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Shabbat Tzedek: A Time for Reflection and Recommitment

Shabbat Tzedek: A Time for Reflection and Recommitment

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.

Dr. King famously said, “An injustice anywhere is an injustice everywhere.” As Reform Jews, we stand ready to heed Dr. King’s enduring charge to fight for justice for all of God’s creations. As Jews, we are too familiar with the consequences of hate and bigotry. Last year, the number of anti-Semitic incidents in the United States rose by 67%, and the hateful, anti-Semitic display by white supremacists in Charlottesville culminated in the tragic murder of Heather Heyer

Given our Jewish history and Jewish values, we cannot afford to be stand idly by as injustice flourishes.

That is why the Reform Movement has launched our Urgency of Now Initiative Criminal Justice Reform Campaign, dedicated to pursuing our vision for racial justice by working to end mass incarceration and racial disparities in our criminal justice system. That is why we continue to advocate for comprehensive sentencing and corrections reform on the federal level, lobbying elected officials to address mass incarceration through legislative policy. And that is why we have implemented the Reflect, Reform, and Relate framework, through which our congregations explore the systemic root causes of racial inequality in our communities and the ways that we are complicit in and impacted by racism.

Despite our tireless work, we have no illusions about the challenges in front of us. 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. 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. 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.

As we approach this Shabbat Tzedek, please consider incorporating some of the following RAC resources into your Shabbat observance or conversations:

As Reform Jews, we strive to emulate Moses and Aaron, who spoke truth to power in their pursuit of justice. The story of Va’era ends before the Israelites are freed from slavery, just as Dr. King was unable to achieve his vision for a society in which all people experience a world of wholeness, compassion, and justice. As we continue to read, in the coming weeks, about Moses leading the Israelites out of the Egypt and to the Promised Land, we dream of a day when all people are able to experience their Promised Land, free from hate, discrimination, and bigotry. 

On this Shabbat Tzedek, Reform Jews stand committed to working towards that vision today and everyday.

Matt Fidel is an Eisendrath Legislative Assistant at the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism. Through his work, he helps lead the Reform Movement's criminal justice reform efforts. Matt is originally from Pittsburgh, PA, and is a graduate of the University of Michigan. 

Matt Fidel

Published: 1/11/2018