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Tribute to a Hero and a Poem for Elul

Photo of Journey for Justice March from reformjudaism.org

Photo of Journey for Justice March from reformjudaism.org

Our family is spending a few days this week visiting Steve’s mom at her home in Columbus, GA. Rayna is anticipating her 95th birthday in mid-September. A great simcha, of course, but since it will be in the middle of the Holidays, we are here now to celebrate with her a bit in advance. As you may remember, Steve’s dad, Rabbi Alfred L. Goodman, z”l, served as Rabbi of Temple Israel of Columbus for some 33 years, during the 1950’s, ‘60’s, ‘70’s, and early ’80’s. Very deep into the Deep South, Columbus, like the rest of the region, certainly had its problems as the Civil Rights Movement progressed. A small coterie of rabbis throughout the South, Alfred among them, stepped up and became outspoken leaders alongside their Christian colleagues, on the front lines of the struggle.

As I mentioned in last week’s blast, during this entire month, the NAACP is leading the “Journey for Justice,” from Selma to Washington, DC. The Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism is partnering with the NAACP, as Reform rabbis from all over the country are carrying a Torah scroll from station to station along this route. The “Journey for Justice” will culminate in a giant rally and lobby day in Washington the day after Rosh Hashanah.

But most heavily on our hearts this week is the death of Former Georgia State Senator Julian Bond, one of the shining lights of the Civil Rights Movement. From my earliest consciousness of the movement, Julian Bond’s name was one of those that became synonymous with the struggle for civil rights.

The following is a portion of the bio that appears on the website for the NAACP.

Born in Nashville, Tennessee, Bond’s family moved to Pennsylvania when he was five years old when his father, Horace Mann Bond, became the first African American President of Lincoln University (Pennsylvania), his alma mater. Bond attended Morehouse College in Atlanta and won a varsity letter for swimming. He also founded a literary magazine called The Pegasus and served as an intern at Time magazine.

In 1960, Bond was a founding member of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and served as communications director from 1961 to 1966. From 1960 to 1963, he led student protests against segregation in public facilities in Georgia.

Bond graduated from Morehouse and helped found the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC). He was the organization’s president from 1971 to 1979.

Bond was elected to the Georgia House of Representatives in 1965. White members of the House refused to seat him because of his opposition to the Vietnam War. In 1966, the United States Supreme Court ruled that the House had denied Bond his freedom of speech and had to seat him.

From 1965 to 1975, he served in the Georgia House and served six terms in the Georgia Senate from 1975-86.

In 1968, Bond led a challenge delegation from Georgia to the Democratic National Convention in Chicago, and was the first African-American nominated as Vice President of the United States. He withdrew his name from the ballot because he was too young to serve.

Bond ran for the United States House of Representatives, but lost to civil rights leader John Lewis. In the 1980s and ‘90s, Bond taught at several universities, including American, Drexel, Williams, the University of Pennsylvania and Harvard universities and the University of Virginia.

Julian Bond died on Saturday at the age of 75. He will be remembered by all those dedicated to humanitarianism and the cause of equal opportunity and civil rights for all. Zecher Tzaddik Liv’rachah – May the memory of the righteous be for a blessing.

This is a poem for Rosh Chodesh Elul which I read at last Shabbat Evening’s Service. One of our congregants was particularly touched and asked me to send it along in this blast.

Return: A Prayer for Elul
Shared by Trisha Arlin | Poem

Return to Elul.
The sky was dark, and the month began.
A special time of starting over;
A month of kindness and clarity;
Of consciousness and knowledge;
Of bravery and strength.
It is said that the truly evil are already condemned
And the truly good are already blessed.
So for the rest of us
There is Elul.

Return to ourselves.
In Genesis the moon is called, “the lesser light.”
And that’s how I feel tonight,
Less than what I should be.
What was I thinking?
I was afraid, I was hurt, I was anxious…
No excuses, I know what I did,
Maybe it wasn’t so bad
But maybe it was.
How can I make it better?
There is Elul.

Return to the people we wronged.
Use the ritual,
Create a context.
It makes it easier to speak:
I am so sorry.
I was wrong.
I lacked compassion in the moment
But I see things clearly now.
You don’t have to accept my apology,
We can do teshuvah together
If you want.
There is Elul.

Return to each other.
In community we pray
For the kindness to comfort and care;
And the clarity to see what must be done;
For the consciousness to accept the truth;
And the knowledge to get help if needed;
For the bravery to ask for forgiveness;
And the strength to forgive.
Most of all, we pray for all who are in pain or who cause pain.
All this and more because
There is Elul.

Bless the God of Justice, of Mercy and of Redemption that we may return every year,
As old as the darkness, as new as the moon.

Amen.

Journey for Justice

Kivie Kaplan NAACP National President and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Kivie Kaplan NAACP National President and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

This has been a difficult week for our country, as we marked the one-year anniversary of the police shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO. Baltimore, Staten Island, South Carolina and elsewhere, have experienced similar police confrontations with African Americans, and tensions with police have risen. The “Black Lives Matter” movement that emerged this past year is now justifiably asserting itself in the Presidential primary process. As New Yorkers, we not only suffered the horror of watching Eric Garner’s life snuffed out, we have suffered as well the targeted killing of two police officers as they sat in their patrol car last December. All this, as we mark the anniversary, also this very week, of the Watts riots in Los Angeles, 50 years ago.

On the other hand, a remarkable movement has been in full swing this month, in a partnership between the NAACP and the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism (the “RAC”), in addition to a number of other organizations dedicated to social justice. [Read more about this history.]  In an historic 860-mile march from Selma to Washington during August and mid-September, the “Journey for Justice” is promoting a focused advocacy agenda including: fairness in our criminal justice system; unfettered access to the ballot box; sustainable jobs and a living wage; access to a solid public education. Over 100 Reform rabbis are carrying a Torah scroll from Selma up to Washington, DC, to culminate in a huge rally and lobby day on the day after Rosh Hashanah in September. Reform rabbis from all over the country have been traveling to points along the route, and marching for a short time along with partners from the NAACP.

We recall that in 1961 the RAC was founded, and the building in Washington built, by a Reform Jew named Kivie Kaplan, z”l, who at the time was President of the NAACP. Apparently a few years earlier Kivie and his wife traveled from Massachusetts to Florida on their honeymoon. They took a cab to an exclusive restaurant when they saw a sign outside that read, “No dogs, no Jews.” The cab driver, who was African American, said: “They don’t even bother with us.” At that moment Kivie Kaplan vowed to spend the rest of his life fighting that sign, and his leadership of the NAACP and the RAC were the results.
On this, the 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act, we recall that significant portions of this landmark legislation were drafted on the desk in library of the RAC. When the Supreme Court vacated a section of this bill with the Shelby Decision two years ago, it set off a wave of local maneuvering in different states to further chip away at the right to vote, the most fundamental right for all Americans. This should shock and alarm us all.
This Shabbat is Rosh Chodesh Elul, the beginning of the Hebrew month of Elul. It is during this month, leading up to Rosh Hashanah, that our tradition charges us with the responsibility to make Cheshbon Hanefesh, an accounting of the soul. This now is our responsibility as Jews, and as Americans. Our entire country needs to be engaging in an accounting of its soul. I am proud of my colleagues who are participating in this march, and I will join with them in the efforts of this journey for justice. In the coming weeks and months, we will discuss the agenda of this march with greater specificity.