(Editor’s note: This article was originally published in November, 2018 after the synagogue murders in Pittsburgh, it is being re-published in response to the April 27 synagogue shooting in Poway, California.)
For me, Shabbat services at my synagogue have always been a time of restive contemplation. Time to do some healthy introspection, connect with my community, to be a part of something greater than myself.
But lately I’ve been having other thoughts. I can’t recall a single Saturday morning service where I haven’t asked myself: What if it happens right now?
Will I be brave and charge the intruder? Organize resistance among the worshippers? Selflessly help others evacuate? Or will I run out in panic, trampling over my fellow congregants, heedless of their terrified screams? At the sound of gunfire, will my thin veneer of morality be stripped to the primitive core impulse of self-preservation, fueled by the adrenaline of terror and evolutionary forces eons older than the religious tradition whose tenets I had been proclaiming only seconds ago?
The truth is, I don’t know what I’ll do if some armed whack job storms in to my synagogue and starts killing Jews. That’s why armed whack jobs pick synagogues. To kill Jews.
I do know this: Colorado is a concealed carry state. I also know this: Some of my fellow worshippers pack heat.
Guns and religion together make people nervous. That’s healthy. Weapons and faith have too often combined to create, as a wise friend once said, “oceans and oceans of blood”.
Then again, Robert Bowers happily mixed religion and weapons. His social media posts included Bible verses and his “family” of guns. Given the existence of people like him, what should we do?
Yes, we should work to fight hate. Yes, while it’s clear Bowers did not support Trump, the election of our current president and the increasing boldness of right-wing hate groups cannot be dismissed as mere coincidence. Yes, we can do more to keep guns out of the hands of people who shouldn’t have them. Yes, we can plant seeds of love, hope, and compassion in the world. Yes, we can work together to make a better world for our children. These are all good things. Let’s do them.
But can’t we also defend ourselves?
That’s why we need concealed Colt-carrying congregants. Don’t act so shocked. For all you know, your congregation may already have them.
If you aren’t comfortable packing, or you haven’t been trained in the use of firearms, then for God’s sake don’t carry one. If you don’t like seeing guns while you’re praying, don’t worry; it’s “concealed carry”. I attend services where at any time two to a dozen or more congregants are packing heat. I’ve never seen them use their weapons. Hopefully I never will. But I’m glad to know they’re around.
I’m so glad they’re around, I want to share the Good News with some very special people. I’m thinking of anyone who thinks Jews are the source of all evil in the world, that we are Christ killers, that we put the blood of Christian children in our matzah, or that we control the media. (FYI, I’m still waiting for my stock options.)
After I heard the news from Pittsburgh, I had a vision about Jews packing heat. It’s a wild idea, but hear me out.
Imagine a Star of David. Now imagine “JPH” in the center. Imagine a sign, nothing big, nothing obtrusive or provocative, just big enough to be seen by anyone coming through the door.
What if the JPH star was as common as “All welcome here”, “House of peace”, “Tikkun Olam every day”, or any of the hundreds of well-meaning platitudes that adorn the doors of synagogues everywhere. No reason why a synagogue couldn’t display both. Personally, that’d be my kind of place.
In the past twenty years, there have been almost fifty anti-Semitic attacks on Jewish houses of worship and organizations. According to the most recent FBI data, half of all religious hate crimes are against Jews. According to the Anti-Defamation League, anti-Semitic incidents were up 35% in 2016, then up by 57% again in 2017. Still unsure of how bad it is? Let me show you my inbox after this column runs.
A JPH star would say something special, something missing from most temples today. It would say “We who worship here are tired of being passive targets of senseless brutality. We value Torah, deeds of loving kindness, and peace. We also value our lives. We will defend them.”
Perhaps, now more than ever, this is something the world needs to hear.
Barry Fagin is a Senior Fellow at the Independence Institute, a free market think tank in Denver. You can can write him at firstname.lastname@example.org.