When Murder Becomes Personal-Time for a Bullet Tax

The never ending string of random murders just keeps on growing, leaving us with innocent dead victims and grieving friends and family. Just last week, one of these tragedies became a little more personal for me.

As I was leaving a great concert put on by Elvis Costello & the Imposters, I checked my phone, and noticed an alert that a gunman had opened fire in a movie theater in Lafayette, Louisiana, and killed 2 people, injuring 9 others. In the lobby, after the show, I bumped into Wisconsin State Rep. Terese Berceau, who is a friend of mine, and she asked if I had heard about the mass murder. My pathetic response was that it was not a mass murder since only 2 people had died. We both bemoaned the sad fact that it seems impossible for state legislators or Congress to control the ever spiraling number of murders through effective gun control.

The next day, I noted this on my friend Alan Coulter’s Facebook feed,

This was an unimaginable tragedy. The loss of our precious, beautiful Mayci Breaux saddens the hearts of our entire family. Thanks everyone for your kind words and sympathies.

Here she is pictured with her boyfriend, Matthew Rodriguez, breaux25n-2-web

whom she planned on marrying, and who was wounded in the theater shooting.

Since, my friendship with Alan is mostly professional and I have not met his whole family, and since he lives in New Orleans, my immediate thought was that Mayci Breaux, one of the two murdered women in that theater, was a family member of his. So, in addition to expressing my sympathy to Alan, I asked, and it turns out that Alan was her great uncle, and they were getting ready to travel to a large family reunion in the near future.

I did not know Mayci Breaux, although everything I have read about her suggests that she was a wonderful young woman with a bright future ahead of her, that was snuffed out by a bullet.

After the Sandy Hook Elementary school massacre, I put out a call to repeal the Second Amendment. While I knew it was unlikely that our nation could move that far, I truly, and it turns out naively, believed that the massacre of 20 young school children and 6 school staff would finally turn our nation towards effective gun control. Sadly, that did not happen.

For a long time, since then, out of frustration, I gave up on  the ability of our state and federal governing officials to engage in effective gun control. But the murder of Mayci Breaux reminded me that it is not in my DNA to give up when something is as important as stopping the rampant daily murder of innocent people in our nation. Indeed, it brought to mind the lesson my mother taught me during the Vietnam war, when every Friday, the nightly news would announce the body count of dead, wounded and missing in action. Then, since I lived in Detroit, the local news would follow with the weekly and annual murder count. My mother wisely taught me that the numbers numbed us into forgetting that each one of these deaths was of a real human being who left behind loved ones.

In the spirt of not giving up, and since my business is Systems Change, it dawned on me that since our nation seems incapable of controlling guns, perhaps the better route is to treat guns and bullets like we treat cigarettes, another legal vice, by raising the taxes on them significantly. After all, raising taxes on cigarettes has proven to be an effective method to reduce smoking, especially among youth and low-income people. Best of all, the 2nd Amendment does not prohibit taxing weapons.

As I did some research on this issue, I discovered that a bullet tax has been proposed before. The late, great Sen. Patrick Moynihan proposed one. In 2013, the California Assembly considered, but did not pass a bullet tax. The fact that these two proposal did not pass, does not mean that they cannot pass, so today, I challenge Congress and every state legislature to institute a bullet tax so high that our nation  finally ends the ever rising spiral of senseless murder that brings new tragedy to new victims every single day.

We cannot afford to give up on effective gun control. Not if we hope to avoid more tragedies like the murder of Mayci Breaux.

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For more information on how I can help you accomplish effective, progressive systems change contact Jeff Spitzer-Resnick by visiting his website: Systems Change Consulting.

Friendship Over Decades and Distance

Thirty-six years ago, after graduating from college, my wanderlust took me to Europe, North Africa, and by the winter of 1979-80, I arrived at Kibbutz Ein Gev on the eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee, where I spent the next 4 1/2 months as a volunteer. I chose Ein Gev because I had cousins, Pelon and Eli Leventhal, who lived there, and I felt confident that I would be welcomed.

Ein Gev pic

What I did not expect was that the vast majority of volunteers were European non-Jews. They came for many reasons, ranging from support of Israel, support of the socialist ideal as manifested on Israeli kibbutzim, or simply as a relatively inexpensive adventure.

Even more surprising was that, living in close quarters with like minded young adults created an atmosphere, where despite our vastly different upbringings, a few of us formed deep and lasting friendships that have lasted for 36 years, and now include spouses and children.

But making friends, and keeping them are 2 different things. Keeping friends over so many years and such a long distance takes work. It takes communicating, which in the early years was mainly through letters, and over the years, has expanded to phone, e-mail and Facebook. However, friends who never see each other can have a hard time remaining friends. So, during these many years, I have made a concerted effort to gather together with some of these dear friends.

Earlier this month, a few of us had a small reunion in Rouen, France where one friend, Jeanmarie Daburon, lives. As Jeanmarie spent more time at Ein Gev over a period of years, he also invited some of his friends whom I did not know. While I originally had some concern about how these two sets of friends would get along, once we met, and shared our common stories of kibbutz life and how life has transpired in these many years since those days long ago, we found much in common and made new friends with each other. When I saw my German friend Sybille, for the first time in 33 years since she met my wife Sheryl and I in Paris during our honeymoon, we gave each other a deep hug of friendship, that I will never forget.

IMG_2705 Here is Jeanmarie enjoying a good cup of French coffee with my wife Sheryl.

After shopping in the lovely outdoor Farmer’s Market in Rouen, Jeanmarie led us to his cousin’s country home in Jumierges, where we enjoyed an idyllic French picnic and looked at Sybille’s old pictures of kibbutz days and shared many stories.

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During our last night in Rouen, we gathered for dinner and asked ourselves how we had maintained our friendships for so many years. My answer was simple. “It takes work,” I said. Friendship doesn’t just happen. Friends work to maintain the shared commitment to each other’s lives that results in a meaningful relationship that can survive decades and distance.

This shared commitment was especially evident through the generosity of our English friends, Alistair and Debbie Schofield, whom we have travelled with many times, to each other’s homes, and elsewhere including in New York, Paris, and Egypt. This time, Alistair and Debbie asked my wife Sheryl and I if we would like to drive down to the French Alps, after the reunion, as they have a friend with a small apartment there who lets them stay there for free! We jumped at the opportunity, not only because hiking, biking and relaxing in the French Alps was a truly wonderful idea, but because it gave us yet another chance to deepen our longstanding friendship with Deb and Alistair. Indeed, it was a wonderful week to spend with such dear friends.

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Now, we’re home and back to work, but we returned home knowing that we did the very pleasurable work so necessary in maintaining these special friendships for many decades to come. I feel blessed to have such dear friends over so many years and such a long distance and I look forward to maintaining these friendships for the rest of our lives.

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For more information on how I can help you accomplish effective, progressive systems change contact Jeff Spitzer-Resnick by visiting his website: Systems Change Consulting.

And then… a Community Comes of Age

I have had the good fortune to be a founding member of my synagogue, Shaarei Shamayim (Gates of Heaven), an inclusive Jewish community, affiliated with both the Reconstructionist and Renewal movements. This past weekend, Shaarei Shamayim held a weekend long siyyum to celebrate both our 25th anniversary and to welcome and complete a rare Torah, written by a woman, Yonah Lavery-Yisraeli. On Sunday, about 150 members, friends, and others who gathered to join in this historic event.

completing torah

As I am once again (for the 4th time) serving as President of Shaarei Shamayim, I was called upon to give some remarks on Sunday, and though I do not write speeches, this is a version of what I told our community that lovely afternoon.

Early in Shaarei Shamayim’s history, when we were a small group of volunteers without a rabbi or any other staff, I coined the phrase, “We are what we do.” At that time, I used that phrase because I do not believe in guilt tripping people to do things. That rarely turns out well. Since we were small, it was important to remind ourselves that we did not have to do everything, and we would be viewed and judged based on what we actually did. I recall one year when nobody would volunteer to coordinate a Chanukah party. Rather than guilt trip others to do this, I simply reminded everyone that in that year, part of who we were included not holding a Chanukah party. It was not tragic, and here we are many years later, having survived quite fine without that particular Chanukah party.

But look at us now. Indeed, “we are what we do.” At 25 years old, we are a well established inclusive Jewish congregation, that has gathered to welcome not only a rare Torah written by a woman, but a beautiful new ark, crafted by our wonderful carpenter/craftsman and member Zaccai Lewis.

new css ark

As someone who spends a lot of time helping to develop organizations, I believe that organizations often develop along a human life span through infancy, adolescence and adulthood. At 25 years old, Shaarei Shamayim is now a well established young adult, respected in our community, and thus able to attract the generous funding of the Goodman Foundation to help pay for our new Torah and ark. Of course, we could not have accomplished this without the help of so many people along the way including Jackie Kaplan, who invited my wife Sheryl and I to the first meeting to consider establishing our synagogue, as well as Hava Kohl-Riggs and Roseanne Clark, who convened that meeting and are the true founders of Shaarei Shamayim. Many others, too numerous to mention, enabled us to reach this moment.

As Shaarei Shamayim has developed into a strong, vibrant, and inclusive Jewish community, I have learned that while we continue to hold our values dear, some of our practices have changed over the years and I have learned to let some of them go. To close then, I offer a beautiful poem by Judy Chicago that we used to read during our services, but seems fitting today.

And then all that has divided us will merge

And then compassion will be wedded to power

And then softness will come to a world that is harsh and unkind

And then both men and women will be gentle

And then both women and men will be strong

And then no person will be subject to another’s will

And then all will be rich and free and varied

And then the greed of some will give way to the needs of many

And then all will share equally in the Earth’s abundance

And then all will care for the sick and the weak and the old

And then all will nourish the young

And then all will cherish life’s creatures

And then all will live in harmony with each other and the Earth

And then everywhere will be called Eden once again.

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For more information on how I can help you accomplish effective, progressive systems change contact Jeff Spitzer-Resnick by visiting his website: Systems Change Consulting.