April 2007

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News and Opinion
Members of the Jewish and Presbyterian communities remember the gun violence victims of 2007 in a solemn candle-lit vigil.
Interfaith Initiative Against Guns

-- Julie Levitt

Recently, the Jewish Community Relations Council joined forces with a community-based inter-faith initiative to "Stop Gun Violence Through Peace, Action & Education" (PEA) to remember those who in 2007 have died from gun fire in Philadelphia, Montgomery, Delaware, and Chester Counties. In a solemn weekly vigil at Bryn Mawr Presbyterian Church every Sunday night at dusk, one candle is lit for each victim of gun violence.

Much to our deep regret, the number of dead has now risen past 80.

Over the weeks many different faith group have joined the vigit at Bryn Mawr Presbyterian Church, and Sunday, February 18 was the turn for the JCRC to speak out. Some of the community leaders in attendence included:

  • Rev. William Arnold of Bryn Mawr Presbyterian Church,
  • Rabbi David Strauss of Main Line Reform Temple,
  • Burt Siegel, Executive Director of the JCRC and board member of JSPAN,
  • Julie Levitt of the Jewish Community Relations Council,
  • Vicki English of St. Thomas of Villanova,
  • Diane Edbril of CeaseFire PA, and
  • Lynne Glasser, Director of the Main Line/Delaware County and Chester County Regions of the JCRC.

Julie Levitt set the tone with her sincere prayer. The Talmud (Tractate Sanhedrin) notes that saving a single life is equivalent to saving the world. If by drawing attention to this important issue, we can save a single life, then those present felt the whole effort was worthwhile.

The PEA was initiated in spring of 2006 by Clare Mackie, Bryan Miller, and Phoebe Sheftel, members of the Peace Making Task Force of Bryn Mawr Presbyterian Church in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania. Bryan Miller is the executive director of the gun violence prevention group Ceasefire New Jersey. Mackie, Miller, and Sheftel believed that the senseless deaths of city children,youths, and adults from the fire of illegal hand guns warranted attention by people living in the suburbs. The church task force agreed that the matter ofviolence in Philadelphia is a tremendously daunting issue, brought on by many circumstances, among them:family disorganization, lack of safety in neighborhoods, economic disadvantage,educational problems, and sheer crowding. The group saw that there was one clear way to work on the problem of city violence, an important step to support, and that was by tackling the trafficking of illegal guns in Philadelphia through legislation designed to prevent easy purchase of hand guns. Legislation designed to limit the number of purchases to one handgun a month in Pennsylvania would save lives in our Commonwealth. Moreover, such legislation would curb the purchasing of illegal guns for use in nearby states. Unfortunately, Philadelphia allows a purchaser to buy an unlimitted number of guns every day of the month which has provided an opportunity for purchasers from states surrounding us to take advantage of our less rigorous laws.

Because the task force believed that suburban communities must join their city brothers and sisters in the effort to make communities,schools, and neighborhoods everywhere safer places to be, the Peace Making Task Force of Bryn Mawr Presbyterian Church decided that the gun safety issue was one that should be taken on not only their church but by all concerned residents of the Main Line area. Accordingly, the task force reached out to Main Line clergy of various faiths and denominations. What resulted in the fall of 2006 was the formation of an interfaith steering committee that included members of Bryn Mawr Presbyterian Church in addition tomembers of Our Mother of Good Counsel, Church of the Redeemer, St. Thomas Villanova, the Jewish Community Relations Council of Federation (JCRC), CeaseFire PA, and Cease Fire NJ .

In addition to the weekly vigil, the coalition, Prayer, Education & Action (PEA) - A Community-Based Interfaith Initiative, is organizing a conference, on May 20 from 2-5 PM at the church designed to inform the community about the steps that can lessen violence. The event will begin with a short interfaith service where Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, and Moslem clergy will come together to pray for community unity and inspiration in tackling this problem. This will be followed by educational workshops designed to look at the problems associated withviolence and the solutions, including legislation. Teaching workshops willinclude among other offerings how to resolve conflict, including among children, how to compose opinion pieces for publication, and how to move legislators into action. The three hour program will end with each participant receiving a “tool kit” for helping determine the next steps, and a letter writing session to craft letters to our local State House and Senate members.

 All are welcome to join the weekly vigils on Sunday nights in front of the Bryn Mawr Presbyterian Church, 525 Montgomery Avenue in Bryn Mawr, PA. For the beginning time of PEA's weekly vigil, call the Bryn Mawr Presbyterian Church at 610-525-2821.

Also, please plan on attending our Prayer, Education & Action event on Sunday, May 20th.                     For further questions, call Julie Levitt, from the JCRC, at 610-664-3990 or email her at Julie.levitt@verizon.net.

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