On Sunday, June 7, 2020 the agencies of Schultz Campus for Jewish Life held their joint annual meeting (via zoom). The leadership of the Jewish Community Board of Akron (JCBA), The Shaw JCC of Akron, and The Lippman School presented on the tremendous efforts of our community's lay and professional leadership in the face of extraordinarily trying times. In closing the event, JCBA CEO, Todd Polikoff, delivered the following remarks on our community's responsibility to fight on behalf of those for whom justice is not blind.
I want to address what I believe to be our role the continued fight for Civil Rights in our country. Throughout our country’s history of advocacy on behalf of those for whom justice is not blind, it has been the faith-based community that has stood on the front lines. The institutional racism, xenophobia, and disintegration of civil discourse we have witnessed in our country as of late demands that faith-based communities once again step forward. Collectively, we must work to actively protect the aspirations, the hopes, and the potential of every human.
As Jews, we are guided by the directive “Justice, Justice, you shall pursue.” Rabbi Harold Kushner interprets this phrase as not merely respecting or following justice; we must actively pursue it. Each of us should contribute in our own way in the striving for justice. Even if our system of justice often seems to be incomplete, or sometimes even unfair, each of us must do our part to bring the ideal closer to reality.
The Jewish community has an additional imperative to not only help Jews in need, but to help all people in need in a Jewish way; to be Or Lagoim – a light unto nations. In the words of Rabbi David Wolpe, " If you only have your light on at home, nobody else sees it. ... Nowhere in any Jewish scripture that I'm aware of will you see, 'Jews must only help other Jews.' It doesn't exist. Some Jews will tell you that, but Judaism doesn't tell you that.”
Ladies and Gentlemen, we are the people who actively seek justice. We are the people of the Golden Rule. We are the people of Heschel, Printz, Rosenwald, and others who fought and died in pursuit of equality. In Akron, we are the people who maintain a community campus that is a North Star for diversity and inclusion in North East Ohio.
We are also the people who lean on the actions of transformational Jewish leaders, like Rabbi Heschel marching with Dr. King in Selma. This is the moment when we must come to terms with the fact that Selma happened over fifty years and two generation ago and that we must write a timelier story. Many of us have been in this fight for a while, relatively quietly, either individually or through an organization. Now is the time for our Jewish community to loudly and publicly create new historic moments in the fight for Civil Rights by standing, marching, calling, and shouting, shoulder to shoulder against systemic racism, and sanctioned hatred.
Archimedes said, “Give me a lever long enough and a fulcrum on which to place it and I can move the world.” Ladies and Gentlemen, our community’s collective influence and power are the lever. Our teachings, traditions, and values are the fulcrum. We must now take action, in tandem with our community partners, to move the world toward more justice, more empathy, and more peace.
JCBA has been actively reaching out to the Akron chapter of the NAACP, The Urban League, Churches, and our local government to create meaningful opportunities for our Jewish community to leverage our collective power in the fight for equality and justice. We will be calling on our community to join in those efforts and I look forward to your participation.