By Rabbi Joel Mosbacher
On August 28, 1963, at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, a rabbi’s sermon nearly upstaged Dr. Martin Luther King’s preaching. Rabbi Joachim Prinz spoke just before Dr. King’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech, and while most people have never heard his words, I’d argue that the words spoken by Prinz were nearly as powerful as Dr. King’s.
He said in part, “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 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 who had created a great civilization had become a nation of onlookers.”
Rabbi Prinz’s prophetic call is, sadly, as applicable today as it was nearly 55 years ago.
Today, we live in a nation where the President has decided that caging immigrant children after cruelly ripping them away from their parents will make us great. And we live in a nation where Congress’s best, most generous, most humane compromise idea around immigration reform involves jailing whole families together.
When our children and grandchildren ask us, as they will, “what did you do while that was happening?” what will we say, my friends?
Let it not be said of us that we were onlookers at this moment. We who were refugees – most of us not more than three generations ago. We parents who can’t imagine being torn from our children; we children who would be scarred forever if we were torn from our parents; we Americans who were raised to be proud of living in a nation of laws and moral leadership; we cannot remain silent at this time.
We have seen this before. We Jews have fled our nations of origin, fled from horror and terror to these shores, seeking freedom and opportunity. We have had our families torn apart. We have sought a port of shelter and been turned back to our deaths.
We have lived in countries and faced persecution – our civil rights obliterated, our dignity and humanity stripped from us – as our neighbors looked away, turned a blind eye, said, “there’s nothing we can do,” said, “we were just following orders.”
When our children and grandchildren ask us, as they will, “what did you do while this was happening,” what will we say, my friends?
Rabbi Rick Jacobs, President of our Reform Movement, said yesterday,
“Let us stand together for an America:
where human and civil rights are for all not for some,
where justice is for all, not for some,
where prosperity is for all, not for some,
where health care and quality education are for all, not for some,
where human decency and dignity are for all, not for some.
The God I love is impatient with injustice.”
And to that, I say, Amen.