Rev Barber and LAs

The Power of Prophetic Rage

This past weekend I had the great privilege of being a part of the 50th Anniversary of Bloody Sunday in Selma, AL. Along with my roommate and four of other legislative assistants (and we later joined up with RAC Director Rabbi Jonah Pesner and Deputy Director Rachel Laser), I headed south to honor the work of those who risked and gave their lives for the Civil Rights Movement and to rededicate myself to continuing their work today. While I expected the weekend to be meaningful, I didn’t understand the full power of participating in the anniversary commemorations until I actually arrived in Selma and was able to hear the stories and wisdom of those around me.

On Sunday morning, we arrived at Temple Mishkan Israel, a beautiful synagogue in Selma whose membership is dwindling, where Rabbi Fred Guttman from Greensboro, North Carolina had organized a phenomenal program. First to speak was Reverend Dr. William Barber II, an NAACP Board Member and leader of the North Carolina Moral Mondays Movement. He proclaimed to the packed synagogue that “the work of moral dissent is never done” and that as people of faith, we must work to move forward together – as a united front – fighting for true equal protection of all people under the law.

He encouraged us to channel our prophetic rage—our righteous anger that comes from our refusal to accept the structural injustices of the world around us. Throughout our religious tradition, we have seen many, like Moses and Isaiah, channel this prophetic rage to bring about justice. The ability to connect the injustices we see in the world to our most fundamental moral values, as Rev. Barber so eloquently did during his speech, makes the argument for justice much deeper and allows for much needed subversive hope. Rev. Barber didn’t come to Selma for a celebration or a party, he came for a recommitment and a holy convocation. He came because our country is once again in need of the audacious courage of prophetic rage and subversive hope.

Rev. Barber’s words brought me to tears. Not only was his message deeply powerful and his delivery impassioned, but he has an incredible ability to truly charge those around him with the fight for justice. As I sat in the pews of this synagogue in Selma, surrounded by almost 200 people of faith who had all traveled to be here, I knew that I wasn’t alone. I felt validated in my decision to spend my career working for social justice. I felt that it was my duty as a citizen, as a Jew and as a young person, to help this country be the best it can be. And most importantly, I felt that I had the support and commitment of everyone else in that building, and of the other 80,000 people who had come to Selma that day, to continue this important work together. Because it is only together that we can address the structural racial and economic inequality that persists in our country.

As the program in the synagogue ended, my fellow legislative assistants and I unrolled the RAC’s banner and joined the tens of thousands of others who came to march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge. As we slowly made our way through the crowd and across the bridge, I finally understood why 50 years ago, in this exact same place, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel said that he had been praying with his feet. In coming to Selma, joining the community, bearing witness to the historic event, and calling for voting rights and equality for everyone, we were not only praying with our feet but with our entire bodies. We were using our time, resources, energy and actions to accompany our prayers for equality and justice, and at the end of the day, I believe that is the most powerful prayer of all.

Watch the speech our new Director, Rabbi Jonah Pesner, gave at the event below: 

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About Claire Shimberg

Claire Shimberg is a 2014-2015 Eisendrath Legislative Assistant at the RAC. She graduated in 2014 from the University of Pennsylvania and is originally from Tampa, FL where she is a member of Congregation Schaarai Zedek.

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