From the Desk of CEO Judy Halper: May 2019
Halper: JFCS, JCRC and NCJW hold program addressing gun violence
With hope and purpose, Jewish Family and Children’s Service of Minneapolis (JFCS) joined together this month with the Jewish Community Relations Council of Minnesota and the Dakotas (JCRC) and the National Council of Jewish Women-MN (NCJW) to offer a program addressing gun violence. The title of the program was, “Trauma, Security and Faith: Jewish Perspectives” and featured panelists from law enforcement, local Jewish clergy, and a therapist from the JFCS Counseling department.
Sadly, we all know the timeliness of this program, given the amount of deadly violence we have been witnessing on an almost daily basis. A heightened sense of vulnerability seemed to be on the minds of the 80 participants, in part due to schools and places of worship – places that should be innately safe – as the sites of terrible tragedy in recent days.
Many important messages were offered by the panelists, as well as by the facilitator, a young man personally affected by gun violence. One important message was the misperception that gun violence is usually perpetrated by an individual with mental illness. Sadly, this characterization that people living with mental illness are often violent perpetuates a myth that is both false and unfair. Data about gun violence tells a very different story. It is well documented that people who commit gun violence are typically unpredictable. The confluence of gun violence and mental illness, when it does exist, is unfortunately reflected in suicide statistics. In fact, people with mental illness who have access to guns and experience suicidal feelings are far more at risk to themselves than to others.
The main message offered by the panelists is that we must learn to live with greater awareness and vigilance. We must learn to live with fear, not so it prevents us from living our lives, but so we can be prepared to act (run, hide, fight) should the need arise. Practicing these actions and talking about the feelings we experience in doing so will help to normalize this reality and help keep ourselves and others safer.
Without a doubt, this subject is a difficult one. We are increasingly aware that gun violence is present in all our communities. My takeaway from the program is that people are not feeling hopeless. In fact, there is an increased desire to take action. Understanding mental illness, increasing our awareness of how to respond to potential danger, and working towards public safety is all our responsibility. We can all agree that safer communities benefits all of us.