Aug 06 2020

From Time to Time – Message of the Day

Published by at 10:45 am under From Time to Time

From Time to Time




Hear the Words of a Refugee Rabbi, and be Inspired


by Rabbi Michael Panitz


Speakers at the March on Washington, Aug. 28, 1963, including Rabbi Joachim Prinz (standing, second from left) and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (seated second from right).
Source of photo: Center for Jewish History, New York, NY


We Americans are at an inflection point in our national history. Four centuries of racism have defined our country as a society that, for all its great accomplishments in the realm of freedom, has fallen tragically short of its potential. Our national legacy of racism has been sporadically challenged and partially redressed, but the original sin of the nation still distorts life in our country. Today, we are in the midst of a powerful wave of protest. Alas, some of the protesters themselves are guilty of anti-Semitic statements and actions. But the overarching question for us as American Jews is whether we will side with the racist establishment, or whether we will side with those who seek to dismantle that sinful edifice, even while engaging with them to raise their own consciousness of where they, too, fall short.

At these critical cross-roads, it is instructive for us to reexamine the history of our people’s involvement with the Civil Rights Movement of the mid-twentieth century. At our worst, we were silent or self-absorbed at that time. In the middle of the spectrum were those of us who felt sympathy for other oppressed souls, but who were simply too fearful of losing the tentative, partial tolerance extended to us to speak up. But at our best, we joined hands, black and white together; we marched; we reached across barriers and touched hearts; we made a difference that widened the horizons of opportunity for millions of our fellow-Americans.

Of the many moments in that era, the August 28, 1963 “March on Washington” is a high point. And of the many moments of that march, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I have a dream” is the best remembered. King’s speech is justly celebrated as an Everest of American oratory and a prophetic call for America to become a better nation.

King was, nonetheless, not the only speaker that day. Do you know who spoke just before him, and what he said?

The speaker was Rabbi Joachim Prinz. Tomorrow, I will share with you the story of this amazing man and inspiring leader. For now, let his own words uplift you:


“I speak to you as an American Jew.”


“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.”

(Conclusion, tomorrow: “You Must Stand with Moses, if you Do Not Stand with Pharaoh”)

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