With each passing year we pause to celebrate birthdays, anniversaries, and special events with our families and friends. But for those who have been affected by violence, these special days are filled with grief, loss, and traumatic memories. In Jewish tradition, we emphasize the sanctity and primary value of human life. In fact, the Talmud teaches us, “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.”
A few weeks ago, I attended an emotionally moving and informational meeting at a Church not too far away; but far enough away that my family and Congregation are not personally affected by the violence in that community. Just because I don't mourn the loss of a family member or friend to community violence, doesn't mean I don't mourn the loss of an individual taken by it. As a friend and activist colleague said so eloquently, "You don't need to lose a child, to know the grief of losing a child."
Our congregation belongs to People Acting in Community Together (PACT), a faith-based organization that facilitates grass roots organizing among its members. The PACT organizing model encourages relationship building between community members by means of conversations about personal experiences or concerns related to community problems. Through this process we are able to develop a deeper understanding of these issues, and support for related change.
At this particular meeting, we had an in depth discussion of the spiritual challenges that community violence causes. Themes of caring for individuals in our communities, hopefulness that our children can play outside safely, anger at the lack of government response to violence, and the normalization of violence, were carried through the discussion.
Does every life matter? Does the life of the child whose mother shared her story of loss and grief matter? Are all our lives sacred, or are just a few of our lives sacred? This is the spiritual challenge that we face. How can we continue to allow evil and injustice to reign over truth? Lies that black men are "thugs;" that young people of color are "inherently violent;" that children belong to gangs because their families don't care about them, only serve to perpetuate and justify violence.
What is the truth that we want to promote? That incarceration doesn't heal a community, but healing makes a community safer.
That redemption is real if we are given the right kind of support.
That children need love in their lives, and through this, a child may learn what it is to be an adult.
That dividing families based on country of birth is harmful, but engaging the whole family is healing.
That money made on the sales of guns and ammunition is blood money.
That all communities matter.
That each of us feels the pain of another mother who has lost yet another child.
There is power in organizing ideas. Sharing story after story with people who are directly and indirectly affected by violence is a powerful way to organize the truth. We can begin to understand the patterns and themes of violence, of the groups most involved, and the neighborhoods most afflicted by collaborating between faith leaders and community members most impacted. We match those at risk, and those in harms way, with service providers of all types, and law enforcement.
We stabilize the violence, and then we address the poverty associated with it. We create policies that invest in people living instead of people dying.
Together, we walk through our community.
With unity among PACT members of different faiths, we left with a deeper understanding of the narratives that perpetuate violence, and the power of organizing for social justice.
Kitchen Table Kibitzing is a community series for those who wish to share part of the evening around a virtual kitchen table with kossacks who are caring and supportive of one another. So bring your stories, jokes, photos, funny pics, music, and interesting videos, as well as links—including quotations—to diaries, news stories, and books that you think this community would appreciate. Readers may notice that most who post diaries and comments in this series already know one another to some degree, but newcomers should not feel excluded. We welcome guests at our kitchen table, and hope to make some new friends as well.