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Rabbi Davidson’s 2021 Remarks

By popular request, we have posted Rabbi Davidson’s remarks during the January 18, 2021 MLK Celebration:

My name is Beth D. Davidson, and I am the rabbi of Temple Adath Yeshurun, here in Manchester, NH. TAY was an early member of the MLK Coalition, and we have been a proud participant in this celebration of the life and message of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. since its inception. I am honored to be part of our celebration today.

This year, coming together to celebrate Dr. King and his legacy wasn’t easy. Our world, our country, our community is having to confront issues of pandemic and prejuThis year, coming together to celebrate Dr. King and his legacy wasn’t easy. Our world, our country, our community is having to confront issues of pandemic and prejudice. All of us have been touched somehow by Covid 19, and I believe all of us were touched by the tragic murders of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, Rayshard Brooks and other African Americans who were killed or wounded because of the color of their skin. 2020 may have just ended, but I fear that prejudice towardd and denigration of people of color will not end unless and until we take up the charge to be the change.dice. All of us have been touched somehow by Covid 19, and I believe all of us were touched by the tragic murders of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, Rayshard Brooks and other African Americans who were killed or wounded because of the color of their skin. 2020 may have just ended, but I fear that prejudice towardd and denigration of people of color will not end unless and until we take up the charge to be the change.

Clearly, we need to become points of light, for as our new year began, we were forcibly reminded what the powers of hate and intolerance can do. Our Capitol and our democracy were assaulted by a bunch of thugs. We cannot ignore the disgraceful fact that the security preparations for BLM marches and demonstrations held last year were wildly different then what met those who attacked the Capitol; if we can look beyond this instance of institutional racism for just for a moment, I believe that all Americans, whatever their color, should be horrified by what transpired last Wednesday. We can pray that the upcoming inauguration will take place without further violent interruption, that as a nation we will enjoy a moment of peaceful transition that expresses our hopes for our future, but prayer is not enough in the face of insurrection, just as it is not sufficient in response to racial injustice.

Where do we get our hope, our energy, our vision to move forward? There are times I think that we have to listen to voices from our past. In my mind’s eye, I carry a picture of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. marching arm in arm with Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel in 1965, as they prayed with their feet, marching from Selma to Montgomery in support of voting rights. If you have never seen this picture, let me invite you to the Jewish Federation of NH’s Film Festival, which, in conjunction with the Manchester MLK Coalition, is sponsoring two free films in the next few weeks. The first, “…Shared Legacies: The African-American Jewish Civil Rights Alliance (Screens Jan. 28-31) – The crucial historical lessons of Black-Jewish cooperation are revisited and re-examined in this utterly fascinating, urgent call to action….[The second film is] … Joachim Prinz: I Shall Not Be Silent (Screens Feb. 1-4)– Directly before Martin Luther King Jr.’s iconic “I Have a Dream” speech, Rabbi Joachim Prinz declared that “bigotry and hatred are not the most urgent problem. The most urgent, the most disgraceful, the most shameful and the most tragic problem is silence.” The rabbi, a German-Jewish refugee forced to flee his home in 1937, knew this lesson firsthand. When the racism against African Americans reminded him of the treatment of Jews in Nazi Germany, Prinz became a key ally of Dr. King….” {Press release, JFNH} These movies do more than teach us history —- while they remind us what can be accomplished when minorities work together, the movies challenge us to act, as we cannot be silent in the face of injustice — a powerful reminder and charge that is as important today as it was 60 years ago. For more information on these films, you can go to the MLK Coalition website, or the JFNH website.

Two thousand years ago, Rabbi Tarphon taught:

“It is not incumbent upon you to complete the work, but neither are you free to abstain from it.”

His too, is a voice from the past, but it instructs us that while we may not be able to personally bring an end to racial injustice and other forms of intolerance, prejudice and hatred, we may not throw up our hands and walk away. Each of us needs to be involved, doing what we can, no matter how big or how small. It is our responsibility to build a society that doesn’t make decisions about its members based on the color of one’s skin; it is our responsibility to insure that everyone has equal access to health care, good schools, higher education, and a job market that will welcome them; it is our responsibility to remember that all people are created in the image of God, and are thus deserving of respect. We are our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers and we have to treat people the way we ourselves want to be treated.

We don’t have to finish the work of transforming society, but we do have to participate in doing the hard work that will move our nation forward. We can volunteer our time, energy, and financial resources to support organizations that work for the good of our country and all its people; we can remain actively engaged in our political system, supporting and casting our ballots for candidates who share our views and who will work for justice and an end to systemic prejudice; we must challenge those who make hateful statements or tell unacceptable jokes at the water fountain when we are again standing around them, or today on Zoom or social media ; we can teach, preach, and live a message of racial, gender and ethnic equality as we help make change in our businesses, our institutions and our neighborhoods; above all we cannot sit back and wait for someone else to do what must be done.

This is a crucial piece of Rev. Dr. King’s message: we each have to roll up our sleeves and do what we can. Earlier in our program, you heard members of the MLK Coalition, past recipients of the MLK award, and local politicians give voice to his call from the past, as they read excerpts from Rev. Dr. King’s speech, “Where Do We Go From Here?” In closing I’d like to share a little more of that speech. His words ring as loudly today as they did when he first delivered this speech at a Southern Christian Leadership Conference in 1967:

“… What I’m saying today is that we must go from this convention and say, “America, you must be born again!”

And so, I conclude by saying today that we have a task, and let us go out with a divine dissatisfaction.

Let us be dissatisfied until America will no longer have a high blood pressure of creeds and an anemia of deeds.

Let us be dissatisfied until the tragic walls that separate the outer city of wealth and comfort from the inner city of poverty and despair shall be crushed by the battering rams of the forces of justice.

Let us be dissatisfied until those who live on the outskirts of hope are brought into the metropolis of daily security.

Let us be dissatisfied until slums are cast into the junk heaps of history, and every family will live in a decent, sanitary home….

Let us be dissatisfied until men and women, however black they may be, will be judged on the basis of the content of their character, not on the basis of the color of their skin.) Let us be dissatisfied. …

Let us be dissatisfied until from every city hall, justice will roll down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream. …

Let us be dissatisfied until that day when nobody will shout, “White Power!” when nobody will shout, “Black Power!” but everybody will talk about God’s power and human power….

Our society still needs us to use our dissatisfaction and our power to make change happen — though prayer asking for God’s support never goes amiss. This past year we lost the voices of John R Lewis, CT Vivian, and Bruce Boynton — we have to lift up our voices in their stead, and hopefully, inspire new, young voices to join us, as we continue to try and create a country in which each and every man, woman, and child can sit, regardless of their color, under their vines and fig-trees, in security, in comfort and in peace. Today we honor the legacy of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. but honoring isn’t enough — we must take up his challenge that “… Darkness cannot put out darkness, only light can do that …” and we must recommit our selves to being and lighting such lights.