This past December, rabbis from the New Jersey cohort of the Clergy Fellowship partnered with Jersey City Together on a major call to action which brought more than 500 people, including Jersey City’s Mayor Steven M. Fulp, to a Baptist church.
Jersey City Together, a nonpartisan organization consisting of 35 religious congregations and nonprofits, coordinated the interfaith action which took place at New Missionary Baptist Church and sought to urge elected officials to move quickly on finding solutions to the lack of affordable housing and gun violence in the city and around the state.
The action also created an opportunity for many to speak about the immediate and long term challenges facing city residents. Rabbi Elliott Tepperman, a current Clergy Fellow, spoke on strategies for addressing gun violence and about what happens when our leaders fail to show up.
Rabbi Elliott Tepperman proclaimed, “Congress is not the only path to change. We have our own leverage. When we started the Do Not Stand By Idly campaign we discovered that forty percent of the guns sold in America are bought with our tax dollars.”
Do Not Stand By Idly is an interfaith network of individuals and groups working for social change. Their work also revealed that the US military buys about 25% of the guns with law enforcement participating in another 15% of the purchases.
“With New Jersey Together taking the lead,” Rabbi Elliott continued, “we gathered 130 mayors from across this country and we said we are going to demand accountability from the gunmakers, and together we demanded simple things like investing in gun safety, smart gun technology, and refusing to distribute guns to gun shops whose guns are disproportionately used in crimes. These are small measures, and with or without Congress they will save thousands of lives per year.”
Listen to Rabbi Elliot’s entire call to action here.
Rabbi Faith Joy Dantowitz, also a Clergy Fellow, closed the meeting with prayer as participants ignited electric candles to signify the hope that comes with organizing for change, and to commemorate the last night of Hanukkah. The rabbis brought 25 members of their congregations with them. Before the action, JOIN trained the congregants to understand the distinction between the action and rallies that they were more used to. Simply put, actions demand specific changes on a specific issue while rallies make a statement and focus on changing the narrative in the public sphere.
Since the action, Jersey City Together, Christian leaders, and JOIN’s New Jersey rabbinic cohort met earlier this month with Governor Philip Dunton Murphy and Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal to press them to release state data that reveals which brands of illegal guns are mostly used in violent crimes. This information will be key to working side-by-side with the interfaith coalition to hold gun manufacturers accountable for irresponsible distribution practices.
The meeting with Attorney General Grewel would not have been possible if Rabbi Jen Schlosberg — who learned how to organize through her involvement in the JOIN Clergy Fellowship — did not take the Attorney General up on his offer to meet, following her vigil for the Pittsburgh tragedy in November of last year. Rabbi Jen nimbly led the pursuit and was responsible for securing the meeting between the Attorney General and Jersey City Together.
We are so proud of the work our Clergy Fellows are doing to lift up social justice in prayer and in reality.