In addition to our year-round commitment to Racial Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (REDI), each year the Reform Jewish 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 Rev. 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 Parashat Va-eira, which sometimes coincides with Shabbat Tzedek, 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-eira, 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. More than 55 years after Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. dreamed of an America that treated all her citizens equally, Black people today still face substantial barriers to achieving full equality and justice.
Black men and boys are 2.5 times more likely to die during a police encounter than their white counterparts. Black and Brown people are also more likely to be stopped by police, and those stops are more likely to result in frisks, searches, and arrests than those involving white individuals. And hate crimes have increased in recent years, with crimes motivated by race, ethnicity, or ancestry constituting the majority of hate crimes committed in the U.S., with anti-Black hate crimes accounting for nearly half of racially motivated hate crimes and a plurality of hate crimes across all categories.
As Shabbat Tzedek approaches, 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.