[Editor’s note: This report was compiled from the statements submitted by Rabbis Schiftan and Mackler plus background from JTA news reports.]
The Ministers’ March for Justice took place in Washington, D.C., on Aug. 28, the 54th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech.
Rabbis Mark Schiftan and Shana Mackler of The Temple, along with congregation members Julie Neaderthal and singer-songwriter Stacy Beyer, participated. They joined some 3,000 African-American clergy members, 300 rabbis and cantors, and clergy and lay people from other religious traditions.
Just two weeks before the Ministers March, violent clashes erupted between white supremacists and counterprotesters in Charlottesville, Va. One counterprotester was killed and others injured when a car slammed into them. Ministers’ March participants said they were moved by those events to participate.
Before the Aug. 28 event, Rabbi Schiftan told The Temple congregation he was marching for three reasons. “First, because Reform Rabbis ascend from a long tradition of actively defending the civil rights and liberties of all Americans,” he said. “It was this courageous spirit that drew me to the rabbinate – and into the Reform movement in particular – in the first place.”
He also was participating to help “reconnect our community to the clergy of the African-American community. … When it comes to a shared history of discrimination, subjugation, and discrimination, our two communities share a unique and common bond.
“Third, and finally, I am marching for reasons of self-interest: We Jews have a direct stake in the events and hate-filled actions and speech unleashed in Charlottesville – and then echoed in other places as well,” he said. “We could have seen this coming: I have warned of this for months, this boomerang of hate.
“Though its initial targets may have seemed far removed from us – wholesale attacks against other ethnic groups, religious groups, and the crucial institutions of our democracy – towards Muslims, Mexicans, journalists and members of the judiciary and legislature – they inevitably will wind their way to our doorstep. Such is the trajectory of hate, anger, intolerance, bigotry and xenophobia. The images of those hundreds of torches carried in Charlottesville by those who hate others … also include those who hate us. …
“And so, we will march,” Rabbi Schiftan said. “It will be a different march: One that seeks justice for all, that demands equal protection under the law, freedom from fear, protection from harm. There are moments when we must find our voice, when we must not remain silent, when we must stand up and speak up.”
Rabbi Mackler said she was “marching to honor the memory and legacy not just of Dr. King, but of Rabbi Joachim Prinz, who spoke just before Dr. King” on that day in 1963. She quoted Rabbi Prinz:
“When I was the rabbi of the Jewish community in Berlin under the Hitler regime, I learned many things,” Rabbi Prinz said in 1963. “The most important thing that I learned in my life is that bigotry and hatred are not the most urgent problem. The most urgent, the most disgraceful, the most shameful and the most tragic problem is silence.”
Rabbi Mackler told the congregation she was marching “because this month of Elul calls me to consider the themes of the High holidays: Tefilah, Teshuva and Tzedakah.
“I march as Tefilah – prayer. I will pray with my feet, representing Cantor Fishbein and Rabbi Shulman as Rabbi Schiftan and I march shoulder to shoulder … with clergy from all other traditions to live out our faith and ethics and call our leaders to do the same as we step closer to God, a better world. This is my obligation as a Rabbi.
“I march as a sign of Teshuvah – repentance. With each step I hope to move forward to a greater understanding of one another, our ills as a country and a step to return to our morals and values as a nation and as a people, and a return to the never-ending pursuit of the ideal.
“And Tzedakah – justice …, tzedakah – not charity, but a true sense of our obligation to set right the world. To live it, empower it and demand it. As our Torah portion states this very week, ‘Justice, justice shall you pursue.’ Justice is at the center of what it means to be a Jew, that our religion is not cornered off in some compartment for contemplation and ritual alone; rather it is lived and breathed and enacted in this world.
“And I march, because as Elie Wiesel taught, ‘It is we who decide whether words are to be carriers of hate or vehicles of compassion, whether they are to become spears or peace offerings, whether they will move us to despair or to hope. I belong to a generation that has learned that whatever the question, despair is not the answer. Maybe you are the answer.”
“My answer, our answer, is to always remember that there is goodness, compassion, empathy instilled in us, taught to us, demanded of us. We are inspired by those who against the odds, obey their conscience, uphold their values and choose to live their ethics like the way light pierces darkness. These painful images and deaths across our country challenge us to look at ourselves and beyond ourselves. Who we are. Where we sit and where we will choose to stand, and when we will march.”
Speaking again to the congregation after the Ministers’ March, Rabbi Schiftan noted the history of African-Americans and Jewish people as allies for civil rights. “At every point along the way, many of the African-American clergy who spoke referenced the Jews who marched years ago during the civil rights movement,” he said “They mentioned Rabbi Abraham Heschel and referred to (these) young men – James Chaney and two Jewish men, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner, all of whom gave their lives to defend the rights of the African-American community, of the Jewish community, of all those whose civil rights were on the line and needed safeguarding.”
He recalled the march’s conclusion at the Department of Justice, where participants together sang the civil rights anthem, “We Shall Overcome.”
“It was an incredibly powerful, beautiful day and that was the most beautiful moment of the day. Let us be honest, members of both communities, we have grown worlds apart one from the other. … On that day our presence validated their struggle (and from the) microphone they validated … our presence.
“…These are the days where we listen to the still small voice within us. Listen to the call of the prophets which implore us to find our own voice, use it, to stand up and to speak up for civil rights, human decency and common dignity.” •