Pursuing Justice on MLK Day
If any one concept best summarizes Martin Luther King, Jr.’s message, it is that of justice. Justice for oppressed individuals, justice for persecuted people, and justice for the broader society. In the era of MLK, the fight for justice was synonymous with the civil rights movement: the quest for equality for people regardless of their race. While in many ways that fight is not yet over, the social justice advocates of the 1960s – including both Martin Luther King Jr. and the RAC – were successful in changing policies and legislation to reflect the justice that they so vehemently desired.
Yet equality for all peoples in this country has not been fully achieved. There exists today a group that, like the African-Americans of the 1960s, are systematically discriminated against and ignored in our federal policy; a group that lives as second-class citizens due to the ramifications of an unjust system.
I am referring to the 12 million undocumented immigrants who currently live in the United States. Many of these individuals came to the U.S. as children, yet are forced to remain in the shadows in the only country they’ve ever called home. These immigrants are a vital part of our economy, yet are denied an opportunity to access the rights and privileges associated with being such an integrated part of American society.
Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote, “True peace is not merely the absence of tension: it is the presence of justice.” Our own Jewish tradition echoes this sentiment: Pirkei Avot 5:12 states, “The sword comes into the world because of justice delayed and justice denied.” The civil rights advocates of the 60s would not stand for this systematic mistreatment of an entire class of individuals – and neither should we. It is time to pass comprehensive immigration reform, and that we support the students and families and individuals who came to this country looking for a better life.
The Declaration of Independence itself reflects our legacy and that of Martin Luther King, Jr. – that all people are created equal, and deserve an equal opportunity to pursue life, liberty and happiness. We as Jewish Americans – as those following in the footsteps of our Jewish ancestors, of Martin Luther King Jr., and of Thomas Jefferson – must take up today’s fight for justice, and speak up for those who cannot speak up for themselves.