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MLK Day: We need to act now for racial justice

On Martin Luther King Day, Jewish young adults are lining up to take action on behalf of vulnerable communities

I thought it would feel good to be in a new year. Like many, I was ready for 2016 to end, to put this toxic election behind us and, along with it, the ugliness in public and private discourse, unmistakable efforts by both parties to win by depressing turnout for the other, and the anger, outrage and kind of violence I’d naively thought was behind us as a nation.

Two weeks into 2017, however, it’s become clear that our country won’t come together, as is our great tradition, following this difficult election. Rather, we’ll enjoy no respite in its wake from the mean politics of outrage. Instead, we look past the Inauguration toward a landscape of national discordance, mixed with more fear, more anger, and still more outrage.

In our tumble toward the Inauguration, however, we will have a fortuitous moment to rebalance ourselves, catch our breath and reset our priorities; just four days before President-elect Trump takes the oath of office, MLK Day enables us to restore our sense of hope, to reflect on the progress we’ve made in the last 50 years, and to recall how MLK shared “…a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.” We can look across our national differences and remember, “Hate cannot drive out hate…” “Only love can transform an enemy into a friend.”

On MLK Day, we can set our intentions for how we choose to show up as citizens and members of our community. And, more than that, we can take meaningful action to be the citizens we want to be, to put our values and our intentions into practice. MLK told us, “we must learn there is nothing greater than to do something for others.” That is why, across America, MLK Day is celebrated as a day of service; and, this year, that celebration and that service could not come at a better time.

At Repair the World, we lead a movement committed year-round to engaging young adults in service infused with Jewish learning, and on this MLK Day we expect to see an enormous surge of people engaging in service, discussing their values and sharing their aspirations for their communities. For many of the young adults who will serve with those in need – including serving those marginalized, vulnerable communities living with genuine fear about what the next four years may bring – this work represents the actualization of their Jewish values.

While the election amplified the demand for service opportunities among Jewish young adults, the demand has been growing for some time. In 2014, as our nation awoke to the ongoing crisis of unarmed Black men being shot, we heard from young adults that they wanted to address the problems at the root of this epidemic – racial injustice and inequality. Our opportunities to volunteer and participate in meaningful discussions around racial justice have, since then, been oversubscribed.

Repair launched Act Now for Racial Justice during the 2016 High Holidays to help expand our answer to this call. Thousands of young adults already have engaged. Along with this emerging generation, all of us today are compelled to act. Standing and acting in solidarity with vulnerable communities is a central part of Jewish life. At Repair the World, we meet that demand through creating opportunities to serve with purpose, and to facilitate conversations that are difficult and challenging, like examining our own relationship to racial justice, listening to the needs of marginalized communities, and reconciling the limitations on being an Ally. We will work vigorously to engage conversations among people whose perspectives and opinions are different from each other and from ours.

Because it can be more difficult than we imagine to listen effectively to people with whom we disagree, especially in this noisy moment, Repair offers resources to make it easier, including nuts and bolts information like definitions of terms, history of Jews and racial justice, and a post-election specific conversation guide. Then, through our service, we connect those conversations to actions on the ground that create change for good.

As we honor the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. by participating in service over the coming weekend, we can hear his reminder from 1967, fifty years ago, in the last year of his life: “And, don’t forget in doing something for others that you have what you have because of others.  Don’t forget that. We are tied together in life and in the world.”

With the divisions we’ll confront just days later, let’s try to help each other not to forget that we are all, indeed, “tied together.”

David Eisner is CEO of Repair the World.

About the Author
David Eisner is CEO of Repair the World, a nonprofit organization that mobilizes Jewish volunteers.
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