On three things, the world stands: on justice, on truth, and peace. Pirkei Avot/Ethics of Our Fathers 1:18
My husband told me that he remembers the riots in Chicago at the 1968 Democratic National Convention, at the height of the Vietnam War. “The Chicago Seven” were arrested and tried as an example to all. Most of them were Jewish, so were their lawyers, so was the judge.
Jews were intensely involved in the Civil Rights movement. One black leader in Mississippi estimated that, in the 1960s, the critical decade of the voter-registration drives, “as many as 90% of the civil rights lawyers in Mississippi were Jewish.” Jews similarly made up at least 30 percent of the white volunteers who rode freedom buses to the South, registered blacks, and picketed segregated establishments.
Two young New Yorkers, Michael Schwerner and Andrew Goodman served in 1964 as voting-registration volunteers in Meridian, Mississippi. One of their coworkers was a young black Mississippian, James Chaney. Together they were waylaid and murdered by Klansmen; their bodies dumped in a secret grave. As much as any single factor, it was the nationwide attention given the discovery of their corpses that accelerated passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The Jews had long since achieved their own political and economic breakthrough. Rarely had any community gone to such lengths to share its painfully achieved status with others.
My husband told me about the riots after the 1968 shooting of Dr. Martin Luther King.
He also shared what he remembered his father told him. During those turbulent years, my late father-in-law told his son, my husband, that he worked with black men at the laundromat owned by his father-in-law. He said they were hardworking, good men, and it was not easy for them to get ahead. He felt their pain, and at work, he made sure they were treated with dignity and respect by all.
Just as the outing of Harvey Weinstein became a defining moment that sparked the #MeToo movement that is creating real change, so too the tragic murder of George Floyd must be a watershed moment.
Why did the Jews march with the blacks for their rights? Why were most of the founders of the feminist movement Jews? Why did they lead the protests to stop the Vietnam war? Because it is in our spiritual DNA that we are here to make a good, fair, and just world.
The Jewish people must always stand for values that transcend politics. More than ever, we must live these values, and teach them to our children. In years to come, they will be telling their children about these times and what we said, what we did, and what we taught. It is not simple to apply these values in multi-layered, complex times, but that is what we must all strive to do today and always.
May we see true justice, truth, and peace very soon.