Most years I want to go to the CCAR convention. But this year, this year I had to go. I needed to see my friends and colleagues. I needed to pray with them and to learn with them. I needed my soul to be nourished and to be in a place where I could sit still long enough to hear the still small voice give me words of hope. And I knew that for that to happen, I had to be with my chevrei in Atlanta.
The Tanach tells many stories of encounters with God, where individuals hear the Divine call and responded “Hineini!” – Here I am. Those were important encounters, but there is only one moment that transformed us as a people and gave us our purpose, and that is when we stood together at Sinai. Sinai happened because we were willing to come together for a purpose larger than ourselves. At Sinai we were called upon not only to be in a covenantal relationship with God, but a communal relationship with each other as well. Sinai required us to stand united for a goal that was greater than any single one of us, greater than any one generation. Sinai required us to see ourselves as acting beyond the now, and understand that we are part of a legacy that requires that we forever remember before whom we stand.
I thought of Sinai this morning as I sat in a session with Atlanta’s Mayor Kasim Reed, and Reverend Raphael Warnock and Rev. Natosha Reid Rice of the Ebenezer Baptist Church. They spoke of justice, the need for moral leadership and moral clarity. They spoke about redemption, hope and courage. And most of all, they spoke of the need for us to stand together and to speak up for each other and with each other.
Rev. Warnock said: “Interfaith work is uniquely important in this moment. …. When we stand together on principle we gain moral credibility and authority. And we’re strong when we stand together. We need to stand together more often, and get to know each other. And even those who don’t believe, we need the witness of atheists too. …Because in a real sense what they bear witness against is the false God.” Rev. Warnock reminded us what we learned at Sinai, we can accomplish more together than by ourselves.
Rev. Reid Rice urged us that now is the time to “Put words into action. Put faith into action. Private faith requires public action.” Revelation happened outside for the heavens and the earth to witness for a reason. Faith is not supposed to be private, it needs to be lived out loud and in the world.
When Rev. Warnock reminded us of the powerful words written by Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. to his fellow clergy in his “Letter from Birmingham Jail” I was struck by how relevant and true his words continue to be. Like the prophets of old, Rev. King’s words call out to us: “We are tied together in a single garment of destiny.”
I came to Atlanta to be with my chevrei. But what was revealed to me was that I also needed to hear Mayor Reed, Rev. Warnock and Rev. Reid Rice, because the Torah they were teaching was the same torah of hope and courage that I remembered hearing when we stood together at Sinai.
Rabbi Mona Alfi serves Congregation B’nai Israel in Sacramento, California