easy accessibility of firearms causes more people to be killed or injured than in any other developed country. While we continue to grieve for the families of those lost, we must also support our prayers with action. We should not allow this kind of firepower in our society. 

  • We must ban the sale of assault weapons
  • We must institute appropriate background checks
  • We must cease the online sale of ammunition

Join me, today, in signing the Jewish Council for Public Affairs’ petition to end gun violence, so that as a united force, we can work together with local, state and national leaders to honor the victims while supporting comprehensive action and meaningful legislation.

The s'lihot, or forgiveness prayers, offer God our best reasons for why we deserve to be forgiven so that we may better do God's work. And so for centuries, we have called out to God with these words: 

Forgive us, O God
"Do it, for the sake of the babies who were just weaned
Do it for the sake of the babies who are still nursing
Do it for the sake of the small children of the schoolhouse who have never sinned
Do it for your sake, O God
Save us
Save us and answer us 
Answer our prayers today, for we live only to praise you.

Amen

Amen.

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