Sunday, October 21, 2023, 1:07 PM EST…
“Hi. Is this Gil Bloom?”
“Yes it is. Who is this please?”
“My name is Reuven X. I was told by my friend Shimon that you were the ‘AR-15 Rebbe of Boca Raton’ *nervous laugh*. I’m hoping you can help me….”
Well, this was a new one. My first kollel guy looking to build an AR. I was used to being solicited for advice regarding firearms occasionally, but this week, there was a serious uptick in interest in guns from the Boca Jewish community. I usually go to my local range for “lead therapy” every other week, just to stay fresh and to decompress from a hectic work/life balance. In the past two weeks, I’d been to the range six times, and only once for myself. The remaining five times were to familiarize or practice with others.
How did we get here?
Well, OK, reader, I think it’s time we finally sat down and talked about Jews…. and guns.
Specifically, let’s talk about why I, a suburban Orthodox Jewish professional with zero military training, want to even broach this subject with you. I mean, for one thing, I feel firearm ownership is a private and personal matter. It’s generally not a conversation I initiate with others, unless I’m given a prompt that the other person wants to discuss the topic. Additionally, I’m aware of the politics, and the emotions associated with the topic of firearms, and I respect that; I fully admit that there is an epidemic of gun crime in this country. I also think that we can have this discussion without emotions or politics hampering our conversation. But while we may not want to discuss guns, I think we may need to do so, because, like it or not, they’re becoming a greater part of the Jewish American landscape.
Growing up in an upper middle class Massachusetts town, my exposure to firearms was limited, for a few reasons: 1. obtaining a concealed carry permit is difficult there, 2. the political climate is not a comfortable one regarding firearms ownership, and 3. The town in which I lived annually makes it on the top 10 safest places to reside in the good old US of A, so there was really little need to exercise your Second Amendment Right there. As a result, my environment was not one that was conducive to open discussion of the topic, and if a visitor from a more conservative locale ever broached the subject, listeners’ foreheads would scrunch up as if they had detected a foul odor. And then the tragedy at Columbine happened, and Sandy Hook, and Aurora, and Orlando, and the topic of firearms transitioned from a mild faux pas to an absolute anathema.
But despite all of this adversity and the backdrop of abject tragedy, I always knew that, if given the opportunity, I would eventually own a firearm. You see, I am the grandchild of survivors, and despite the generational divide, their story became a part of my psyche, woven into my mental fabric. My zaide, and my mother afterwards, made sure of this. My Zaide Chaim and Bubbie Baila, may their memories be for a blessing, were from prosperous, bucolic towns in Lithuania. Their young adulthood was a cultured one, vibrant, and family-centric, and then that world was obliterated by the Holocaust. To this day, I can envision the Nazis’ invasion of the Lithuanian hamlet of Gorzd and how they goaded the Jews’ Lithuanian neighbors into executing their fellow Jewish countrymen at the edge of a mass grave prepared by the victims themselves: men, women and children.
This, a report submitted by an eyewitness to the German Court during the Nazi Criminal Trials:
Most accepted their fate with tranquility – a few wept silently…When it became apparent to them that they would not succeed in their pleas, they all accepted their bitter fate… Some of the murderers were unable to bear the horror of the blood massacre but the German commander compelled others to take their place, amongst them city policemen from Memel. These policemen were recognized by the Gorzd Jews who had previously been residents amongst them… A. Feinstein recognized amongst the murderers the policeman Knofes from Memel who, many years before, had been his friend and neighbour and who now stood opposite him with his rifle pointed towards him.
In my Zaide’s words:
“Those Jews who had the courage to resist were shot on the spot by the murderers. It only took a couple of days and our beloved home was annihilated. We were the only survivors.”
My then-young grandparents and many others had fled to the forests during the fighting, and after a harrowing, long, and arduous journey, they eventually arrived in the United States to rebuild their legacy from the ashes; but they made it one of their lives’ missions to imprint into every subsequent generation: NEVER AGAIN.
And yet — it happened again.
~ Typing this, I freeze, reading my own words, and they dissolve into the saline tears of my disbelief. I’ve cried more in the past two weeks than perhaps ever in my adulthood ~
I mean, this is 2023. We Jews, after an itinerant existence of victimhood and statelessness, have returned, en masse, to populate our homeland, in the form of the State of Israel. And what a homeland it is! It’s a prosperous, intellectual, creative, beautiful oasis of freedom, ensconced in a sea of waste, bigotry, violence, fundamentalism and hate. And we did that! Idealistic Jewish pioneers purchased land that no one else wanted, or saw a use for. They transformed malarial swamps into fields of grain, and into vineyards that produce award-winning wines, and today, their progeny develops technology that the rest of the globe relies upon daily just to function.
And we Jews now have an army, and forgive me a brief adolescent exuberance, but it’s a KICK-ASS ARMY. We have stealth fighters, and reactive-armor tanks, and warships, all of ‘em with big, beautiful Stars of David on their flanks. We’ve even got Jewish Navy SEALs and Jewish Space Lasers! Yeah, that’s right, we’ve got stuff so advanced, it’s a Right-wing conspiracy — that’s actually true!!
And despite all that, it happened again.
Fifteen hundred Jewish kids at a peace festival, just trying to enjoy life, rounded up and shot; entire families abused, tortured, and murdered in ways I will not describe, awakening in our national memory the horrors of centuries past. We glimpsed the shade of our vulnerability, and the mists of the Holocaust returned for a brief moment. Amalek, true to its modus operandi, had blindsided us yet again, when we were at our most vulnerable.
Wait, a minute: I see a question in the back. You, with the purple hair, five nose-rings and the Che Guevara t-shirt: “Really Hamas are just freedom fighters, and this is the action of an oppressed people. They’re not antisemitic, they’re just ANTI-ZIONIST!”
Well, actually, no, overindulged adult-child, you are factually incorrect. Because not 48 hours later, Hamas declared a Day of Global Jihad (Siri, set a reminder for October 13th…Jihad), on which they called for lone-wolf-style violence to be inflicted upon Jews worldwide. And, just like their ideological demagogues the Nazis, they are sowing new blood libels, inciting malice and hatred against all Jews, worldwide.
And yet…something is quite obviously very different now. I mean, I just had a rabbi asking me to help him build an intermediate rifle in case he had to defend his family.
The world didn’t change, but I think WE may have changed. I look around me, at my Jewish brothers and sisters here, abroad, and in Israel, and I can’t help but feel that two millennia of persecution and calls for genocide have left us with a steely resolve, and the knowledge of how to deal with this obstacle. Our generation owes so much to our survivors for bearing witness, and teaching us, reminding us, whether we wanted to hear it or not, to Never Forget. Thanks to them, we are smarter, and more prepared. We also have that glorious Israel Defense Force, and we know from history that Israel will go out of her way for any Jew who is in peril, no matter where they are in the world. Here, in the United States, we are blessed to live in a country imbued with kindness, and we have the freedom to act and to think as we please.
And, we have the Second Amendment.
(Whoa. Ok. So this whole time, redneck-Florida-Man-Jew got us all hyped up on national pride, just to sell us on guns. I can’t believe I fell for this bullsh…)
Well, yes. And, no.
What I’d like to tell you is based not on what I believe, but what I’m experiencing in my own community, and am seeing in other Jewish locales. If you haven’t already deduced, I am a firearms owner and enthusiast, and one of my goals is to educate people about the importance of access to firearms, and how to use them safely. The concept that you have the obligation to protect yourself, your family and your property is integral to the Jewish ethos. The Torah establishes clearly the right to defend your home against an intruder: “If the thief is seized while tunneling and beaten to death, there is no bloodguilt in that case.” (Shemos 22:1) Firearms are just one, very effective, tool a person can use to protect themselves, their loved ones, and their community.
And, apparently, I’m not the only Jew who feels this way. This past Shabbat, I noted twice as many parishioners carrying pistols than I had ever seen in our shul. I have received at least three electronic solicitations last week on Jewish chats inviting me to “Tactical Training”. Immediately after Hamas’ call for global jihad, I was contacted by no fewer than ten separate co-religionists to instruct them how to shoot safely, or to consult on what firearms to purchase. At one subsequent excursion to help new shooters at a local range, I found that eight of the available ten lanes at the range were in use by Orthodox Jews, half of them occupied by couples; we’re talking sheitels and shotguns, people, and it was an awesome thing to behold. One larger local synagogue has even acknowledged that members will begin carrying pistols in greater numbers, and has not only not objected, but has shown great responsibility, and responded by providing a free firearm safety class. The class, by the way, was filled to capacity, and attended by men and women and every age demographic that makes up the synagogue (over 21… relax, people). In this climate of threat and uncertainty as to where Diaspora Judaism stands, not only am I personally witnessing a swell of interest in firearms among my peers, but I am seeing it on social media as well, where Jewish gun advocates like Yehuda Remer, AKA The PewPew Jew, and Raziel Cohen, the Tactical Rabbi, are building more of a presence.
And in my redneck-Jew opinion, watching this groundswell, I can only think: it’s about damn time. The world has not changed, so we must change.
Now, I do not think that every Jew should go out and get a gun. It’s probably one of the greatest responsibilities a person can shoulder, certainly not one to be taken lightly, and frankly, it’s just not for everyone. I fully acknowledge that, in the wrong hands, and without proper instruction, guns can be dangerous to the user and those around them. But, since I’m the one with the keyboard, I’ll use this platform as my bully pulpit: whether firearms are involved or not, it’s time for Jews to adopt a ‘Warrior Mindset’. Invest in your health, be active and strong and physically ready to act. Learn some form of self defense. Be constantly aware of your surroundings. Cast away the idea of the inherent security of this world. Being Jewish is a beautiful gift, but it also means that a lot of people just don’t like you. You’re not going to change their minds. Accept the problem, and develop your own personal solution.
I’ll leave you with the following final thoughts. In 1938, perhaps understanding how a motivated populace with firearms might pose a threat to tyranny, Hitler suspended the right for German citizens to own handguns, but he allowed private ownership of rifles and shotguns for Gentile German citizens. Jews, however, could no longer purchase, make, or own any firearms of any kind.
Now, I will not desecrate their memory by saying that, had they had firearms, the Jews of Gorzd would have repelled the Germans and Lithuanians that day in 1941. I’ve heard that argument, and it’s puerile and illogical, and it’s pointless conjecture, anyway. I do know, however, that when he eventually had the opportunity to fight the Nazis, my Zaide Chaim joined a band of Russian partisans, and he took up arms in doing so.
But if none of this convinces you that an unarmed Jew is worse off than an armed Jew, consider this: On October 7th, 30 Hamas terrorists descended on the border village of Kibbutz Mesalfim, and four lone members of the kibbutz security team held them off, and repelled the onslaught. Four armed civilians in their 30s and 40s saved their entire kibbutz from a younger, well-informed and determined force that outnumbered them 15:1. The four men were equipped with four M-16 rifles, a few hundred bullets, infinite courage, and perhaps the voices of 6 million Jews whispering “Never Again.”