Responding to this moment

Published on January 12, 2017

On January 16, we celebrate the life and work of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Less than a week later, on January 21st, we will mark the first day of the new administration for our country. Following a historically divisive election season, one which surfaced hateful speech and anti-democratic tendencies, and which revealed deep fissures in our nation, we approach this moment with profound concern and the knowledge that we must be part of re-knitting the fabric of our American society.

As a faith community, we are called upon to hold ourselves, each other, and our elected leaders accountable for sustaining the core values of our nation, and to bring to bear the moral values of our Jewish tradition and teachings for the benefit of all Americans.

This is not a new focus for us. Grounded in our faith and in the belief that part of our work as members of a Jewish community is to answer the divine call for justice, BJ has long been known for its profound commitment to social responsibility and activism. We have never shied away from asking: what does God demand of us? How to do we best act to champion the values of our tradition? Great spiritual leaders such as Rabbis Stephen S. Wise, Israel Goldstein, and Marshall T. Meyer served our community, reminding us that living up to our moral commitments by standing up for the oppressed, the disenfranchised, the poor, and the stranger in our midst can be risky. We will carry on the tradition of bold action and moral courage at BJ today.

Our Strategic Plan, completed in 2015, identified four pillars, one of which is particularly animated at this moment: Social Justice and Responding to the Prophetic Vision:

“At BJ, we are heirs to the vision of Rabbis Abraham Joshua Heschel and Marshall T. Meyer. Like our ancient Prophets, they called on us to see the world as it is and then take personal responsibility for helping to transform it to what it should be.” 

We strive to manifest this vision in all that we do, anchored by these seven values grounded in our tradition:

  • Recognize the divine image in every human being and strive to make our actions reflect this truth.
    “And God said, Let us make human in our image, after our likeness… And God created human in God’s image…” (Genesis 1:26-27)
  • Accept responsibility for the well-being of others; see all people as our brothers and sisters.
    “God said to Cain, Where is your brother Abel? And he said, I do not know. Am I my brother’s keeper?” (Genesis 4:9)
  • Make our collective history the magnet of our moral compass, leading us to safeguard the rights and dignity of immigrants and minorities in our society.
    “You shall not oppress a stranger, for you know the feelings of the stranger, having yourselves been strangers in the land of Egypt.” (Exodus 23:9)
  • See justice and goodness as a path ; one that we are able to walk in our daily lives.
    “God has told you what is good and what God requires of you: Only to do justice, and to love goodness, and to walk modestly with your God; Then will your name achieve wisdom.” (Micah 6:8-9)
  • See ourselves as agents of change and our actions as sacred work.
    “…I heard the voice of my God saying, Whom shall I send? Who will go for us? And I said, Hineni: Here I am; send me. And God said, Go.” (Isaiah 6:8)
  • Cultivate gratitude for what we have, know when we have enough, and ensure that all beings have the resources they need to survive.
    “And you shall have eaten, been satisfied, and made a blessing of thanks…” (Deuteronomy 8:10 and Birkat Hamazon, Blessing after Meals)
  • Seek wisdom and courage to take action, without being overwhelmed by the enormity of need and injustice. Always be willing to take the risk to begin!
    “It is not your responsibility to finish the work [of perfecting the world], but you are not free to desist from it either.” (Pirkei Avot, Sayings of the Fathers, 2:21)

We are already responding to this call, supporting and advocating for the homeless and the hungry, for immigrants and refugees, for LGBTQI individuals, and for others who are marginalized. This year, we have also deepened our partnership with the Church of Saint Paul and Saint Andrew (SPSA) through our emerging racial justice initiative.

But there is much more to do. Should any of these communities be put at risk, we are prepared to defend those who are at risk through our values and our work, just as we have always done throughout the history of BJ. In the coming weeks we will convene the community to explore when, where, and how to deploy our strength.


Join us on January 18th or 24th for community conversations to help pave the path we will take in response to the call for justice. We will be gathering to share our stories, our concerns, and our passions; to strengthen our current work on critical issues; and to identify where there is energy for collective action on new issues. We can not despair. We must raise our voices and do the work. As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, so famously in paraphrasing Reverend Theodore Parker, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but bends toward justice.” It will only bend if we come together to make it so.

Find out what’s happening at BJ this weekend in celebration of the life and work of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, and join us on January 18th or 24th as we embark on the road ahead.