By Ben Tinsley
Three Temple Emanu-El of Dallas clergy teams joined the NAACP, numerous Reform rabbis and others last week to walk a leg of the 860-mile “America’s Journey For Justice.”
This march from Selma, Alabama to Washington, D.C. from Aug. 1 to Sept. 16 is a
re-imagining of the historic March 25, 1965 voting rights march in Alabama from Selma to the Capitol steps in Montgomery.
Participating in it was a very powerful experience, Temple Emanu-El of Dallas members said.
“Being able to participate in social justice is something I’m going to talk about with my grandchildren,” said Sue Pickens, of Temple Emanu-El of Dallas. “… It’s such a blessing we live in a country where we can do this.”
The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King led thousands of nonviolent demonstrators on the original, five-day, 54-mile march. The new, longer, march advances a national advocacy agenda promoting a fair criminal justice system, voting rights, jobs and public education. As of Monday, marchers had walked 620 of those 860 targeted miles.
The NAACP was joined in their sponsorship of the event by a consortium of various partners, including the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism and the Central Conference of American Rabbis.
Temple Emanu-El Rabbi Kimberly Herzog Cohen said she was humbled to have been fortunate enough to take part in the march.
“On Sept. 3, I stood with hundreds at a voting rights rally in Raleigh, North Carolina,” the rabbi said. “When the NAACP CEO, Cornell Brooks, said something to the effect of ‘You can’t carry the Torah without it extending over your heart. … We have carried this Torah 700 miles and it has touched our hearts,’ I started to tear up. I went on this march because I believe it is each of our responsibility to transform the fires of injustice into the waters of justice that our tradition so powerfully demands of every generation. I felt moved, challenged, and motivated — as a mother, a rabbi, and as an American.”
Temple Emanu-El congregation members said (aside from Dr. King himself), there are two specific people whose actions inspired them to participate in this march:
One was the late Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, who can be seen in old photographs striding next to Martin Luther King Jr. in the original 1965 march. (Heschel passed away December 23, 1972.)
The other was a “Brother Ivan” who is believed to be with a local NAACP chapter. Members said “Brother Ivan” marched with them and also walked with Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in the original march.
Elise Mikus said the decision of the Temple Emanu-El of Dallas rabbis to participate in the march was made fairly quickly.
“It was very spur of the moment,” she said. “Basically our temple got an email notice asking if anyone wanted to participate. Everything happened so fast.”
Those from Temple Emanu-El of Dallas were divided into teams: Rabbi Herzog Cohen traveled there with immediate Past President Robin Kosberg and Sue Pickens. Rabbi Debra Robbins was with Dr. Pam Rollins and Elise Mikus. Rabbi David Stern was with Mike Rosen and Eric Rosenbaum.
The group flew to Raleigh, North Carolina, where they were bused from a central location and then downtown to begin the march. Each day, that team’s walk started 20 miles closer to Washington, D.C.
Robin Kosberg said marchers were prepared for the long walk with water and snacks. They picked up their trash. Special vehicles trailed along behind those walking so people could go to the bathroom when needed.
Mikus said the contingent from Dallas was small but determined.
“We walked the pace of the slowest person — two miles an hour for 18 miles,” Mikus said. “We kept the Torah with us.”
Michael Rosen with Temple Emanu-El of Dallas said he found the experience “interesting, rewarding and difficult.”
“I walked about 14 of those miles taking turns carrying the Torah for short portions,” he said. “It was a challenge. I carried the Torah for about three miles.”
Rosen said from what he has seen on TV and from historical accounts, the Selma march all those years ago was much more dangerous.
“Back then people were really fearing for their lives,” he said. “There was a lot of anger directed toward them on their journey.
“What we saw was actually curiosity more than anything else.”
Rosen said the George State Patrol kept a strong watch over marchers the entire time.
Sue Pickens — who estimated the age of participants to be between 17 and 80 — said it was an honor to walk with those invested in justice for everybody.
“Everything was so multicultural,” she said. “Everyone embraced each other. It was a beautiful experience.”