Remarks at Central Presbyterian Church by Rabbi Adam Stock Spilker
Sunday, March 8, 2015 / 17 Adar 5775
We were warned. Did we not hear? Fifty years ago, Dr. Martin Luther King spoke prophetically: “We are now faced with the fact, my friends, that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. Over the bleached bones and jumbled residues of numerous civilizations are written the pathetic words, ‘Too late.’ Well we, all of us, [are here] because we are all determined not to be too late.”
Indeed, we will not be too late. We will continue to come out of our homes and hidden places and bridge the artificial divides of faith, age and gender, class and race, and grow communities of audacious hospitality that will shelter and feed and nourish and satisfy and welcome the citizen and the stranger alike, that will face honestly the injustices in our justice system and the lethal prejudices happening in our streets, from Main Street to Wall Street, from Selma to Ferguson to Staten Island to St. Paul.
I am speaking today as a citizen of Minnesota, of these United States, as a Jewish citizen, as a rabbi of Mount Zion Temple founded 158 years ago, as a co-chair of the Minnesota Rabbinical Association, as a member of the Jewish Community Relations Council of MN and of Jewish Community Action which is actively working on voter pre-registration and restoring the vote for former felons.
As a Jew, I am no stranger to injustices and hate and violence. Just yesterday at my synagogue on our Sabbath, anti-Semitic paraphernalia met my congregants as they came to worship. But today the Jewish community in America is in a very different place as a whole from fifty years ago. We do not face systemic challenges to our advancement in our society. Though too many Jews still struggle economically, we are grateful as a whole for positive changes that have helped us and we bear responsibility with all our neighbors for the road to a truly beloved community.
Fifty years ago, the Jewish community’s greatest leaders were partners to Martin Luther King in Selma and Neshoba County. Mississippi and Montgomery. The Voting Rights Act of ’65 that emerged from Selma was written on the conference table of the Jewish Reform Movement’s headquarters in Washington, DC as was the Civil Rights Act of ‘64. The person who brought folks to that table at the Religious Action Center was Rabbi Richard Hirsch who was in Selma with Rev. King along with so many other ministers, priests and rabbis. On the Sunday of the march, Dr. King, after speaking passionately – in only the way he could – looked to Rabbi Hirsch and said to the unsuspecting rabbi, “Your turn.”
Standing up to that moment, Rabbi Hirsch reached for a text that was in his heart, a profound truth of my tradition, a truth shared by Christians and Muslims, and one appreciated by many more:
Why did God create humanity with only person? Our rabbis taught: so that no one would be able to say that my parent is better than your parent. How was that first human being created? God took the sand from four corners of the earth, black, red, white, and yellow sand. Beautiful colors brought together, ensouled with the Divine breath. So that none should say: my parent is greater than your parent.
Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel who also marched in Selma saying, My feet were praying, My feet were praying, spoke these words that preach today: “To act in the spirit of religion is to unite what lies apart, to remember that humanity as a whole is God’s beloved child. Racism is worse than idolatry. Few of us seem to realize how insidious, how radical, how universal and evil, racism is. Few of us realize that racism is the gravest threat to humankind.”
Friends, how do we reclaim our humanity? How do we create a bridge to our better selves? By looking into the face of others, by truly seeing each other. Please now, I invite you to look into the eyes, the face of a person next to you and smile …. and breathe and look and smile.
Rabbi Nachman of Bratzlav taught in a dark time in Europe, that the entire world is a very narrow bridge. The most important thing is not to be afraid.
We shall face our fears with moral audacity and spiritual grandeur. We will face our fears together. We crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge. We will cross many others. May this be God’s will and our action.