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Why I Will March

Why I Will March

1000 Ministers March for Justice

When I was in high school, a bully with a locker just down from mine threw a penny at me and called me a dirty name for a Jew.  Before I could react, my history teacher put that student up against the wall and sent me inside the classroom so he could continue his conversation with that student.

I am not marching because I have been the victim of (mild) anti-Semitism, but because, like my teacher, evidence of the world not being just infuriates me.  My tradition teaches me that violence is not the first reaction – but that standing up and pursuing justice is the reason for our covenant.Ministers March Poster

We read last week in the Torah Tzedek, tzedek tirdof: run after Justice, Justice!  There are so many other things that we pursue – fame, security, love, material goods, but the Torah tells us that we should be running after justice – and it says it twice to make sure that we hear.  Other places we are told to act justly, to judge fairly, to make sure in all that we do that we act in the right manner, but our tradition does not stop there.  Justice is something that we have to chase; that we must seek out and actively pursue.

The word tzedek is translated sometimes as justice, and other times as righteousness.  Our society has made righteousness into a pejorative – almost always understood as egotism, heard as self-righteous.  We have been told that what is right for us, may not be right for others and to judge our measure of right and wrong for someone else is imposing our values on them.  I will acknowledge the human trait of judging others, and that we often presume our values and decisions are more valid than others - but there is a line; there is a standard; there is a righteousness that is right.

I am marching because, while I may not always know what is right, I can see what is wrong.  Or, more accurately, when I stop and listen to others, my eyes become open and I can recognize that what I have not previously seen is truly wrong.  I am not content to live in a society where people of good heart are deathly and justifiably afraid of the people that we hire to protect society and enforce our agreed upon laws.  I am not content to live in a society where I receive the automatic benefit of the doubt as to my integrity, my honesty, or my intent, when the person standing next to me is perversely judged exactly opposite because of the color of their skin, their accent, or their gender.  I am not content, when I acknowledge that the advantages that I have received are due to my appearance, rather than my intelligence, my accomplishments, or my experience.  I am not content to live in a world where those afraid of losing what they may never have had, turn to anger against those who have also been denied, rather than those who are re-enforcing the society that issues the denial.

I am not content.  I am furious.  I want to slam society against the wall and shout at the top of my lungs, “This is not right!  This is not just! This is not the world that we are commanded to create.”

I march not just to add my voice to those who are the recipients (not victims) of injustice.  I march not only to call attention to the imbalance – the wrongness – of our world.  I march because it must change – and the only way for it to change is if we all get up from where we are comfortably – or even uncomfortably – resting, and pursue justice; not just march, but run, and run, and run, with all our might.  Justice.  Justice.

Rabbi Joel N. Abraham serves Temple Sholom in Scotch Plains, N.J. Along with his wife, Michelle Shapiro Abraham, he is co-author of Mishkan T'filah Journal, an interactive version of the Reform Jewish Movement's new prayerbook.

Rabbi Joel N. Abraham

Published: 8/27/2017