Rabbi Stephanie Kolin, co-founder of the Seminary Leadership Project and JOIN for Justice Board member, published this powerful call to action in the Huffington Post last week. Read the full post here.
On a recent cross-country drive, I stood where James Earl Ray stood when he killed Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in Memphis, TN. I put my feet where his feet had been and I cast my gaze across the street, to the balcony of the Lorraine Hotel. I imagined Dr. King standing there – a man who not only embodied a community, but a movement, an insistent dream, and a charge to our country to be better than we were. I felt a shiver run through me as I tried to see through the eyes of James Earl Ray, a man who was willing to kill another person in order to kill a dream. Then I felt overwhelmed with the truth that dreams don’t die that easily.
And yet again and again, we are forced to view our world through the lens of those who hate. We see a young man kill nine beautiful people solely because they were black. We see burning black churches, KKK members who spew racist vitriol as they plan to march in South Carolina just a month after the attack on Emanuel AME Church. And like so many others, I think: what year is this?
In the Jewish tradition, we are taught “Yehi ch’vod chaveirach chaviv alecha k’shelach” — “The dignity of your friend should be as dear to you as your own” (Pirkei Avot 2:10). This text does not direct us simply to acknowledge our friend’s dignity, but to ensure it. To protect it. To act as vigilantly as if it were our own. If my friend’s dignity is my dignity, then the humiliation of my friend causes me personal shame and the pain of my friend breaks my heart.
My heart broke as I listened to my friend, a wise and kind African-American pastor, recall his son’s sadness when he came home and asked why his teacher, who used to be so nice to him, would no longer call on him or talk to him, and now seemed to treat him with suspicion. My heart broke as he told me that he had to explain to his son that his growth spurt had turned him from being a small black boy into a young black man and his now tall and broad black body changed how many people, including his beloved teacher, would relate to him.
Read the rest of Rabbi Stephanie Kolin’s piece in the Huffington Post.