Guest commentary: Enough with thoughts and prayers — do something
Not only am I the rabbi of Aspen Jewish Congregation, which is the progressive congregation that serves the entire Roaring fork Valley, but my family and I live in Willits and my daughter Samantha is a kindergartener at Basalt Elementary.
A couple weeks ago at the elementary school, they had a lockdown drill. And I was glad they did — of course they should; they are doing an amazing job with our children. I asked my daughter what her teachers said about why they needed this drill. And she told us that it was pretend practice for what could happen if a dangerous stranger tried to get into the school who shouldn’t be there. It was a perfectly appropriate description for 5- and 6-year-olds to hear. But I found myself wanting to follow this up by telling her that if a real lockdown happened, she should try to hide in a closet, or behind something heavy and thick, and not just any place. That she shouldn’t dawdle but move quickly. I actually found myself Googling bullet-proof backpacks. And the more I thought about this the angrier I got. And just so desperately sad.
Now it is a sad reality of life that sometimes, bad things happen. Sometimes terrible things happen … illness, accidents, natural disasters. And sometimes there is nothing we can do about it. And we have to live with that. We have to look into these beautiful innocent eyes of our children and share these sad truths about life, because that is what it is to be human and to live in this world.
But this is not one of those times. We do not have to simply live with this reality. This, we can change. We can respond to the horrible tragedy of the 17 lives lost in Parkland not just with tears, but by acknowledging that this did not have to happen. We have the chance to look at the reality of gun violence and say: the way it is, is not the way it has to be. It is not the way it will be. We cannot reverse the tragedy at Parkland. Or Sandy Hook. Or Columbine… but we can step into the power that is ours, that has been ours all along to say: not one more. Not one single life more. Not one more teacher shielding her students from bullets; not one more precious life lost. Not one more military-grade assault rifle purchased more easily than Claritin-D at the pharmacy. Not one more. Not in my name. Not in our name.
In the Jewish community we have just begun our weeklong holiday of Passover which commemorates the Exodus from Egypt. And as the story goes, after 420 years of slavery, God heard the cries of the Israelites and miraculously brought them out from Egypt. Pharaoh, caring more for power, for money, than for the sanctity of human life, sent his army to chase them down as they fled. With the Egyptian army gaining on them, the Israelites found themselves facing the sea with nowhere to go. And the Israelites and Moses cried out to God. God responded to Moses, saying “Why do you cry out to me? Tell the Israelites to go forward” (Exodus 14:15). And one by one the Israelites stepped into the water, feeling its chill, up to their ankles and knees and stomachs and chests and until it covered even their heads — and then the water parted and the Israelites crossed on dry land to safety, to freedom, and to new life.
“Why do you cry out to me? Tell the Israelites to go forward.” This is the divine voice I hear in my heart every time another politician or talking head sends their “thoughts and prayers” to victims of yet another entirely preventable school shooting or other horrific act of gun violence. I hear the voice of the universe replying, “Why do you cry out to me? GO FORWARD, do something!” Step in, past the comfortable, past the easy, into the difficult waters of change. Don’t cry out to me; do something.
And that’s why hundreds of us gathered at the March for our Lives in Basalt: to do something. To demand that our elected officials do something. To say that we refuse to live in a world of lockdown drills and bulletproof backpacks, where the words “school shooting” are common parlance, where children are dying because of our collective refusal to create change.
Together we say: enough with thoughts and prayers. Do something. Together we say: Our children will not be sacrifices on the altar of money and political clout Do something. Together we say: Not one more. Not one single, precious, holy life more.
This commentary is based on a speech given at the March for our Lives rally in Basalt on March 24.