11th Annual ADL-New England Woman of Valor Luncheon Invocation

Honoring Ellen Clegg
Rabbi Jonah Dov Pesner
11th Annual Anti-Defamation League-New England Woman of Valor Luncheon
Honoring Ellen Clegg, 2017
November 3, 2017
Rabbi Jonah Dov Pesner
Join me in celebrating the great leadership of Robert Trestan, Jonathan Greenblatt and the ADL!
I am Rabbi Jonah Pesner, Director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, the largest and most diverse Movement in Jewish life.
We are 2 million people across North America, led by 2,000 rabbis in 900 congregations.
Across North America in every small town and every major city that there is a Reform congregation that confronts the anti-Semitism that Robert described, we turn to the Anti-Defamation League. 
Of course, one of those congregations is Temple Israel in Boston, where I had the privilege of serving as a rabbi and where I first came to know the great Ellen Clegg, a dear friend and today’s honoree. And where I also was fortunate to work with the ADL and Robert Trestan, a steadfast partner in defense of civil rights and social justice for all New Englanders.
I am honored to join you today to celebrate Ellen Clegg.
Heroes like Ellen and the ten Woman of Valor who have been honored previously give us hope.
During these dark days of rising bigotry, racism, and hate, I know that together, we can stand up for justice and equal rights for all.
This week, we read the Torah portion Vayeira. In it, Abraham and Sarah receive guests. Resting in their tent, they look up, awoken by holy visitors.
The presence of God wakes them up to the world around them and the possibilities in their own lives.
Abraham and Sarah, each in their own way, respond: Hineni, here I am!
When God threatened to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah, Abraham had the courage to challenge God.
“Will you sweep away the innocent along with the wicked?”
He goes on: “Far be it from You to do such a thing, killing innocent and wicked alike…. Must not the Judge of all the earth do justice?”
Abraham spoke truth to power.
Despite impossible odds.
In the face of unimaginable power.
He refused to back down.
He would not relent.
That’s what we do.
Leaders like Ellen Clegg, Robert Trestan, and so many people in this room --
When we face a political crisis.
When we are confronted with anti-Semitism, racism, sexism, Islamophobia, homophobia,
And other forms of bigotry. Not only in rhetoric, but in law, coming from the highest levels of our government.
We don’t shrink from the moment.
We say Hineni – here I am!
And we fight for our country,
For world that we know we can create.
That’s what the Anti-Defamation League does every day.
And that’s what Ellen Clegg does through an editorial page that informs, that provokes, that inspires.
We write the truth, speak out for justice, and call out for civil rights for all people.
Like Abraham and Sarah, we cry: Hineni! Here I am.
Together, we collectively respond to the fierce urgency of now, crying out Hinenu. Here we are!
When torch-bearing, assault rifle toting, neo-Nazi white supremacist goons march
Through Charlottesville chanting “Jews will not replace us….”
When anyone draws a heinous false equivalency between racists
And those who stand against bigotry;
We say hinenu! Here we are.
When LGBTQ Americans continue to face discrimination,
When transgender people are denied equal access in schools,
And have their military service challenged;
We say hinenu! Here we are.
When women who have survived sexual assault and sexual harassment
Say “me too,” and break the culture of silence that allows abuse to continue;
We say hinenu! Here we are.
When one in three black men will go to jail in America,
Compared to only one in 17 white men, and
More than 2 million human beings are caged in our country.
We say hinenu! Here we are.
When access to birth control is under siege, and women lose the right to control their own bodies,
When refugees are turned away because of their religion, when Mosques are fire-bombed, and women have hijabs pulled from their heads in the street,
When immigrant Dreamers fear deportation because our government has broken its word,
When the right to vote is suppressed, and our democracy is weakened,
We say hinenu! Here we are, ready to stand up with the most vulnerable, with those facing persecution and discrimination.
Five thousand years ago, Abraham spoke to truth to power, “Must not the Judge of all the earth do Justice?”
Today, God turns the question back on us – “will not the people of all the earth do Justice?”
אושה שלום במרומיו
Oseh Shalom Bemromav
God who makes peace
in the heavens above;
But God whose prophets also taught:
No Justice no Peace;
Give us the strength to say Hinenu and hear the call of our time.
Shatter our complacency
and call all America to go forth together
for justice and peace
for all God’s children, everywhere.