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Rabbi Weinblatt’s Speech at a Baptist Church on the Charleston 9

Rabbi Weinblatt organized a national effort endorsed by 18 major national Jewish organizations to show support for the African American community and to express abhorrence of the horrific act of violence in Charleston, SC. Below is the sermon he gave this past Sunday at the People’s Baptist Church in Silver Spring, MD.

 

Speech at The People’s Baptist Community Church

 

Rabbi Stuart Weinblatt

June 28, 2015

 

I am here this morning as an American.

 

I am here as a Jew, and I am here as a rabbi.

 

Rabbis around the country spoke in synagogues this Sabbath to express solidarity with the African American community.  In my synagogue we read the names of the nine killed in Charleston when we said the prayer at the end of our service honoring those who have passed, and we stood as one in their honor. And just as there are members of the Jewish faith who are attending black churches today to show support and solidarity in light of the tragedy in Charleston, I am here to bring a simple message:

 

You are not alone.

 

We feel your loss.

 

Your pain is our pain.

 

The Bible teaches us:  Thou shalt not stand idly by the blood of your neighbor.

 

The Bible teaches:  That we are all God’s children, for we are all created b’tzelem Elohim, in the image of God, and that we are all equal in the eyes of the Lord.

 

The Bible teaches:  To never forget that we were once strangers in the land of Egypt.

 

So that is why I stand here today, because of the powerful imperative of Jewish tradition to plead the cause of the orphan, the stranger and the widow and because we are commanded to love our neighbors.

 

Unfortunately, there are too many things our people share in common.  Throughout history, Jews were killed because they were different, because they taught and practiced the word of God.  When I heard that people were gunned down in a church while studying words of God, just because they were black I was outraged, and knew that we had to do something. And my sons who were with me on a trip encouraged me to organize this national response.

 

I couldn’t help but recall similar incidents that have happened to Jews.  Just this past November hate-filled terrorists entered a synagogue in Romema, Israel and brutally butchered people.  Just as in 2008 an Arab terrorist entered a Yeshivah, a holy place of study in Jerusalem, and filled with hatred for Jews methodically killed eight students who, just like the victims in Charleston, were studying words of God.

 

Yes, our experiences are similar.  Our history is so much like your history.  Our stories are intertwined.

 

And that is why Jews have always been in the forefront of the civil rights movement.  It is why Jews were so actively involved in desegregation and marched with Martin Luther King to shatter the shackles of injustice.

 

I will never forget the time I was arrested for demonstrating for freedom for the Jews behind the Iron Curtain in Soviet Russia about 25 years ago.  After a long day in jail, just before we stood before the judge as we were about to be released, a black sheriff ushered us into the courtroom.  Quietly he said to us, “As an officer of the court I have to be officially neutral, but I want you to know I am on your side. I will never forget all your people have done for my people. ”

 

And so that is why I am here today – because I want you to know – I, and the whole Jewish community are with you and on your side.

 

As a young boy, I learned early on that our fates are intertwined – which is why I cherish this famous photo of the 1963 March on Washington.  If you look closely at the picture, you will see that there is a man in a white shirt right behind Dr. King.  That man was Sam Weinblatt, my father.  So I learned at a young age that your cause is our cause.

 

One summer I worked as a teenager in a factory in Baltimore.  An elderly black gentleman, Mr. Gray, took me under his wings.  I would always take my breaks with him. I would listen to his words of wisdom as he smoked a cigarette and I drank a coke.

 

One day, as we were sitting in the lunch room, a guy who was hired as a day worker started spewing hate and saying all kinds of terrible things about Jews.  I didn’t know what to say or do.  Mr. Gray gently put his hand on my arm, letting me know I should stay quiet. Later when we went outside during our break he said to me, “You know if I wasn’t in the room, he would have been saying terrible things not just about Jews, but about black folks also.”

 

It is no coincidence that the man (I’m not even going to say his name) who shot people in Charleston wrote how much he hates Jews as well as blacks.

 

But what that man could not anticipate was that acts of hatred would be met with a response of love and forgiveness. What that man could not fathom was that his act of hatred would bring about an outpouring of mercy and compassion.  What he didn’t know is that love is stronger and more powerful than hate.

 

So let us commit ourselves to work together in the name of the nine innocent people who were murdered in Charleston against racial injustice, against intolerance — acts that we call Hillul HaShem, which desecrate the name of God.

 

The Bible commands 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.

 

We pray that this country shall live under the Providence of the Almighty God, and that it will be an influence for good throughout the world. United by the spirit of God and inspired by the teachings of Heaven we pray that citizens of all races and creeds shall forge a common bond to banish all hatred and bigotry.  May all who live on earth realize we have not come into being to hate or destroy, but to love.   May the powerful words of the prophet come to pass – that love and justice shall flow like a mighty stream.


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.