When looking at Judaism’s tradition of civil rights activism and the joining of faiths, races, and cultures in the struggle for equality, morality and civil rights in light of the tragic unwarranted shooting death of Atatiana Jefferson, I am reminded of the teachings of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel. Heschel (1907-1972) was a Polish survivor of the Holocaust who was arrested by the Gestapo in October 1938 and fled the Nazis in 1939. Upon coming to America, he became a leading religious figure and civil rights activist who marched and partnered with Martin Luther King Jr. in the fight for civil rights. In today’s times of upheaval and the fracturing of communities, it is important that we remember his words.
Heschel believed that “A religious man is a person who holds God and man in one thought at one time, at all times, who suffers harm done to others, whose greatest passion is compassion, whose greatest strength is love and defiance of despair.” In other words, when one person hurts, we all hurt. When injustice occurs, it is felt within all communities. Communities are hurting today!
Heschel went on to say that, “Racism, [anti-Semitism and all other prejudices with an ‘ism’ at the end of the word] is man’s gravest threat to man — the maximum of hatred for a minimum of reason.” However, this minimum of “reason” must be our “reason” to join the struggle for mutual respect among us all. For as Heschel said while standing next to Martin Luther King Jr., “God is every man’s pedigree. He is either the Father of all men or of no man. The image of God is either in every man or in no man … . God’s covenant is with all men, and we must never be oblivious of the equality of the divine dignity of all men.”
Let us all work together so that God’s image, man’s dignity, grows within each of us,
not only in times of trouble and travail but rather lives within us at all times.
Rabbi Andrew Bloom is the the rabbi at Congregation Ahavath Sholom in Fort Worth and a member of the Mayor’s Faith Leader Cabinet.