For Immediate Release
August 28, 2017
As Prepared for Delivery
Zeh hayom asah Adonai, nagilah venismicha bo – This is a day that God has given us! Let us rejoice and be glad! Because we have come together in sacred solidarity. Let us rejoice that despite the many threats to Dr. King‘s dream, we know that this is a day that God has given us – and given us the power – to speak the truth, hold our elected officials accountable, and demand that 54 years later, Dr. King‘s Dream may become a reality.
My friends, my name is Rabbi Jonah Pesner. I am the Director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism and Senior Vice President of the Union for Reform Judaism. I bring greetings from the Reform Jewish Movement, the largest denomination in Jewish life, a North American community of 2000 Rabbis, 500 Cantors, and nearly 2 million congregants, leaders and activists who have shown up today to stand side by side with you in this urgent moment.
I am honored to be a part of this beloved community that has gathered in our nation’s capital. In the shadow of this monument to Dr. King, we refuse to simply honor the past - no, we gather here to defend the dream, to fight for it. Dr. King first articulated the dream at a march for Jobs and Freedom, and it is a dream for voting rights, a more just criminal justice system, affordable healthcare and economic justice. The dream has inspired us, driven us, and carried us for 54 years.
But Our March for justice did not begin on the National Mall in 1963. Oh no. It began 5,000 years ago, when God heard the cries of the Hebrew slaves and gave Moses, and Miriam, and Aaron a radical idea. They discovered that with God‘s help, they could challenge Pharaoh and break free from the shackles of bondage, injustice, and oppression.
And with God‘s help, we religious leaders can challenge the modern pharaoh and finally break the bonds of systemic racism for all people. And as a diverse, Jewish community, civil rights and racial justice are personal issues for us. Many Reform Jews are people of color themselves: they are our brothers and sisters, our wives and husbands, our neighbors and our friends. Together, we face the enduring impact of bigotry and racism directly.
If we are to stand with those most impacted by racial injustice in our own congregations, then we must also do so in our streets, in our cities, and across our country.
The chants we heard not three weeks ago in Charlottesville and the threats levied against the Reform Jewish congregation there have reminded us of the tragic truth that anti-Semitism and white supremacy are deeply intertwined. All who face these dual threats are called to confront them directly, to stand together – and march for justice.
We may look different, we may pray differently, we may face different forms of injustice, we may live in different places, but we are neighbors. And Jewish tradition commands us to love our neighbors as we love ourselves. To love your neighbor in this world is show up for one another – in our state capitols, in the halls of congress and yes – in front of the Department of Justice.
This week, Jews around the world will read a moral command in our Torah portion from the Book of Deuteronomy: “Lo tochal l’hitalem – you must not be indifferent” (22:3). We must love our neighbors by refusing to be indifferent to the needs of our neighbors. And that includes our neighbors in Texas who are in our hearts and prayers today.
I challenge you to meet your neighbor: whether it is the person you are standing next to now, the person who will march beside you, or the people from your city or town who traveled from near and far to be here. I challenge you to Reflect on this experience together, and together, make a plan for what you will do next. We all need one another, now more than ever, and our country desperately needs us to bring it from darkness and indifference to light and justice.
We will not be indifferent when voter suppression laws directly target Souls to the Polls efforts in majority black churches.
We will not be indifferent when a Jewish woman of color fears for the safety of her children.
We will not be indifferent when a young man is at risk of losing his essential health care.
We will not be indifferent when take home wages hold millions in poverty or when mass incarceration rips apart millions of American families.
We will not be indifferent when transgender Americans are denied the chance to serve their country.
We will not be indifferent when a sheriff sworn to protect the community abuses the law and preys upon people instead.
We will not be indifferent because we believe so deeply in the power of people of faith to act together and transform our society.
We will not be indifferent because we know
that when we stand with one another,
when We love one another as neighbors,
Then we can hold our leaders accountable
to a higher moral vision
that transcends any political party
and any political moment,
And redeem the soul of our nation.
The Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism is the Washington office of the Union for Reform Judaism, whose more than 900 congregations across North America encompass 1.5 million Reform Jews, and the Central Conference of American Rabbis, whose membership includes more than 2,000 Reform rabbis. Visit www.rac.org for more.
Sarah Garfinkel, West End Strategy Team