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MLK Shabbat 2016

Tonight we welcome our friends from the People’s Community Baptist Church of Silver Spring.  In August my wife and I were welcomed by Pastor Robinson and the members of his church and it is now our pleasure to have the privilege of reciprocating your gracious hospitality.


I went there after the shootings in Charleston, SC to deliver a simple message. That message, as I said then was:  You are not alone. We feel your pain. We are your brothers and sisters.


When Joseph was wandering in Dothan, he encountered a man who asked who and what he was seeking.  Joseph said, “Et ahai anochi mevakesh: It is my brothers that I seek.”  When he was reunited with them many years later, Joseph said to them, “I am Joseph, your brother.”


It is in that spirit that we extend our hand to our friends here tonight and say, “Welcome. You are here with your brothers, and your sisters.”


In this week’s Torah reading, we read of the ninth plague, the plague of darkness. The darkness was so palpable that, “no one could see his fellow man, nor could anyone rise from his place. It was so dark no one could move, for three whole days.” Our sages ask, how could it be so dark that no one could move?  That’s because as the Bible tells us, if one sees only oneself, and does not see his brother, does not see his brother’s plight, and does not empathize with him, then one cannot rise. The Bible is teaching us that when you do not see your fellow human being, when you see only yourself, you are incapacitated, and cannot find the light and you do not have the power to get up.


Ah – but then we read – “There was light in the dwellings of the Israelites.” There was light among the Children of Israel precisely because, they saw their fellow man.


All the Egyptians had to do was ask – surely we would have shared the light, because that is what we have always done.  Throughout our history, despite all the attempts to annihilate the Jewish people, to oppress us, to convert us, to wipe us out, to humiliate us, to extinguish us and our light, we still insist on keeping the light alive, on sharing the light, on being a light unto the nations.


Knowing our history, knowing that Jews were killed because we were different, because we taught and practiced the word of God, we have understood that we stand with those who are not free, that we have an obligation to work for civil rights and equal rights for all.


Our history is so much like the history of African Americans. Our experiences are not just similar, our stories are intertwined.  That is why we need each other, and we pledge to stand together with you.  We need you to stand with us when Jewish people are attacked or harmed, when hateful negative stereotypes about Jews are repeated, or when Israel is isolated, ostracized, and attacked


Tonight we honor our shared vision and history, and the memory of Dr. Martin Luther King, with whom we marched and worked to shatter the shackles of injustice, to break down the walls of separation. The anonymous man in a white shirt right behind Dr. King in the famous photo of the 1963 March on Washington was Sam Weinblatt, my father.


He did that, and he passed the message on to me that this is our obligation. We heed the words of the Bible commanding us – “Tzedek, tzedek tirdof:  Justice, justice shall you pursue.” Let us continue to walk the path together to pursue justice and to walk in the way of the Lord.


Acts of hatred, bigotry and intolerance must be met with love and forgiveness, with mercy and compassion, for as Dr. King taught, love is stronger and more powerful than hate.


We pray that this country shall live under the Providence of the Almighty God, to be an influence for good throughout the world. We pray and will work for that day when citizens of all races and creeds shall forge a common bond to banish all hatred and bigotry so that all who live on earth shall realize we have not come into being to hate or destroy, but to love.


May the powerful words of the prophet, words often recited by Dr. King, and which are emblazoned on our Torah mantle come to pass – “that justice shall flow like a mighty stream, and righteousness roll on like a mighty river.”


Also published on Medium.


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Stuart Weinblatt

Rabbi Stuart Weinblatt is the President of the Rabbinic Cabinet of the Jewish Federations of North America. From 2009 - 2014 he served as Director of Israel Policy and Advocacy for the Rabbinical Assembly.
Rabbi Weinblatt is the rabbi of Congregation B'nai Tzedek in Potomac, Maryland, a vibrant Conservative synagogue of 650 families he founded in 1988, along with his wife and a handful of families.