“Church synagogue have failed. They must repent….We forfeit the right to worship God as long as we continue to humiliate Negroes,” Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel telegraphed to President John F. Kennedy on July 16, 1963. Heschel called on the president to declare a “state of moral emergency.”
Heschel told Kennedy that race problems were “like the weather: Everybody talks about it but nobody does anything about it.” He then asks the president to issue a variety of demands:
Please demand of religious leaders personal involvement not just solemn declaration. We forfeit the right to worship God as long as we continue to humiliate Negroes. Church synagogue have failed. They must repent. Ask of religious leaders to call for national repentance and personal sacrifice. Let religious leaders donate one month’s salary toward fund for Negro housing and education. I propose that you Mr. President declare state of moral emergency. A Marshall plan for aid to Negroes is becoming a necessity. The hour calls for moral grandeur and spiritual audacity.
— telegram can be found here, along with additional study resources on related topics from the American Jewish World Service’s “on1foot” pages.
Fifty years later, some of Heschel’s suggestions may sound odd. Do we ever speak of “national repentance,” for example? But his call for declaring a “moral emergency” in this country seems all too appropriate:
- police brutality is a both a legal and a moral emergency;
- suppression of the press is a constitutional emergency;
- and the underlying racism is an emergency on every level.
Is any Jewish, or other faith, leader making a similar call at this time? (Please share any such.)
Perhaps individual faith community members must call out to their leaders. And I think we can start by asking our faith communities to ensure that Ferguson MO — and every other police department in this country — gets the message: “The whole world is watching.”
Some “actions” and study materials
Amnesty International’s call for investigation of police brutality
Change.Org petition to U.S. Atty Genl for national action on police brutality
Jews for Racial and Economic Justice Campaign Against Police Brutality
See also, high schoolers’ new mobile app to rate law enforcement