Monday, January 12, 2009

America Must Not Be A Nation of Onlookers

This morning's inspiration came in the form of an email from my friend and kindred spirit in outrage in action, Ari Kohn of the Post-Prison Education Project. As the Washington State Legislature kicks off the next 115 days of work — work that will either increase or mitigate the misery of those who suffer the most during hard economic times — he has asked us to remember the lessons of history on the question of silence. Toward that end, he sent a link to the 1963 March on Washington speech of Rabbi Joachim Prinz. The rabbi, who was expelled from Germany in 1937 for speaking out against the Nazi threat, followed Odetta onto the stage to speak just prior to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr's iconic "I Have A Dream" speech. While his words are not nearly so famed, the content is just as relevant to our times, if not more so. The link to a recording of the speech is here.
As Americans we share the profound concern of millions of people about the shame and disgrace of inequality and injustice which make a mockery of the great American idea.

“As Jews we bring to this great demonstration, in which thousands of us proudly participate, a two-fold experience -- one of the spirit and one of our history.

“In the realm of the spirit, our fathers taught us thousands of years ago that when God created man, he created him as everybody's neighbor. Neighbor is not a geographic term. It is a moral concept. It means our collective responsibility for the preservation of man's dignity and integrity.

“From our Jewish historic experience of three and a half thousand years we say:

“Our ancient history began with slavery and the yearning for freedom. During the Middle Ages my people lived for a thousand years in the ghettos of Europe . Our modern history begins with a proclamation of emancipation.

“It is for these reasons that it is not merely sympathy and compassion for the black people of America that motivates us. It is above all and beyond all such sympathies and emotions a sense of complete identification and solidarity born of our own painful historic experience.

“When I was the rabbi of the Jewish community in Berlin under the Hitler regime, I learned many things. The most important thing that I learned under those tragic circumstances was 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.

“A great people which had created a great civilization had become a nation of silent onlookers. They remained silent in the face of hate, in the face of brutality and in the face of mass murder.

“America must not become a nation of onlookers. America must not remain silent. Not merely black America , but all of America . It must speak up and act,. from the President down to the humblest of us, and not for the sake of the Negro, not for the sake of the black community but for the sake of the image, the idea and the aspiration of America itself.

“Our children, yours and mine in every school across the land, each morning pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States and to the republic for which it stands. They, the children, speak fervently and innocently of this land as the land of "liberty and justice for all."

“The time, I believe, has come to work together - for it is not enough to hope together, and it is not enough to pray together, to work together that this children's oath, pronounced every morning from Maine to California, from North to South, may become. a glorious, unshakeable reality in a morally renewed and united America.”

18 comments:

Diane Nilan said...

Tim,

This is a powerful reminder of the challenge we face--thanks for sharing it!

It's amazing how things change and stay the same...

D

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