Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. stood in front of thousands of people in Washington, DC and declared that he had a dream. Each individual in attendance marched because of King’s message of equality and vow to combat the racism and prejudice that pervaded American society.
Before becoming one of the most influential leaders of the American Civil Rights movement, he began his career as a minister at a small Baptist church in Atlanta. This religious influence helped to inspire his commitment to social justice. Instead of forcing his spiritual beliefs onto others, King integrated the values he learned from Christianity to unite Americans of different racial, religious, and socioeconomic backgrounds in peaceful protest against injustice. Together, King and his supporters succeeded in abolishing racial segregation in the United States.
Marching alongside Dr. King in Selma, Alabama stood Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel. As a devoted Jew, he understood that it was his duty to acknowledge the wrongs of society and protest atrocious discrimination. He walked arm-in-arm with Martin Luther King in Selma because he recognized that his commitment and understanding of Jewish values forced him to fight for what was right.
Dr. King and Rabbi Heschel demonstrate the positive impact religion can have on an individual and the entire world. To most people my age, religion, God, and spirituality are meaningless. When I described my passion for Judaism, my friends at school looked at me with surprise. To them, religion based itself on fictional stories of a nonexistent deity that promoted homophobia, sexism, and other forms of bigotry; not exactly the progressive values I believed in.
People, including my friends at school, claim that groups such as ISIS, the Ku Klux Klan, and even ultra-Orthodox sects of Judaism use religion as an excuse to promote animosity and close-mindedness. However, these extremists fail to recognize the central ideologies of their religion. Radical Islamic groups fail to acknowledge that Islam is a religion of peace. The Ku Klux Klan ignores the fact that Christianity is a religion of love, and extreme ultra-Orthodox communities neglect to remember that the core pillars of Judaism are studying Torah, God, and acts of loving-kindness. Instead, fanatics disgrace their religion and use outdated laws to justify horrific attacks, malicious prejudices, and hideous intolerance. Groups that commit repulsive atrocities in the name of religion pervert a belief system’s principle messages and reject the potential religion has to unify different types of people and inspire change.
I am Jew. Not only am I a Jew, but I am a committed Jew, a Jew who learns as much as she can about Judaism and plays an active role in her Jewish community. Judaism has given me an outlet to think deeply about myself and engage with others about what it means to be a practicing Jew living in a secular world. Through participating in Jewish youth groups, attending weekly Shabbat services, Hebrew school and Jewish summer camp, I gained the willingness to engage in conversations and dialogues with those different from myself and solve the problems I see around me. I know to pursue justice and to not stand idly by. However, my involvement in the Jewish community means nothing if I am unable to live by those messages beyond the small Jewish bubble. Being a Jew or a person of any other religion means incorporating the values taught by your community to fight against hatred of “the other” to positively impact the world.