Posts Tagged 'MLK'

Wake Up Rage: MLK Today

The other day I went into my sons’ room trying to wake them up. I found myself singing the chorus from Rage Against the Machine‘s song Wake Up. The lyrics discuss racism within the American government and the FBI. A portion of the song is taken from an actual FBI memo in which its director J. Edgar Hoover suggests targets for the suppression of the black nationalist movement. The song makes references to prominent African-American figures targeted by the government such as Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr., and goes as far as saying that the government arranged their assassinations.

 

In memory of Martin Luther King Jr. I offer you to listen to this song and read the lyrics.

Rage Against the Machine sing:

‘Cause all these punks
Got bullets in their heads
Departments of police, the judges, the feds
Networks at work, keepin’ people calm
You know they went after King
When he spoke out on Vietnam
He turned the power to the have-nots
And then came the shot

It is clear that the assassination of King was a wake up call. While there are still large forces of racism a live in this country, on this holiday we need to also remember the King who “spoke out on Vietnam”. Now more than ever we are living in a time when we are turning the power away from the have-nots.

What will be our generation’s wake up call? I sincerely hope that it does not take a shot.

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ProcrastiNation: Why We Eat Matzah on Passover

In preparation for Shabbat HaGadol I ask myself, why do we eat Matzah on Passover? As we read in the Haggadah:

Because the dough of our fathers did not have time to become leavened before the King of the kings, the Holy One, blessed be God, revealed God’s self to them and redeemed them. Thus it is said: “They baked Matzah-cakes from the dough that they had brought out of Egypt, because it was not leavened; for they had been driven out of Egypt and could not delay, and they had also not prepared any [other] provisions.” (DIY Haggadah)

So when the time came for them to leave they did not delay, but that final plague was not the first time they heard of their pending exodus. Moshe came and told the slaves of the plan to leave Egypt. It seems as though the Israelites were surprised by the exodus. Or is it that they doubted that it was possible? You would think that they would have prepared some provisions. Maybe some bagels for the trip, they travel quite well. Can you even imagine what our Passover brunch spread would have been like? But that is not the case. We are stuck eating Matzah.

It seems that Pharaoh was not alone in doubting that God would redeem the people from their bondage. While we call it the bread of affliction, the affliction in question seems to be procrastination. The slaves procrastinated in getting ready to leave the world they knew. We all can relate. On a mundane level we all run late and wait until the last-minute to get things done. But on a deeper level we are all a little slow in working to be the change that we want to see in the world. As the expression goes, failure to prepare is preparing to fail. As we eat this “bread of procrastination” we should liberate ourselves from habits of being a “ProcrastiNation”. As quoted by MLK in his moving Letter from a Birmingham Jail, “justice too long delayed is justice denied.” We must believe, plan, and move swiftly to free our world from injustice. Eating Matzah reminds us not to delay.

Black and White: Another Take on Wearing Tefilin in Public

Being over six feet tall it is no wonder that I hate traveling by plane, it seems that my legs are just too long. Being that tall and ritually observant does make traveling in the early part of the day interesting. Just this week I had to take six AM out of LGA to ORD. On these such occasions I find myself having to get my Jew on in public. For me that was next to the United help desk in Chicago. There is really nothing quite like having to suit up with my tallis and tefilin in flagrante in the terminal or even worse on a plane. While I might attract extra attention to my underpants with my head covering, my tefilin actually look like I am strapping a bomb to my arm and head.  What is my commitment to these rituals?

While I usually experience wearing tefilin with a deep sense of pride in our tradition, in the context of this week’s portion and recent events, it might actually be a little more complex. At the end of Bo,  this week’s Torah portion, we read:

And it happened when Pharaoh stubbornly refused to send us out, that God killed all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, from the firstborn of man to the firstborn of beast. Therefore, I offer to God all male first issue of the womb, and I shall redeem all the firstborn of my sons. And it shall be a sign upon your arm and an ornament between your eyes, for with a strong hand God removed us from Egypt. (Exodus 13:15-16)

While they might ground a plane for my putting on tefilin, it seems that God is the terrorist killing all of the firstborns. What is the cost of our rituals? Did others need to be harmed for our nationalistic expression or religious freedom? I realize that most observant Jews take putting on tefilin for granted. We pray and often live amongst our own. We have  forgotten the significance of this symbol. It takes leaving our own little world to realize the meaning of content and context of our inner ritual lives.

This past week marked the celebration of the memory of  Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. To mark the occasion Adina and I went out this past Saturday night to watch Selma.  MLK taught the world the importance of seeing beyond the superficiality of race. In his unforgettable words, ” I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.” It is a sad truth that most observant Jews spend more time worrying that our tfilin are completely black then the racial inequality in this country. We have missed the forest for the trees. We have gone along with the narrative that the commitment to wear tefilin means you are an Orthodox Jew and the commitment to doing social justice means you are a Reform Jew. For all Jews the daily ritual of tefilin reminds us of our opportunities and responsibilities to help those who are less fortunate. We all have a responsibility in having been freed from slavery to work for liberation for all. I do not feel shame in wearing tefilin in public. I  wear my tefilin with pride, it creates accountability.

– See a similar piece on wearing a Kippah and a related one to this post on tefilin

Table of Brotherhood: Joseph, MLK, and Race in America Today

In VaYeshev, this week’s Torah portion,  Joseph tells his brothers of his dreams that their sheaves will bow down to his sheaf and that their stars will bow to him(Gen. 37:7-9). Jacob makes it clear to everyone that Joseph is pompous, but still his chosen son. These dreams and their father’s open display of favoritism moves Joseph’s brothers to the brink of fratricide. Once they get him alone they throw their little brother into a pit and cruelly sit around and eat lunch (Gen. 37: 24-25). Eventually Joseph gets sold into slavery in Egypt. There, Joseph lived through the nightmares of slavery and imprisonment. Through an interesting turn of events Joseph finds himself in a position of security and power. During a famine, his brothers, seeking food, come to bow before him. Sure enough in the passing of time Joseph’s dream becomes a reality. What is the meaning of this through-line of the brother’s eating?

With all of events in Ferguson and New York in mind and in light of Joseph’s dreams I pause to reread Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr.’s  “I have a Dream” speech from August 28, 1963. Where Joseph’s dreams spoke of his hubris and ends with him in a pit, King’s dream describes the situation of Blacks in this country being in a pit and King’s aspirations for us all to live as equals. There he said:

I say to you today, my friends, that in spite of the difficulties and frustrations of the moment, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream. I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.” I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave-owners will be able to sit down together at a table of brotherhood.

King delivered this iconic speech on the steps at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C.  In his speech he referenced it being 100 years since Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation. With all of the recent events, it is crazy to realize that it has been 51 years since King’s speech. Unfortunately the question of how someone could kill or enslave a brother is both timeless and  still so timely. The fraternal order of police along with the rest of us need to look into the mirror and determine how we allow this plague of fratricide to continue.  As king says:

When we let freedom ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, “Free at last! free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!”

When none of us are in a pit we can see each other as equals. At that point we can break bread together and sit with each other at the table of brotherhood. Just because this problem has existed since the time of  Joseph and his brothers, does not  mean it is not urgent. We all have a lot of work to do.  How many more brothers need to die before King’s dream becomes a reality?

Those in Glass Houses

Crazy people will do crazy things, but they still have to work within the parameters of the sane. Whether with the recent shooting of Gabrielle Giffords or Rabin, people did bad things in the name of what they thought were just causes. The words we use to talk about our enemies frames the limits of how we should treat them.

In BeShalach, this week’s Torah portion, we read the Song of the Sea. It is a poem said by Moses after the miracle of the splitting of the Red Sea. There was one line from the poem that I have not been able to get out of my mind during this week of national grieving. There we read, “The deeps cover them–they went down into the depths like a stone” ( Exodus 15:5) The simple meaning is that the approaching Egyptians fell into the water of the Red Sea as fast as a descending rock in water. But on another level it speaks of the trivial nature of their value. In this sense this rhetoric speaks of a certain lack of compassion.

Later in their journey toward the Promised Land, Moses is told that he must speak to get water from a rock for the complaining Israelites. And sure enough Moses hits the rock instead of talking to it. We attribute Moses not being allowed to enter the land to his hitting the rock.

When we were young we used to say, ” Sticks and stone will break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” In the wake of recent events, I have come to realize how wrong that idea was. Sticks and stones will break our bones, but words can really hurt too.  The words we use create the context for all of the other actions we take.  When Moses speaks of the Egyptians as just rocks, they are expendable. Later as in the case of getting water from the rock, it seems as if he is being asked to read the metaphor the other way around. Can Moses model confronting their oppressors with civil discourse and overcoming the urge to just use force?

The temptation to use force or hyperbolic rhetoric is natural, but it does not mean it will help us create a sustainable future. Understanding that every human being has inalienable rights is the bedrock of a just society. We must hold ourselves to the highest standard when we seek to bring about justice. We must follow the model of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King in fighting injustice with eloquence that strives to evoke the  divine potential in all of us, the oppressed and the oppressor. Only at that point will we all be free to sing a song of freedom.


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