Politics and religion were intermingled during Friday night Shabbat services in Santa Monica on Jan. 14. In the wake of the shooting of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords in Tucson, Ariz., which also left six dead and 13 others wounded, clergy and congregants at the Reform synagogue Beth Shir Shalom addressed the need for gun control.
The service also commemorated Martin Luther King Jr. Day and mourned performer and composer Debbie Friedman, who died on Jan. 9 at the age of 59.
Yet the Tucson shooting remained the focus of the Santa Monica service, which approximately 200 people attended. Rabbi Neil Comess-Daniels spoke fervently, saying, “I can’t tolerate a country that doesn’t take weaponry off the street.”
Echoing Comess-Daniels’ call for change in gun laws, Suzanne Verge, president of the Los Angeles Chapter of the Brady Campaign to End Gun Violence, urged the gathering to write letters to U.S. Sens. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) to call for responsible gun legislation.
Verge told the audience that she lost her brother to gun violence in Santa Monica when he was 15.
Members of the Christian community also took part in the discussion, including Ryan Bell, senior pastor of the Hollywood Seventh-day Adventist Church, and the Rev. Herman Kemp, a chaplain at the Veterans Administration.
Kemp, addressing the crowd with an impassioned, melodic voice, said, “Today, 43 years after the death of Martin Luther King, we’re still struggling. Where’s the peace?”
“The true peace is here,” he said, “but we have to decide how to live up to peace.”
The temple’s band, The Tishtones, and a choir led the crowd in singing Friedman’s “Mi Shebeirach” and a melodic version of “Salaam,” which segued into Bob Marley’s “One Love” — appropriate for Beth Shir Shalom, which identifies as a progressive congregation where music figures prominently in services.