All your questions for Naomi Adler, Esq., answered! This week’s question:
You don’t normally go to marches or protests. Why did you attend March for Our Lives?
I wrestled with two issues before attending March for Our Lives. One, if I don’t normally march, why attend a march focused on this issue in particular? And two, would it be appropriate to attend a march on Shabbat? In the end, my answer to both was bound up in the same principle: the Jewish emphasis on Pikuach nefesh, the preservation of life, and that the saving of a life takes priority over everything else.
The Mishnah says, “Whoever destroys a soul, it is considered as if he destroyed an entire world. And whoever saves a life, it is considered as if he saved an entire world.” One of my earliest memories is learning that concept as a toddler; my parents told it to me while we were planting a tree. It’s a powerful message, that to be a Jew you are committed to protecting people’s lives. And yet on the issue of gun violence in America, we have seen so many lives senselessly cut short, so many worlds destroyed — and we have watched it happen again and again. This is not a partisan matter. This is a matter of life and death, a lifesaving emergency of the highest order.
The great scholar and civil rights activist Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel once said, “When I marched in Selma, I felt my legs were praying.” On this issue, I felt it was important to do the same.
On my way to the march, I first went to Shabbat services at nearby Society Hill Synagogue, which our Jewish Community Relations Council had promoted as a way to both acknowledge Shabbat and be able to walk to the march site. A meditative service led by Rabbi Avi Winokur and Chazzan Jessi Roemer was further enhanced by the participation of teenagers from Camp Galil, who shared their thoughts on the urgency of preventing further tragedy: Each was aware that the next shooting could very well take place at their own schools. I reflected on how moving it was to see our young generation take ownership of this issue — including a contingent of Orthodox students who had gone to Washington, D.C. and stayed in a hotel within the eruv so as to participate. As many commentators from the Jewish world have observed, the messaging around this march was not around one political party or another, but rather about facilitating community discussion and ensuring our collective safety.
To publicly proclaim our values in one united voice is a powerful experience. And as I walked in March for Our Lives, I was reminded for a moment of our own rally on Independence Mall last year, Stand Against Hate. I thought about just how much our combined voices can accomplish to build community and effect change. And I felt hopeful.