This past Sunday, alongside representatives of my Congregation, IKAR, I had the opportunity to attend a Sabbath against Gun Violence at The City of Refuge in Gardena, CA – a massive 17,000 member church.
This service was part of a greater network of worship across the nation joining the National Cathedral, PICO and Faiths United to Prevent Gun Violence, a coalition of nearly 50 denominations and faith-based organizations, to focus on the issue of gun violence. In addition to Senior Pastor Noel Jones, in attendance, and speaking were Margot Bennet, Executive Director, Women Against Gun Violence, Wendy Greuel, Los Angeles City Controller and current Mayoral Candidate, Assemblyman, Michael Feuer, Talk show host, Tavis Smiley, Rabbi Sharon Brous of Ikar, and Zachary Hoover, Executive Director of LA Voice and Pico.
This was my first experience attending a Sunday church service. Not that this should be strange as I have hardly attended Jewish services the bulk of my life, feeling disconnected. Fortunately I have found a connection at IKAR which has traditional Jewish rituals and practices and is committed to social justice and a consciousness that we are a part of a greater community.
This resonated with me at the event as each member of our entire group were welcomed guests at this church. Everywhere I turned, I was greeted with a huge smile, or a “God bless”. At one point, I stepped out of the service, and when I returned, everyone was standing and holding hands. I was trying to navigate back to my seat when a woman grabbed my hand and beckoned, “come and pray with us”. Suddenly I was sandwiched between two strangers and felt overwhelmed by the power of standing together with people squeezing my hand.
At one point in the service, Bishop Noel Jones asked people to stand up who had been directly impacted by Gun Violence. The amount of people standing was staggering. Aside from our share of sporadic hate crimes, gun violence has not wreaked havoc on the Jewish community as it has on others. Rabbi Sharon Brous underscored this when addressing The City of Refuge. “There is a gross and disturbing disparity of gun violence in Los Angeles, deeming some neighborhoods safe, and others too dangerous to walk in. It could seem like we are living in different worlds, but we are here today to say we are all in this together”. An enormous roar shook the church in agreement.
I recently listened to a series on This American Life which follows Harper High School in Chicago. An archive of this two part episode can be found here. Last year alone, 29 current and recent students were shot. A High School social worker asks a teen male on the first day of school, “How was your summer”. He responds, “safe”. She says, softly, “that means something to me. I am glad it was safe”. We want our teens to be refreshed from the summer and say things like, “I saved up for a car”, or “I got promoted at my job”, I finished all my summer reading”, “I visited colleges”. Safe – although positive- should not be a description for summer.
It is clear the only way to put an end to this non sensical violence is by coalition building. Personally, I was uplifted to stretch beyond my own comfort zone, and attend another’s faith services.
Not only did it open my eyes that we are all essentially praying about the same thing, but that we cannot move forward in building a more peaceful nation without working together and understanding each other’s communities.
Deborah Gitell is a Marketing Executive in Los Angeles and an Alum of Boston University.