Don’t Dismiss the Power of Prayer


This week, a mass shooter in Texas walked into a Baptist church and murdered 26 people, including more than a dozen children. Many conservatives — and many religious people more generally — immediately offered their thoughts and prayers. The most controversial figure to do so was Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), who tweeted, “The people of Sutherland Springs need our prayers right now.”

This drove a tsunami of rage from gun control advocates. Actor Wil Wheaton tweeted, “The murdered victims were in a church. If prayers did anything, they’d still be alive, you worthless sack of s***.” New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo tweeted, “We have pastors, priests and rabbis to offer thoughts and prayers. What we need from Republicans in D.C. is to do something. Lead.” Keith Olbermann of GQ tweeted in less temperate fashion, “shove your prayers up your ass AND DO SOMETHING WITH YOUR LIFE BESIDES PLATITUDES AND POWER GRABS.”

It’s questionable whether some additional law would have prevented the massacre in Sutherland Springs. It’s clear from the evidence that the shooter never should have had a gun: He was convicted of domestic violence, including cracking the skull of his infant stepchild; he’d pleaded guilty to animal abuse; he’d been sending threatening text messages to his mother-in-law, who attended the church he shot up. The Air Force has openly admitted that it didn’t send his criminal record to the FBI, which would have prevented him from buying weapons under current law.

But there’s something deeper going on here with the anti-prayer tweets — something more troubling. First, dismissing prayer dismisses the value of religion more generally; second, conflating prayer-driven-action with action you like makes religion irrelevant, and your political agenda paramount.

To dismisss the value of prayer after horrific events demonstrates a lack of knowledge about prayer itself — or worse, an antipathy toward the values prayer promotes. Prayer is designed for several purposes. Prayer reminds us that while we must strive each day to prevent evil from succeeding, God’s plan is not ours; we will not always succeed in stopping evil’s victory. That knowledge suggests a certain humility, an unwillingness to surrender to the foolish optimism of utopianism. It’s why Jews say, “Baruch Dayan Emet” (“Blessed is the true judge), upon learning of a death.

Prayer also helps us see the value in others, and convey that we understand that value to others. Atheists say that prayer is nothing but empty verbiage, but how many people have been changed because they entered a prayerful community? The people who died in the church were attempting to reach out to one another and provide one another support. That’s why we pray with a minyan. It’s why we pray communally.

Finally, prayer reminds us that we must better ourselves: We must treat our friends, neighbors and family members better, correct our mistakes. We cannot change God, but we can change how God responds to us if we change ourselves. In this sense, prayer provides the impetus to action.

We have a reactionary tendency to credit our opponent’s worst intentions.

It’s this last rationale for prayer that many on the left have seized upon to the exclusion of the other two. They say, rightly, that action is one of the anticipated outcomes of prayer. That’s fine so far as it goes — but it doesn’t go particularly far when you are making the secular case for gun control, then demanding religious support for it. Just because someone disagrees with you on a remedy to a problem doesn’t mean that their prayers are insincere — or that the goal of their prayers is the same as yours.

Recognizing that simple truth would go a long way toward healing wounds that seem to be festering. We have a reactionary tendency to credit our opponents with the worst intentions, up to and including insincere use of prayer, in order to press them to embrace us, but the opposite is usually the outcome. If you alienate religious people who disagree with you by stating that their prayers are insufficient, they’re likely to stop seeking common ground. That will be your fault, not theirs: You’re cutting them off at the knees.

Just because we disagree on gun control doesn’t mean we shouldn’t pray, or that our prayers lack merit. And ripping prayer itself after dozens of Americans are murdered while praying is disrespectful to our fellow citizens and to the religious victims.


Ben Shapiro is a best-selling author, editor-in-chief at The Daily Wire and host of the conservative podcast “The Ben Shapiro Show.”

Devin Patrick Kelley, 26, of Braunfels, Texas, U.S., involved in the First Baptist Church shooting in Sutherland Springs, Texas, is shown in this undated Texas Department of Safety driver license photo, provided November 6, 2017. Texas Department of Safety/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY

Here’s What You Need to Know About the Texas Shooter


At least 26 people were killed and 20 others were injured at Sunday’s shooting at a church in Sutherland Springs, TX. The shooter has been identified as Devin Kelley, 26, who is now dead. Who is Kelley, and what was his motive?

Kelley, a former unarmed security guard at a waterpark, has a rap sheet of alleged violence. He plead guilty in 2012 to assaulting his then-wife and stepson; the latter suffered a fractured skull as a result of Kelley’s violence. Kelley was serving in the Air Force at the time and was dishonorably discharged as a result of his actions.

Additionally, Kelley was accused of punching a dog in 2014, an allegation he denied and the charges against him were dropped. Some women have accused Kelley of stalking them, including one who claimed he stalked her when she was 13 years old.

Those who knew in high school described him as being socially awkward and creepy. One former classmate of his told the Daily Mail that Kelley “always creeped me out.” Another wrote on Facebook that Kelley “got in an argument with me in school and tried to punch me several times.”

Other former classmates noted that Kelley frequently berated people online who didn’t subscribe to his atheist worldview.

“He was always talking about how people who believe in God we’re stupid and trying to preach his atheism,” Nina Rose Nava, a former classmate of Kelley’s, wrote on Facebook.

Kelley also recently posted a photo of a firearm resembling an AR-15 to his now deleted Facebook profile, writing “She’s a bad b*tch.” Kelley had an AR-15 and a handgun on him during the shooting.

Under federal law, it is illegal for those who have assaulted or attempted to assault a family member to own a firearm. But Kelley was able to obtain his firearms because the Air Force didn’t provide the FBI with Kelley’s violent history, thus resulting in his background checks to come back clean.

However, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) told CNN that Texas denied Kelley from obtaining a right-to-carry permit.

Prior to the shooting, Kelley had reportedly been texting threats to his mother-in-law, Michelle Shields, who is a member of the First Baptist Church in which the shooting took place. Shields was not present at the church at the day of the shooting, but Kelley’s grandmother-in-law, Lula Woicinski White, was at the church and killed by Kelley.

Kelley and his current wife Danielle are reportedly separated.

Kelley fled the scene of his crime after Stephen Willeford, a former National Rifle Association (NRA) instructor, heard the gunshots from across the street and fired his gun at Kelley.

“I know I hit him,” Willeford told a local news station. “He got into his vehicle, and he fired another couple rounds through his side window. When the window dropped, I fired another round at him again.”

Willeford hopped into another man’s truck and they chased down Kelley. Kelley’s car crashed, and it is believed that he shot himself before law enforcement arrived.

The area around a site of a mass shooting is taped out in Sutherland Springs, Texas, U.S., November 5, 2017, in this picture obtained via social media. MAX MASSEY/ KSAT 12/via REUTERS THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY.

27 Dead in Texas Church Shooting


As many as 27 people are dead and 24 others injured in a shooting that occurred Sunday morning in a Texas church. It is the deadliest church shooting in modern U.S. history.

The gunman, identified as 26-year-old Devin Patrick Kelley, entered First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs at 11:30 am local time and fired around 20 shots. The gunman fled the scene and was chased by a local resident into Guadalupe County. It is not known if he killed himself or was killed by the resident.

One of the victims include Annabelle Pomeroy, the 14-year-old daughter of the church’s pastor, Frank Pomeroy. Pomeroy told ABC that his daughter “was one very beautiful, special child.”

Multiple others are being treated in nearby hospitals, including three children who are in critical condition.

“My heart is broken,” Wilson County Commissioner Albert Gamez Jr. told CNN. “We never think where it can happen, and it does happen. It doesn’t matter where you’re at. In a small community, real quiet and everything, and look at this, what can happen.”

Sutherland Springs is a small town of less than 400 people that is about 30 miles southeast of San Antonio. Alena Berlanga, who lives close to Sutherland Springs, told the Associated Press that the shooting was “horrific for our tiny little tight-knit town.”

“Everybody’s going to be affected and everybody knows someone who’s affected,” said Berlanga.

President Trump gave his condolences on Twitter:

The Texas senators also issued tweets responding to the situation:

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) said in a statement, “While the details of this horrific act are still under investigation, Cecilia and I want to send our sincerest thoughts and prayers to all those who have been affected by this evil act. I want to thank law enforcement for their response and ask that all Texans pray for the Sutherland Springs community during this time of mourning and loss.”

Recruiting Jews to the Cause of Persecuted Yazidis, One Synagogue at a Time


After Hurricane Harvey hit Texas, Yotam Polizer, co-CEO of the disaster relief organization IsraAID, called his friend Haider Elias in Houston to see if IsraAID could help him.

Instead, Elias countered with his own proposition: His home was spared by the flooding, so he and half a dozen members of his religious community — a Middle Eastern ethnic group called the Yazidis — offered to work alongside IsraAID packing possessions and removing debris from flooded Jewish homes.

“There is really a shared destiny,” Polizer told an audience on Sept. 17 at University Synagogue in Brentwood, sitting next to Elias. “There is a unique partnership between the Yazidis and the Jews.”

Because of their historical proximity to genocide, American Jews are a prime target for Elias’ effort to lobby the United States government to come to the aid of this ancient religious sect as it struggles with an ongoing genocide at the hands of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

During two trips to Los Angeles last month, Elias addressed the local Jewish community in a series of synagogue visits, private dinners and High Holy Days appeals, hoping to mobilize them to lobby the United States on behalf of displaced and enslaved Yazidis. With Yazidis a population of well under 10,000 in the United States, Elias is increasingly relying on Jews to join the ranks of his supporters.

“As soon as we talk to a Jewish community member, they understand it right away,” Elias said in a phone interview after he returned to Texas. “They absorb it. They relate. They know exactly what is happening. It’s very hard for some other communities to understand.”

The Jewish community has loomed large on his recent travel schedule. In late July, Elias flew to Israel and visited Yad Vashem with fellow Yazidi activist and former sex slave Nadia Murad.

In September, he spoke on four panels in West Los Angeles with Polizer, whose group has offered aid and counseling to Yazidis in Iraq and Europe, and Rabbi Pam Frydman, an activist who heads the Beyond Genocide Campaign for the Board of Rabbis of Northern California. All four panels were co-sponsored by the Jewish Journal.

Returning to Los Angeles on Yom Kippur, Elias spoke at Temple of the Arts in Beverly Hills. In muted tones from the lectern, he described the events of Aug. 3, 2014.

In a single day, ISIS overran the Yazidi homeland in the Sinjar region of northern Iraq, murdering nearly 6,000, Elias said, including his 24-year-old brother, two of his cousins and nearly 50 close friends.

ISIS fighters loaded thousands more Yazidis onto trucks, with women and girls destined for sexual enslavement and young boys due to be brainwashed as child soldiers. About half a million Yazidis were driven from their homes, ending up in displaced persons’ camps where hundreds of thousands still live in tents.

Meanwhile, the Kurdish Regional Government has prevented Yazidis from returning home with any food, medicine and supplies that would enable them to rebuild their lives, Elias said.

Elias grew up in Til Azir, a small city of 28,000 Yazidis in the Sinjar region. Today, it’s a ghost town.

He followed news of the genocide from Houston, his home since 2010 after earning a visa for his work as a U.S. Army translator.

His home in Iraq was ransacked down to the windows and doorframes.

At the time, he was studying toward an undergraduate degree in the hope of becoming a doctor. But shortly afterward, he abandoned his medical ambitions to start Yazda, a lobbying and advocacy group based in Lincoln, Neb., where most American Yazidis live (yazda.org).

Elias engages audiences on a frenzied schedule. Between his two L.A. engagements last month he flew to New York and San Francisco, stopping each time for a brief layover in Houston.

To some extent, his efforts have succeeded. In the days after the genocide, demonstrations and lobbying in Washington, D.C., by Elias and others helped persuade President Barack Obama to launch strategic airstrikes that enabled Yazidis to escape an ISIS siege.

In March 2016, following lobbying efforts by Yazda and Frydman’s Beyond Genocide Campaign, the House of Representatives unanimously passed a resolution recognizing the Yazidi genocide.

Now, Frydman and Yazda are pushing for Congress to pass the Justice for Yazidis Act, which would extend psychosocial support and speed refugee resettlement for Yazidis and other persecuted minorities in Iraq.

Elias said his work takes its toll. Each time he speaks to an audience, it traumatizes him anew.

He drew a contrast with his previous occupation as a translator.

“Translators, they’re like instruments,” he said. “They transfer the words. Most of the time they’re too busy to feel the information. If you’ve gone through something, it’s different.”

“It affects you,” he added. “And if it doesn’t affect you in the moment, it has its negative impact soon after, in the future. It makes you different.”

With all of his speaking engagements, Elias has little time to see his wife and three children, ages 16, 14 and 6 years old, and little leisure time for himself. Once a film buff, he hasn’t finished a film since August 2014, he said. His mind always returns to the massive amount of work on his docket.

His work also impacts his children. “Their daddy is not around most of the time,” he said.

Elias said his children understand why he’s gone so often. When other kids ask what their father does, “they say nothing directly,” he said. “They say he’s helping people.”

Residents wait to be rescued from the flood waters in Beaumont Place, Texas, on Aug. 28. Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Reuters

Houston Jewish community ravaged by Harvey’s torrential rains


Most Houston-area Jewish institutions have been flooded due to Tropical Storm Harvey and a large portion of the city’s Jewish population is living in areas that have experienced flooding, the Jewish Federation of Greater Houston said.

“While we do not yet know the full extent of the damage, we know that most of our Jewish institutions have flooded,” the federation said Monday evening in a Facebook post. “We know that 71 percent of our Jewish population lives in areas that have seen massive flooding and Jews have been displaced from their homes with flooding ranging from six inches to ten feet. We know that close to 12,000 elderly members in our community live in areas impacted by flooding.”

[Hurricane Harvey: How you can help]

As some two inches of rain fell per hour in the Houston area on Tuesday morning, according to reports, Jewish institutions were pitching in to provide shelter and relief for those affected by the storm.

Several displaced families were taking shelter at the Robert M. Beren Academy Orthodox Jewish day school, the Texas Jewish Herald Voice reported.

The Union for Reform Judaism’s Green Family Camp in Bruceville, Texas, announced Monday in a Facebook post that it would be opening up to accept former campers, congregants and friends affected by the storm. The post said the camp could provide housing, food, air conditioning, internet and electricity “for a limited time.”

Meanwhile, Chabad-Lubavitch of Texas is coordinating truckloads of kosher food to be sent to the area and will set up a kosher food pantry available to the Jewish community as supplies reach the area. Chabad emissaries in Houston have been preparing and delivering kosher meals to people evacuated to emergency shelters or who took shelter in hotels, according  to Chabad.org.

[PHOTOS: Heroes in Houston]

IsraAID, an Israeli-based humanitarian aid agency that responds to emergency crises and engages in international development around the world, said in a tweet Monday that it was coordinating with governmental and nongovernmental first responders and that  its emergency teams continue to prepare for deployment. It sent seven members to Houston on Tuesday, who were set to join three others who already were in the United States when the hurricane hit.

Homes have been without power for two days, and floodwaters have reached the roofs of some single-family homes, according to reports. At least three deaths have been confirmed, and the Houston television station KHOU reported Monday that six family members were said to have drowned when their van was swept away by floodwaters, though no bodies have been recovered.

The National Hurricane Center Public Advisory for Harvey in an advisory Tuesday morning said that “catastrophic and life-threatening flooding continues in southeastern Texas and portions of southwestern Louisiana.”

“The level of rain that we’re seeing here is biblical,” David Krohn, a cantor at Houston’s Congregation Brith Shalom, told Haaretz. “It’s diluvian rain all day and all night, rain that keeps accumulating.”

These last few days and hours have been incredibly trying times for our friends in the Houston, Galveston, Corpus…

Posted by URJ Greene Family Camp on Sunday, August 27, 2017

Jewish groups applaud Supreme Court abortion ruling tossing restrictive Texas law


Several national Jewish organizations applauded the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision on Monday striking down a Texas law that restricted access to abortion.

In a 5-3 ruling, the Supreme Court said the HB2 law, which mandates that doctors performing abortions have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals, was unconstitutional. The law would have required nearly half the state’s abortion clinics to shut down.

Texas officials said the law was intended to protect women’s health.

“The court’s decision appropriately recognizes the real-life impact of HB2 on access to abortion,” said Deborah Lauter, the Anti-Defamation League’s senior vice president of policy and programs, in a news release. “This ruling is a victory for reproductive justice and gender equality in America.”

ADL was among the 48 organizations that joined with the National Women’s Law Center on a friend-of-the-court brief in the case of Whole Women’s Health v. Hellerstedt that highlighted the negative impact of the restrictions on women, particularly those of color, with low incomes and in low-wage jobs. Hadassah, the Women’s Zionist Organization of America, Jewish Women International and Women of Reform Judaism also signed on to the brief.

Rabbi Jonah Dov Pesner, director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, also praised the ruling, saying in a statement that it strikes down “unnecessarily burdensome and medically inaccurate provisions that aimed to restrict access to abortion.”

“This historic decision ensures that women in Texas and across the United States face fewer barriers to receiving legal healthcare services,” Pesner continued. “Jewish tradition teaches the importance of a woman’s ability to make her own healthcare decisions. That principle is as true today as it was in Medieval times when Jewish physician and philosopher Maimonides wrote that ‘Women are commanded to care for the health and well-being of their bodies above all else.’”

In another statement, Nancy Kaufman of the National Council of Jewish Women called the ruling a “huge victory for every woman who seeks to make her own decisions about her health, family, and future. It goes a long way toward restoring the promise of Roe v. Wade — that abortion is a right protected by the US constitution.”

Jewish Women International CEO Lori Weinstein said in a statement that the ruling “affirmed what women and advocates have long known: That sham laws like HB2 are ‘a substantial obstacle’ for women seeking abortion, and that this type of ‘undue burden on abortion access’ is absolutely unconstitutional.”

Texas Gov. Abbott rejects administration’s request to lift state sanctions on Iran


Texas Governor Greg Abbott on Monday informed the Obama administration that the state of Texas will reject the administration’s request to lift its sanctions against Iran. 

“Because the Iran deal is fundamentally flawed and does not permanently dismantle Iran’s nuclear capability, Texas will maintain its sanctions against Iran,” Abbott wrote in a letter to President Barack Obama on Monday. “Further, because your administration has recklessly and unilaterally removed critical sanctions, I have called on the Texas Legislature to strengthen the Iran sanctions that Texas already has in place.”

The letter was a response to a letter sent by the administration on April 8, 2015, requesting that Texas “review” its economic sanctions against Iran. 

“Entering into an agreement with a country that consistently calls for ‘death to America’ and repeatedly articulates anti-Semitic policies is short-sighted and ignores geopolitical realities,” Governor Abbott writes in the letter. “As a strong supporter of Israel, I am committed to doing everything in my power to oppose this misguided deal with Iran. Accordingly, not only will we not withdraw our sanctions, but we will strengthen them to ensure Texas taxpayer dollars are not used to aid and abet Iran.”

Speaking to reporters in New York on Monday, Abbott said he will seek to expand his state’s divestment policy on all state agencies and prohibit local government entities in the State of Texas from investing in Iran or entities conducting business with Iran during the legislative session this summer. 

The Texas Governor also said that he will issue a bipartisan call to governors of all 49 states to join him in rejecting the sanctions relief as part of the international accord. 

While refusing to officially endorse Donald Trump for president, Abbott said the election of Hillary Clinton would be “catastrophic” for the U.S. and Israel.

“I can tell you this: had Ted Cruz been elected as president, he would have been the most pro-Israel president in the history of the United States,” Abbott said. “Ted Cruz, obviously, didn’t win the nomination. So you have to make a choice. You choose either Donald Trump or you choose Hillary Clinton. Not participating is not a choice. Candidly, I don’t know Donald Trump and I don’t know what his positions are. I do, however, know Hillary Clinton’s positions and what she will do, and Hillary will be catastrophic to the United States of America.”

“I am perplexed about the Jewish community in this regard, ” he continued. “After seeing eight years of the Obama administration, and the damage caused by the Obama administration to Israel and the U.S.-Israel alliance, I don’t understand how anyone who cares about Israel can support a Democrat.” 

Abbott emphasized that the future of the Iran deal will be determined by the outcome of the presidential election in the fall. “If Hillary is elected president, she will perpetuate Barack Obama’s deal with Iran,” he said. “I believe that if the Republican is elected president, that deal will not exist in its current form and a new and better deal is going to be struck that is going to be safer and better for Israel and safer and better for the United States.”


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