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Shabbat Tzedek: Celebrating Civil Rights and Social Justice

Shabbat Tzedek: Celebrating Civil Rights and Social Justice

Each year at this time we honor the life and work of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. – and more broadly, the civil rights movement. As Jews working toward a more just society, we know that the vital work of the civil rights movement is not complete, and are called at this time to renew our commitment to this work. This year in particular, as we mark the 50th anniversary of the signing of the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964, we are cognizant that we must confront our own civil rights challenges today. From protecting voting rights to criminal justice reform, from ensuring equal treatment for LGBT Americans to affirming the rights of the disabled, there is still much work to be done.

In June of 1964, 17 rabbis joined with Dr. King in St. Augustine, Florida, the oldest city in the United States. They were arrested as they peacefully protested racial injustice in that city and across the country. In their cell, they jointly authored a powerful letter on June 19 describing why they had gone to St. Augustine and risked arrest. They came, they wrote, because they "could not stay away… could not pass by the opportunity to achieve a moral goal by moral means… [and] could not stand quietly by our brother's blood." They continued,

We do not underestimate what yet remains to be done, in the north as well as the south. In the battle against racism, we have participated here in only a skirmish. But the total effect of all such demonstrations has created a Revolution; and the conscience of the nation has been aroused as never before. The Civil Rights Bill will become law and much more progress will be attained because this national conscience has been touched in this and other places in the struggle.

Jews have long been involved in the struggle for civil rights, and the rabbis at St. Augustine personified our commitment to bringing about a more just society, then and now. Read "Why We Went: A Joint Letter from the Rabbis Arrested in St. Augustine."

For more than 50 years, the Religious Action Center in Washington, D.C. has been the social action arm of the Reform Jewish community, leading us in the sacred work of Jewish social justice and legislative activity. Around Martin Luther King Day, the RAC aids congregations in participating in Shabbat Tzedek: Celebrate Civil Rights and Social Justice, honors the life and work of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. - and more broadly, honors the civil rights movement. This year, Martin Luther King Day falls on January 20, and Shabbat Tzedek falls on January 17 and 18. As Jews working toward a more just society, we know that the vital work of the civil rights movement is not complete, and Shabbat Tzedek represents an opportunity for to renew our commitment to this work.

Charlie Arnowitz is an Eisendrath Legislative Assistant at the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, where he is responsible for a portfolio of issues including civil rights, immigration, and healthcare issues. He is a native of Highland Park, IL, and a 2013 graduate of Middlebury College in Vermont.

Charlie Arnowitz
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