Roles of Jews in Social Justice

UF Hillel guides Jewish students to amplify their voices through tradition, inspiration and activation.

As we approach Black History Month and bask in the memories of service on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, it is important to remember the importance of using our voices for equality and understanding.

Judaism has a long tradition of striving for justice. With rising tension across campus, community and country, now, more than ever, is the time to speak out.

When I spoke to Rabbi Adam Grossman in October after tense events at UF, he emphasized the idea of B’tzelem Elohim, meaning everyone is made in the image of God. The concept is a reminder of humanity; a reminder to overcome hate, intolerance and bigotry.

About 50 years ago, Martin Luther King Jr. and Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel worked to fight for civil rights for all. In his speech on religion and race, Rabbi Heschel powerfully renounced prejudice and racism. “What begins as inequality of some inevitably ends as inequality of all,” he said.

King, of course, shared the same ideals as the face of the peaceful activism against injustice. In his Letter from a Birmingham Jail he wrote that “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

Jewish figures across history continue to serve as a testament to the importance of speaking out and the impact of words and actions. Elie Weisel is a constant reminder to not sit idle. As he said, “the opposite of love is not hate, it's indifference.”

Peace is another central tradition of Judaism. In Leviticus Rabbah 9:9, it says “seek peace, and pursue it - seek it in your own place, and pursue it even to another place as well.” That’s what Jews did as they joined in the Freedom Rides or advocated for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

Today, Jews can continue the same fight. Racial equality is not separate from Judaism. Across the world, Jews are all colors. Although the news today can feel filled with anti-Semitism, discrimination, and hatred of all kinds, history is a reminder of the power of voices in promoting social justice. We all can look within ourselves and our religion to acknowledge the power of one voice speaking out against hate.

As a Jew and a writer, I look up to Anne Frank and her propensity for peace and hope despite immense darkness. Like she wrote decades ago, "What is done cannot be undone, but one can prevent it happening again."

One voice is strong and can make a powerful step toward positive change. With even more voices joining together, we can amplify messages of social justice even farther, just like Martin Luther King Jr. and Rabbi Heschel did.

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