Social Justice

A Prayer for Shabbat Tzedek and MLK Weekend in the Face of Renewed Hatred

This Sabbath, Jews around the world will complete the reading of the Book of Genesis, hold the Torah high, and pronounce, “Chazak, Chazak, v’Nitchazek, from strength to strength, may we be strengthened.” This custom directs us in ways beyond the symbolic. We do not merely close a book of Torah and move on. We glean Torah’s lessons, we realign our lives to its call, and we use that strength to sanctify our lives and to heal our world.

In dark times throughout Jewish history, Jews have been sorely tempted to close the book and move on. Many have indeed succumbed to that lure, hiding behind their indistinguishable, outward characteristics and melting into the population. In this day and time, until recently, some believed that civilization had risen above the venomous hatred that plagued the Jewish past.

As anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, racism, and homophobia reemerge as the pop-culture of the day, we again face that juncture where some will yield to the temptation to fade quietly into the background. Yet, the parents of the hundreds of preschool children evacuated at Jewish Community Centers this week due to bomb threats cannot silently pretend that their children’s pristine world has not been shattered. The Neo-Nazis marching against Jews in Whitefish, Montana on the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday, will not be silent about their hatred. Toting guns, they will parade through town ready to confront any and all who flinch.

The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. challenged each of us not to flinch in the face of hatred. He taught us to work unwaveringly for that prophetic vision, teaching:

“Courage is an inner resolution to go forward despite obstacles.
Cowardice is submissive surrender to circumstances.
Courage breeds creativity; Cowardice represses fear and is mastered by it.
Cowardice asks the question, is it safe?
Expediency asks the question, is it politic?
Vanity asks the question, is it popular?
But, conscience asks the question, is it right?”

Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Radio Broadcast, KPFA, Santa Rita CA, January 14, 1968.

As we approach this confluence of the challenge “Chazak, Chazak, v’nitchazek;” of the commemoration of the birth of Martin Luther King, Jr; and the rise in arrogant acts of violence and blatant oppression; let us pray with all our hearts:

Chazak, Chazak, v’Nitchazek!
Give us strength, our God, from the wellspring of our heritage.
Let the Torah gird us, bidding us to stand strong in the face of the promulgation of hate.
In Whitefish, Montana, link our prayers with those from all faiths and backgrounds to replace:
Vulgarity with human dignity
The narrow-minded with the open hearted
Vanity with right
The cowardliness of submission with the creative power of courage
The destruction of hate with the healing source of love.
May this be our prayer
May this be our strength
May this be the blueprint for our deeds.


Rabbi Lucy H.F. Dinner is Chair of the Justice and Peace Committee of the Central Conference of American Rabbis, Vice Chair of the Commission on Social Action of Reform Judaism, and serves Temple Beth Or in Raleigh, NC.  This blog was originally shared by the RAC.

CCAR on the Road Ethics Rabbis Reform Judaism

Recalling MLK Jr and Maurice Eisendrath

An e-mail arrived from the indefatigable Art Waskow reminding us that April 4th is the anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr..  The reminder included a photo from a demonstration at the Arlington National Cemetery along with valuable excerpts from King’s prophetic remarks about Vietnam delivered at Riverside Church.

From L to R: Rabbi AJ Heschel, Reverend Martin Luther King Jr., Reverend Ralph Abernathy, Rabbi Maurice Eisendrath, Rabbi Everett Gendler
From L to R: Rabbi AJ Heschel, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Reverend Ralph Abernathy, Rabbi Maurice Eisendrath, Rabbi Everett Gendler

The photo showed Rabbi Heschel to one side of King, and this prompted me to look at another photo of that demonstration.  In this fuller one, King is flanked on the other side by Rev. Ralph Abernathy and Rabbi Maurice Eisendrath carrying a Torah, and beside them a youngish flag-carrying rabbi from Princeton, NJ (the latter, I).

I feel moved to share this with you on what will be the 45th anniversary of King’s tragic removal from our midst because we often forget to mention Maurice in the reminiscences about King.  The Arlington National Cemetery ceremony was important, moving, and not heavily attended by public figures.  Notably absent were any representatives of the Urban League or the NAACP.  They disapproved of King’s challenging publicly the morality of our policy on Vietnam since LBJ, supporter of civil rights, was also the primary advocate of that very policy.  But at this particular event there was Heschel’s blessed supportive presence, and there also was Maurice Eisendrath carrying a Torah in further support.  Those of us who knew and cherished Maurice are fewer with the passing of the years, so this seems an appropriate time to mention him with the respect and affection that so many of us felt for him.

That Maurice came with a Torah to this particular act of moral witnessing captures perfectly some of his most admired qualities.  This march, held on the sacred ground of our national cemetery, was solemn, not high spirited.  It absorbed the painful testimony of surroundings that expressed human dedication, courage, suffering and sacrifice..The stated proposition of the march, that our engagement as a nation in Vietnam betrayed the basic American values for which these deceased had offered their lives, was not at that time a crowd pleaser.  Pragmatic institutional calculations probably said, not great for UAHC fund raising, especially among big givers, and Maurice dearly loved and devoted his life to that institution. But justice is justice, the truth must be proclaimed, and so Maurice proclaimed it in his characteristically vigorous, energetic way.  The real bottom line for UAHC (now URJ), after all, was prophetic Judaism, and Maurice was accountant par excellence in those calculations.

At this especially difficult period in King’s life, severely criticized by the leaders of the major civil rights organizations, suffering daily threats to his own life and to his beloved family, can we imagine what the presence of Rabbi Heschel, Rabbi Eisendrath, and the sefer Torah must have contributed to King’s morale and sense of Divine support?  The attached photo may convey some of the mood.

As in life all of us were and are able to offer support to the righteous among us, so do the memories of those righteous ones, of King, of Heschel, and of Eisendrath, bless and sustain us.

Rabbi Everett Gendler is retired and lives in Great Barrington, MA.