Reform Jewish Leader Commends Enactment of the National Museum of African American History and Culture Act
Saperstein: In light of continuing racial tension in our nation, as well as widespread societal ignorance of African American history and culture, there is a critical need for more comprehensive presentation, preservation, and recognition of the contributions of African Americans within American society.
Contact:Alexis Rice or David Segal
WASHINGTON, December 16, 2003 - In a letter sent to President George W. Bush, Rabbi David Saperstein, Director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, praised the President for signing the National Museum of African American History and Culture Act into law and urged him to fulfill his commitment to racial understanding and tolerance in America by supporting funding for this historic project. The bill, introduced by Rep. John Lewis (D-GA), will establish a Smithsonian Institution museum, prominently located and broader and deeper in scope than any existing museum.
The complete letter to the President follows:
Dear President Bush,
The Senate and the House of Representatives have both passed, by overwhelming majority, the National Museum of African American History and Culture Act calling for the establishment of a Smithsonian Institution museum, located on or near the National Mall and dedicated to the collection, preservation, research, and exhibition of African American historical and cultural material reflecting the breadth and depth of the experiences of individuals of African descent living in the United States. I am writing on behalf of the Union for Reform Judaism, whose over 900 congregations encompass 1.5 million Reform Jews, to commend you for signing this landmark bill into law and to urge you to put your strong support behind its full funding in the near future. At the 67th Biennial Conference of the Union for Reform Judaism last month, our congregational delegates passed a resolution calling for the establishment of the very type of museum and memorial described in this bill.
The Talmud teaches: "In every generation, we are commanded to view ourselves as if each of us was personally brought forth out of Egypt." This mandate highlights the importance of remembering the injustice of slavery throughout the years. As Jews, with our own history as victims of discrimination and persecution, we are particularly sensitive to the plight of victims of discrimination, and we are cognizant of the dangers that we face in a society where inequity is allowed to persist. In this spirit and in the pursuit of justice, we are committed to remembering, and confronting, historical wrongs.
As Americans, we recognize the need for tolerance and the painful lessons of slavery and injustice to be taught to our children, and to our children's children. In light of continuing racial tension in our nation, as well as widespread societal ignorance of African American history and culture, there is a critical need for more comprehensive presentation, preservation, and recognition of the contributions of African Americans within American society. Such efforts would not only hold enormous educational value and enhance racial harmony, but they would also honor the memory of those who suffered and perished as victims of hatred and brutality. Museums provide a focus for us to reflect upon and learn from the past, and they remind us of the ever-present need to prevent injustice in the future.
Therefore, I call upon you to take the lead in this effort to enhance social justice and racial harmony both by memorializing the lives of those who suffered and perished as a consequence of slavery in the United States, and by promoting understanding of African American heritage and African American contributions to American culture.
In the words of Robert Wilkins, who served on the presidential panel that studied the feasibility of a new African American history and culture museum, "This is an opportunity for the nation to honor and respect the sacrifices, the pain and the overall triumph of the African American community in a way and scope that has never been done before."
Thank you for your commitment to this worthy cause.
Rabbi David Saperstein
Director, Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism
The Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism is the Washington office of the Union for Reform Judaism, whose more than 900 congregations across North America encompass 1.5 million Reform Jews , and the Central Conference of American Rabbis(CCAR) whose membership includes more than 1800 Reform rabbis .