Marching for Justice

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by Rabbi Jim Stoloff, URJ Eisner and Crane Lake faculty member

Earlier this week I had the opportunity to march as a representative of Temple Israel of the City of New York alongside 3,000 fellow clergy. I was one of over 300 Reform rabbis that stood, marched, and sang side by side with faith leaders from every corner of the country, from scores of religions and denominations. Of the rabbis in attendance, I was pleased to reconnect with several colleagues whom I know from our time together on faculty at Eisner Camp, and even former Eisner staff who now work for the Religious Action Center. It is always a powerful experience to reunite with summer camp friends to practice the values we teach and live at camp – be it at Eisner, or in our nation’s capital on the 54th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech.

We did not gather to celebrate. We gathered to cry out for justice!

We did not gather at the Dr. King Memorial to be anchored in the past, to honor a martyr, or remember a vanished dream. We were there to keep Dr. King’s spirit alive, to turn a dream into a reality, to work for a better future for all people, not just on one day of marching, but every day. Daily because of bold and empowered white supremacists spewing racist, anti-Semitic, anti-immigrant, homophobic and islamophobic vitriol in our national community, spreading toxicity. Daily because of elected officials who encourage these communities openly or with silent acquiescence, a growing cancer. Daily because faced with bigotry and hate there can be no moral equivalency. The days when we could naively assume that the worst of American racism was a thing of the past have gone. Until recently, for my generation and the youth of today, things like systemic shootings of African Americans by police or massive KKK and Nazi demonstrations openly held and not unequivocally condemned were things we saw in textbooks, not current news-feeds. Our march began at the MLK Memorial to honor one of the great American prophets of the dream of equality and peace. But it ended at the Department of Justice – for without justice, there can be no peace. The Torah tells us the path forward: “Tzedek tzedek tirdof – Justice, justice shall you pursue” (Deut 16:20). It was relevant 3,000 years ago, as it yet is today!

To paraphrase Rabbi Jonah Pesner, Director of the Religious Action Center in his address before the march: “The chants, signs, and actions we witnessed in Charlottesville, and the threats levied against the Reform Jewish congregation there, have reminded us of the tragic truth that anti-Semitism and white supremacy are deeply intertwined. We may look different, we may pray differently, we may face different forms of injustice, we may live in different places, but we are neighbors. And Jewish tradition commands us to love our neighbors as we love ourselves.”

The words of Dr. King’s clarion call to justice “I Have A Dream…,” continue to echo in the hearts, minds and souls of each of us, participants in the American dream…

… for voting rights and voting access that is equal, and not diminished by our primary language, our skin color, our neighborhood or our income level. All citizens should have an equally available path to voting and determining the future of our great nation.

… for a criminal justice system that is truly just, and not plagued by racial inequality so that our likelihood of going to prison for a given crime is more to do with color of our skin than the circumstances of the crime. All people should have just treatment under the law.

…for economic options, healthcare options and educational options. For too many in our country, these rights and liberties remain only a dream. It is not enough that we share Dr. King’s dream of equality. We have to build the dream together “so that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men (all people) are created equal.'” God bless America – Amen v’Amen!