Monday, I spent the day in Washington D.C., with 3000 clergy (and some lay leaders) of all faiths. It was The 1000 Ministers March, attended by 3000 people. 300 Reform rabbis and lay people were part of the marchers. Although some man think the March was a response to Charlottesville, in fact, the Rev. Al Sharpton, founder and president of the National Action Network, organized the March months before that tragic Saturday. The March was scheduled for August 28—an historic date., for it was on August 28, 1963 that the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his , now famous, I have a dream speech. The date of his speech was rooted in another historical moment. It was on August 28, 1955 (the year after I was born) that 14 year-old Emmett Till, was murdered by two white men in Money, MS. His crime—he flirted with a white cashier. His death, like Stonewall, ignited the Civil Rights Movement. His death was a wake-up call to the black community.
In 1983, I went to Washington for the 20th Anniversary March of Dr. King’s speech. It was a powerful experience, and yet, very different from Monday’s gathering. The primary issue in 1983 was Civil Rights for the black community. It focused on how far Civil Rights still had to go to reach real equality for America’s African American community. In contrast, Monday’s March focused on a plethora of issues spanning from Black Lives Matter to GLBTQ inclusion, to antisemitism , to poverty, to bigotry….and on and on. Jews and Blacks stood united in common cause and vision. Surely in past years I had concerns/issues with Rev. Sharpton and Rev. Jesse Jackson (I am from Chicago with a long memory of his positions); and yet, I had the overwhelming feeling that as we enter into the unchartered waters of 2017 and beyond, there is a profound need for racial and religious unity. Monday’s March was not about politics—it was about theology. It resonated with a call of moral justice. Quoting numerous religious sources, speaker after speaker raised up one theme, core to the upcoming High Holy Days: teshuvah—turning from bigotry and racial bias and turning toward repentance, justice, love, protecting the stranger. The call to action is one of religious partnership—galvanizing the forces of mainstream religious leaders from all sectors of the religious world in America. In the months ahead, even as we will strive to deepen ties within our temple community, we will also reach out to build alliances with those who cherish the same rights and values we hold precious, as human beings created in God’s image—and as a Jewish community.