Remarks Delivered at the 2017 Contra Costa County Interfaith Council Celebration of Dr. King's Life and Message. With gratitude to Ruth Messenger and American Jewish World Service for both inspiring these remarks and reminding me of the values that called me to the rabbinate.
It is a great honor for me to offer words of prayer before this gathering, especially as one of our community’s newest members. For those who may not know me, I am the rabbi of congregation B'nai Shalom in Walnut Creek. I am also a graduate of the Jewish Theological Seminary, where, a few years ago, John Lewis was awarded an honorary doctorate. In his address to students, he encouraged the graduates to get into trouble--but good trouble. I hope that, in honoring Dr. King today, we also are inspired to act in a way that supports Congressman Lewis and are moved to get into some good trouble ourselves.
This is a consequential time to be gathering. We are on the verge of great change and profound uncertainty in our country. But this is also a deeply sacred moment, with energy we can harvest. We come together on this day to honor the great moral courage of Dr. King at the time of his birth, some 50 years after he was taken from us. This weekend also marks what Jews call the yahrzeit--the anniversary of the death of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel. Herschel's family was slaughtered by the Nazis in during the Second World War, and was called by this intimacy with suffering to stand in solidarity with Dr. King. Heschel crossed the bridge with Dr. King Selma, and stood by his side at riverside church in New York when he took the then unpopular position of opposing the war in Vietnam. "In a free society," Heschel said, "few are guilty, but all are responsible."
It is that story of two individuals--born world apart--who loved each other because they loved justice that inspires me today. I am here to express our community's solidarity with the African American community, and to bear witness to a racism in our country that continues to put black lives and bodies at risk even 50 years after Dr. King fell victim to it. In a time of renewed islamophobia, I affirm our shared Abrahamic heritage that unites us. As the grandchild of immigrants from a community of immigrants, I stand with all who strive to make a better life for themselves and their families in our country. As people of conscience and faith, we oppose the normalization of violence against women, and with renewed dedication, affirm our commitments to the rights of GLBTQ people. As an American Jew, I am also grateful for the support of this community as the specter of anti-Semitism continues to haunt our country.
Our nation’s founders understood justice to be a gift from God--governments are meant to secure and protect those rights which God already gave to humanity: our creator endowed us all with equality, and with the right to live free of danger, and to pursue lives of meaning. Dr. King reminded us that when governments do not protect what God has given all of us, it is our responsibility to call on the government--peacefully, but urgently--to fulfill its obligations.
I was asked to offer a few words in Hebrew. In thinking about Dr. King, Rabbi Heschel, and Congressman Lewis on the Edmund Pettus Bridge, I recalled Congressman Lewis’s description of that day:
There was no singing, no shouting—just the sound of scuffling feet. There was something holy about it, as if we were walking down a sacred path. It reminded me of Gandhi’s march to the sea. Dr. King used to say there is nothing more powerful than the rhythm of marching feet, and that was what this was, the marching feet of a determined people.