"When We Get There": The 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington
[Editor's Note: Rabbi Jacobs gave the following address on Saturday, August 24, 2013, at the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C.]
Later this Sabbath morning, in synagogues across this great country, Jews will read from the closing chapters of Deuteronomy. Today’s portion begins Ki Tavo – "when you get there" – which refers to our journey to the Promised Land. There is no doubt that it will happen: not if you get there, but when you get there.
Fifty years ago this week, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., dreamt that African Americans would one day reach an American Promised Land of freedom and equality. And though we’ve come a long way from that sweltering day of hope and inspiration, we’ve yet to enter the promised time when every American can taste the milk and honey of this land of unbounded promise.
We are here today as people of faith to renew that journey and affirm our commitment to repair the torn social fabric of our society.
Fifty years ago, just before Dr. King addressed the conscience of our troubled nation, Rabbi Joachim Prinz spoke these words:
When I was the rabbi of the Jewish community in Berlin under the Hitler regime, I learned many things. The most important thing that I learned… was 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.
As Dr. King and Rabbi Prinz were not silent then, we will not be silent now.
Can we be silent when the precious, most fundamental right to vote is being attacked?
Can we be silent when our inner city youth are out of school, out of jobs, out of hope?
Can we be silent when access to healthcare for 35 million, who have never before had health insurance, is challenged and thwarted?
Can we be silent when our children, like Trayvon Martin, are gunned down on our streets every day?
This is the season of the Jewish New Year, when we sound the shofar, the ram’s horn. It is sounded to awaken us from a slumber, to hear the cries of those in pain and to build a better world for all.
Let the voices of this gathering serve as a shrill blast of the shofar to awaken our nation to carry on Dr. King’s legacy that we may at last “transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood" – and reach that Promised Land.
Ki Tavo, for God’s sake and for our children’s sake. We must get there, and we will.
Rabbi Rick Jacobs is the president of the Union for Reform Judaism, the governing body of Reform Jewish synagogues in North America.