Holy ground & holy people – Selma & Representative John Lewis
In my mind, Selma is a place of holy ground – a place where a bloody civil rights battle was fought. The bridge serves as the perfect metaphor for the work we are called to today. We need to move forward to transform our country from a place of empty promises of equality to authentic equity. We need to move from words to action.
In 1965, at that sacred site, there was a peaceful protest of more than 500 people marching in pairs on one side, and a sea of blue with batons and tear gas and a sheriff’s crew mounted on horses on the other. In reflecting on Bloody Sunday, the first of three attempts to cross that bridge and march to Montgomery to fight for the right of African Americans to register to vote, Representative John Lewis said, “We literally, in my estimation, wrote the Voting Rights Act with our blood and with our feet.”
When I travel to Birmingham, Montgomery, and Selma, it is a pilgrimage – where I find inspiration in history, in prophetic leadership, and in the profound sacrifices that were made. I learn from the vision of the greatest of Civil Rights leaders and yearn to follow in the footsteps of Blacks and whites, Jews and Christians, who marched together to achieve justice.
On this Shabbat, Jews across the globe read the final chapters of the book of Numbers recalling the 42 journeys and encampments transporting the Israelites from Egypt to the edge of the Promised Land.
Like Moses, Representative John Lewis saw a world transformed from fighting for voting rights to serving as a Congressman for more than three decades. Like Moses, Representative Lewis died before reaching the promised land. He saw our spring and summer of 2020 with the the recorded lynchings of Ahmad Aubery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd. Lewis knew, as we know, that we have not yet broken the shackles of racism that bind our Black siblings.
Like Moses, Representative Lewis led us through so many of those steps and left for us a vision of the work we need to do. Representative Lewis, as an original Civil Rights Freedom fighter and the last surviving speaker at the 1963 March on Washington, bequeathed to us our marching orders: “The time for silence and patience is long gone…. When you see something that is not right, not fair, and not just, you have to say something, do something.”
This morning, as Jews read the final lines of the book of Numbers, we say the words with which we complete each book of the Bible, “Chazak chazak v’nitchazek – Be strong, be strong and let us strengthen one another.” We say those words to each other as we continue the journey of racial reckoning, marching together toward racial equity and racial justice in his memory.
Rest in power, Representative Lewis.
“Do not get lost in a sea of despair. Be hopeful, be optimistic. Our struggle is not the struggle of a day, a week, a month, or a year, it is the struggle of a lifetime. Never, ever be afraid to make some noise and get in good trouble, necessary trouble.” – A tweet from June 2018