Boston participants in the 60th anniversary of the March on Washington./MEIR ZIMMERMAN

National civil rights march affirms social action begins at home 



National civil rights march affirms social action begins at home 

Boston participants in the 60th anniversary of the March on Washington./MEIR ZIMMERMAN

A bus from our Greater Boston Jewish community traveled south to our nation’s capital to join thousands of Americans for the 60th anniversary of the March on Washington. Hosted by the Anti-Defamation League, we were among hundreds of Jews from around the country who came to march alongside our allies and friends, for the sake of dignity, equality, and justice for all.

What made our Boston group so special, in part, was that it was intergenerational.

There was a young leader from Israel who recently moved to Boston to attend Harvard Kennedy School, and who remembers being a child living in Israel when Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated. He has drawn inspiration from MLK’s leadership and the American civil rights movement as he has worked to build a just society in Israel.

We heard an Orthodox person who shared that his mother was a Holocaust survivor and so he has always been acutely aware of the dangers to a society when we allow ourselves to dehumanize any person or group.

Another young person reflected on having learned the history of the first March on Washington, and wanting to walk in the footsteps of those who have come before her both to experience that history and to carry it forward.

There was something especially poignant about marching from the Lincoln Memorial to the MLK Memorial, paying tribute to two prophetic leaders who lived and led 100 years apart, yet each of whom inherited the unfinished work of building this far-from-perfect union.

Both leaders exhibited courageous and compassionate leadership – in the face of fierce, and ultimately, violent opposition – calling on the better angels of our humanity and of our country, and insisting that we choose light in the face of darkness, hope in the face of despair.

Hours of speeches reiterated a common theme: we have come so far, and yet have so far to go.

“If I could speak to my grandfather today, I would say, ‘I’m sorry we still have to be here to rededicate ourselves to finishing your work, and ultimately realizing your hidden dream,’” King’s granddaughter Yolanda Renee King told all of us in the crowd.
I found myself thinking America is at a crossroads; democracy around the world is at a crossroads; this is our moment and our time to build, to repair, to hope and to dream. The future is in our hands.

We are standing on the shoulders of those who have come before us and it is incumbent on us to continue what they began. We are unstoppable when we stand and work together, and we will not allow the forces of extremism and hatred to divide us. To stand against one form of bigotry and hate, we must stand against all forms of bigotry and hate. That is why CJP is working in partnership with the Foundation to Combat Antisemitism, led passionately by Robert Kraft – who was among the speakers in Washington – to Stand Up to Jewish Hate.

Our Jewish story and our Jewish values have taught us what it means to live as a minority without equal rights or equal access. Our exodus from Egypt and journey out of slavery taught us never to take freedom for granted and always to use whatever resources, blessings, and power we have to stand on the side of goodness and righteousness. Especially when it is easier to turn away from the injustices around us and to preserve the comfort of the status quo, we have learned – from both the villains and the heroes of our history – that the path to repairing our broken world begins with seeing the suffering of others and responding with compassion, empathy and love.

Even as we experienced the power of a national march, led by national civil rights leaders and organizations, it was clear to me that so much of this work – of allyship, advocacy, and social action – needs to be done locally.

We need to continue to expand our circles right here in Greater Boston, to build new relationships and deepen existing ties within and between our different communities. Key to CJP’s work to fight antisemitism is deepening allyship across communities, recognizing that we cannot fight antisemitism alone, nor can we do it in a vacuum. When we work together, we can build empathy and compassion for one another, we can respect and engage honestly with our differences, and we can also discover shared values, common ground, and a unifying sense of purpose. Θ

Rabbi Marc Baker is president and chief executive officer of Combined Jewish Philanthropies of Greater Boston.

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