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We Follow in the Footsteps of the Great Figures of Our Tradition

We Follow in the Footsteps of the Great Figures of Our Tradition

Our Jewish tradition is full of journeys, from the very beginning of our sacred texts. Adam and Eve’s exile from the Garden of Eden; Noah’s Ark and his aquatic sojourn – while these are not explicit commandments from God, they are journeys for these Biblical figures. Later, in parashat Lech Lecha (literally, “go” or “leave”), God commands Abraham “go from your land … to the land that I will show you” (Genesis 17:27). Later on, we read of Moses’ journey from Egypt to Midian, back to Egypt, and then his leadership of the Israelites’ Exodus from Egypt and the subsequent wandering in the desert for forty years before entering the Promised Land. Ruth leaves Moab with Naomi to a new land, Israel, where she is a stranger, and finds a new life. Over the course of millennia, Jewish individuals and the Jewish people have journeyed, whether by choice, whether by command from God, whether by necessity due to forced exile, anti-Semitism or more modern crises, such as the pogroms.

Journeys, both literal and figurative, are familiar to us as Jews. Journeys are not easy, and the miles walked and the distances covered illustrate for us the challenges and struggles of the time.

Starting on August 2, 2015, hundreds of Reform rabbis began marching the 860-mile stretch from Selma, AL, to the nation’s capital, Washington, D.C., as part of the NAACP’s America’s Journey for Justice. As the journeyers travel, we are reminded of the many marches that we have left in pursuit of true justice.

Our rabbis are marching because the structural racial and economic injustices in our country cannot continue.

Our country is more economically unequal today than ever before. Although average wealth has increased over the past 50 years, not all have felt or experienced this increase. The poorest half of the United States has only 2.5% of the country’s wealth. Indeed, families close to the bottom of the wealth distribution went from having on average no wealth, to being about $2,000 in debt, while those at the ninetieth percentile saw their wealth quadruple and those wealthier than 99% of families saw their wealth grow sixfold. (See this chart for this information and more.)

Racial wealth disparities also remain prominent, as in 2013 white families have, on average, seven times the wealth of African American families, and six times the wealth of Hispanic families. Mobility remains especially challenging, for 43% of Americans raised in the bottom quintile remained there as adults. These figures indicate that if you are born and raised at a certain economic level, it can be hard – if not impossible – to rise into the next bracket.

If we are not able to join the Journey for Justice physically, what role can we play in our journey to a more just society, one where all Americans truly have the opportunity to succeed?

We can start by advocating for policy solutions that will create more just and fair workplaces – like The Raise the Wage Act, (S. 1150/H.R. 2150), which would bring the federal minimum wage to $12/ hour by 2020, by a series of gradual increases. We can start by ensuring that no child will be restrained in the classroom or be inhibited from having enough to eat, urging us to support child nutrition programs. We can start by demanding that everyone has access to affordable housing, by advocating to support the National Housing Trust Fund.

Just as with Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, Ruth and the many other figures, leaders and people of our Jewish tradition in history, our journey is deeply rooted in our faith, as we are told “speak up, judge righteously, champion the poor and the needy” (Proverbs 31:9). This teaching is at the heart of our work to ensure that our country has policies that can steer its citizens on a path toward economic justice.

We must go out, lech lecha, and purse justice together alongside our brothers and sisters marching in America’s Journey for Justice, and more broadly in humanity’s journey for a more just, a more equal, a more peaceful world.

Melanie Fineman is a 2014-2015 Eisendrath Legislative Assistant at the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism. Melanie graduated in 2014 from Brown University, and is originally from Newton, MA, where she is a member of Temple Shalom.

Melanie Fineman
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