A Note From Our Rabbis: The March for Our Lives and Shabbat – March 24

By Rabbi Neil Sandler and Rabbi Laurence Rosenthal

March 14, 2018
27 Adar 5778

Dear Friends,

Since the horrifying act of gun violence at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida last month we have watched as many people in our nation have come together to demand changes in laws and procedures that, God willing, will meaningfully reduce the number of acts of gun violence in our country. In significant measure, we have been inspired by the youth of this country, among them first and foremost, students from Stoneman Douglas High School.

As many of you know, young people and others from around our nation will gather in Washington, DC on Saturday, March 24 for a “March for Our Lives.” They will include teenagers from around the country who will march with the blessings of United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism (USCJ) under the USY youth group banner. Here in Atlanta and in numerous other communities, people will gather the same day in parallel rallies. We applaud those who demand change, wish them success and will be with them in spirit that Shabbat.

As we have said, we believe that gun violence in America is a spiritual problem as well as an issue that involves many other realms. For America to effectively deal with the issue of gun violence, a multitude of agencies, organizations and communities need to come together to offer their special expertise and support. However spiritual activism demands that we add a spiritual dimension when we choose to march and raise our voices in protest. The challenge that the March 24th marches pose is this: How do we celebrate Shabbat and create that sacred space when public demonstrations coincide with Shabbat?

We know that some will march on Saturday, March 24th with the idea that “pikuach nefesh” (saving a life) takes precedence over the celebration of Shabbat. In other words, a person will choose the march over, and to the exclusion of, Shabbat. We see things differently. We believe that spiritual practice isn’t an all or nothing proposition. If you are traveling to Washington, DC for the rally and would appreciate Shabbat hospitality we will, through the helpful support of USCJ and local Conservative congregations, happily facilitate such hospitality for you.

But whether or not you will attend the March for Our Lives in Washington or Atlanta or will spend Shabbat as you usually do, we ask, please, that you find one additional way to practice spiritual activism reflective of the marches’ purpose. For some of you, it may be a relevant discussion with family or friends at your Shabbat table. For others, it may be the offering of a special prayer. Perhaps it could be learning a traditional Jewish text or two, available here. This text sheet was prepared by leadership from the Atlanta Rabbinical Association (ARA) of which Rabbi Rosenthal serves as Vice President.

As one important means to encourage as many of you as possible to bring a spiritual dimension from our tradition to this Shabbat coinciding with the “March for Our Lives,” we hope you will join us on Saturday evening, March 24 to learn together. Here is the schedule:

6:15 pm – Shabbat Mincha Service
6:45 pm – Seudah Sheleesheet (Final Shabbat meal) and Text Study
7:55 pm – Ma’ariv and Havdallah
8:20 pm – Conclusion

Finally, we offer an invitation for you to consider. A group of AA congregants is forming around the issue of gun violence. These people feel that we, as Jews and as a spiritual community, have a role to play in seeking to lessen the occurrence of gun violence in America and thereby mend a piece of brokenness in our world. Would you like to be part of this group? If so, please send a note to Rabbi Sandler at nsandler@aasynagogue.org.

May our efforts join with reparative acts of Kiddush Hashem of other people throughout our country in order to create a safer world and sanctify God’s presence in our midst.