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A Statement From the Social Justice Committee

A Statement From the Social Justice Committee

June 1, 2020

To Our Beloved KI Community:

We, the members of the Social Justice Committee, have focused our efforts on education and

advocacy: Education designed to forge bonds of understanding across difference, and advocacy

related to voting. In January of this year, our committee hosted a program we called “On

Becoming Beloved Community” to honor the words and deeds of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. We

began our program by listening to a speech that Rabbi Joachim Prinz delivered during the

March on Washington in 1963. Rabbi Prinz delivered a powerful lesson about the dangers of

silence in the face of injustice. He said:

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 problems. The most

urgent, the most disgraceful, the most shameful and the most tragic problem is silence.1

So, in keeping with Rabbi Prinz’s words to us, we speak out today in response to the cruel killing

of George Floyd, an unarmed, Black man arrested and handcuffed by police officers who slowly

died with Derek Chauvin’s knee pressed to his neck. Three other officers stood by and heard

George Floyd beg for air by repeating, “I can’t breathe.” We, who have breath, join the voices of

our rabbis and the words of our texts, and we say, “Enough!”

During the past several years, we have watched videos of other Black men, and read reports

about other people of color who have been shot and killed, not in some far-off battlefield, but

in the streets of our own cities and towns. These people, our fellow citizens, have been

pursued, caught, and executed, not by soldiers in another country, but by officers in our own

America. It is now past time to harken to Dr. Prinz’s call to speak out against the brutality and

evil perpetrated on Black people in America, to call for more than expressions of sympathy and

solidarity, but also to explicitly articulate the need for deep structural changes in our criminal

justice system, as well as changes in our entire society writ large. It is time for America to catch

up with the explicit meaning of the words of our founding fathers that “all men are created

equal,” and to reject the implicit exceptions that have been embedded in these words

throughout our history.

However, words alone are not enough to drive out the darkness that has always lingered in our

country on questions of bigotry. We also are called upon to act. Young people have taken to our

streets to protest and express their rage in ways that are hopeful. Some have also acted in ways

that are harmful. Many are eloquent in their expressions of anger, and others are harmful in

their acts of vandalism, arson and theft. We are confident that the fires in our cities will be

extinguished, and looting will be stopped. But true peace can be forged when Americans take

steps towards a positive peace, in Dr. King’s words towards “the presence of justice” over a

“negative peace which is the absence of tension.”

There is one way to begin to do that. Vote. As simple as voting may seem, we know that it has

never been easy for some Americans to exercise their right to vote. Throughout our history,

America has put obstacles in the path of free and fair elections. In our own times there have

been purged voter rolls, discriminatory voter ID laws, shuttered polling places in Black and

Latino neighborhoods. And now, during the COVID-19 pandemic, there are efforts to deny

Americans the opportunity to vote safely by mail. We, at KI do not face these obstacles; and so,

it is incumbent on all of us, not only to vote, but also to do all we can to fight for the franchise

of our fellow citizens. The power to make the necessary structural changes in areas such as

criminal justice and voter suppression can only be achieved by electing candidates who are

committed to social justice for all people.

There have been other dark times in our history when we could have hearkened to the voices

of great, even sacred leaders, to help inspire us and lead us forward. In 1963, Rabbi Abraham

Joshua Heschel asked:

Where does God dwell in America today? Is He at home with those who are complacent,

indifferent to other people’s agony, devoid of mercy? … If not for the few signs of God’s

radiance, who could stand such agony, such darkness? Where in America today do we

hear a voice like the voice of the prophets of Israel? Martin Luther King is a sign that

God has not forsaken the United States of America.2

Today, Dr. King is no longer with us. But we can learn from his words and from his example.

Like the prophet Isaiah, we are called upon to say, “Here I am; send me” (Isa. 6:8). Today it’s up

to all of us to be “drum majors for justice.” Throughout our history there have been difficult

times that have called for people of conscience to act. This is one of those times. The time for

our silence in the face of evil is over; we must as a community respond to the URJ’s Religious

Action Center to raise our voices and get out every vote.


1 Joachim Prinz Civil Rights [Joachim Prinz]. (n.d.). Retrieved June 01, 2020, from


2 Conversation with Martin Luther King (1968 ed., Vol. 22, Ser. 3). (n.d.). Rabbinical Assembly.


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