A Message from Cantor Michelle Drucker Friedman
In Memory of Reverend Dr. Martin Luther Kind Jr., We Continue to March
This past Shabbat, the majority of us sat around our family's and friend's tables to recount a story that is one of the defining moments in our people’s history. The Torah's narrative tells of a rag tag group of people, voiceless as slaves, trapped in “a narrow place.” Their march is what we celebrate - as no matter what challenges life may hold, at one time or another we have had to take that first step of walking away from what we know toward the possibility of what could be. The bravery of that first step is indisputable; as we humans tend to be reluctant and fearful of change.
Similar to our ancestors, I felt the power of walking the walk. Last Shabbat, on March 24th, I and members of our community joined the March for Our Lives in downtown Chicago. March for Our Lives is a movement galvanized by the murders of seventeen students and faculty at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. Spearheaded by teens, their message is simple. First, and most importantly to any detractors, they do NOT advocate for overturning the second amendment. They just feel that the laws around firearms should reflect common sense. They call upon Congress to enact universal background checks and ban the purchase and sale of assault weapons and high capacity magazines. We marched to demand action. We marched because we understand the power of that first step.
The march’s strength came not just from the message, but from the people. Just the sheer number of folks, many of them children and young adults, taking a stand against a horror far too prevalent was both sobering and inspiring. I was so very proud of our own Paili Bachrach and her NFTY colleagues and interfaith partners who organized the pre-march rally. These teen leaders will not stand idly by while their neighbors bleed. Their powerful engagement gave me hope. The feeling I had was best expressed many years ago by Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel as he walked with Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in Selma. “My father came home feeling like it was a religious event,” said his daughter Susanna Heschel. “He said, ‘I felt my legs were praying.’”
As Reform Jews, our movement reflects the conviction that old held traditions are not sacrosanct. We understand that law, whether they be sacred or secular need to be reexamined and reinterpreted. When our forefathers penned the second amendment in 1791, guns shot two bullets a minute. Now a semi-automatic weapon can shoot 180 rounds a minute. If guns have changed so dramatically, the laws that regulate them must too.
Judaism is not a religion of “being”. It is a religion of “doing”. Mitzvot are not options, they are commandments. We are obligated to work toward a safer and more just world. Therefore, as a Jew, the march must not be a one off; instead it has to be a jumping off point to advocate for safer and more progressive gun laws. As Rabbi Heschel remarked, “A Jew is asked to take a leap of action rather than a leap of thought." So
the march must inspire us, as it has for the young people around our country, to be the change we wish to see in the world. We have work to do.
There is a lovely quote from our prayer book, “Pray as if everything depended on God, act as if everything depended on you.” And so, as we mark the 50th anniversary of Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination, here are some ways you can pray with your feet (Taken from the NFTY website, https://nfty.org/take-action/gvp/act/):
1. Accountability. It’s time to hold our elected officials accountable. When Members of Congress are home in-district on recess from March 24-April 8, many will hold town halls and other public events. You can take action by attending an event and asking your elected official what they plan to do to address the gun violence epidemic in our country – then tell RACRJ more about your visit to their office or town hall meeting.
2. Action. Rally everyone in your life for a Call-In Day on gun violence prevention on April 10th. Our movement will flood Capitol Hill with calls demanding action the day Congress is back in session. Check out these directions and sample call-in scripts.
3. Allyship. We stand with those affected by gun violence in every corner of America. We strive to be an intersectional, intergenerational movement. Sign on to stay engaged, keep pressure on Congress, and get out the vote.