Each year, the Reform Movement honors the legacy of the late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. by commemorating the Shabbat nearest to MLK Day as Shabbat Tzedek. On this Shabbat, we remember the life and work of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and celebrate the hard-fought victories of the civil rights movement. It is also a time of reflection and recommitment as our movement renews its efforts in the struggle for racial justice in North America.
In this week’s Torah portion, Va’era, God instructs Moses and Aaron to deliver the Israelites from Egypt. The brothers approach Pharaoh to demand their freedom, but Pharaoh refuses. In response to this cruelty, God unleashes the first of seven plagues upon the Egyptians. In Va’era, we read about the unrelenting pursuit of justice of our early leaders. Rather than passively accept the unfair treatment of the Israelites, Moses and Aaron directly protest their condition in the halls of power. When their demands are rebuffed, they remain steadfast, and they continue to lobby Pharaoh on behalf of the Jewish people.
While we celebrate the great achievements of the civil rights era, we have no illusions about the progress yet to be achieved. 55 years after Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. dreamed of an America that treated all her citizens equally, African Americans today still face substantial barriers to achieving full equality and justice.
One of every three black American males born today can expect to go to prison in his lifetime, compared to one of every seventeen white males.1 Of the 1,129 people killed by the police in 2017, 27% were African Americans, despite African Americans making up just 13% of the total U.S population.2 Hate crimes against African Americans still make up the majority of hate crimes committed in the U.S. on the basis of race and ethnicity.3
As we approach this Shabbat Tzedek, please consider incorporating the resources on this page into your Shabbat observance or conversations. All resources can be used both during Shabbat Tzedek and year-round, including programming, lesson plans, Jewish text studies, historical materials, and information about our Jewish commitment to the civil rights issues of today.