By: Hannah Hirsch, NFTY New York Area (NAR) President, and Marissa Klass, NFTY Programming Vice President (PVP)
On Martin Luther King Jr. Day, we, as members of NFTY, are reminded of our obligation to be allies and pursue justice – not only are these hallmarks of Martin Luther King Jr.’s work, they are also Jewish values. The actions of Dr. King remind us of the words of Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Kotzk:
“Do not be satisfied with the speech of your lips and the thought of your heart, all the promises and good sayings in your mouth, and all the good thoughts in your heart. Rather you must arise and do!”
The goodness and hopefulness that Rabbi Menachem speaks of is reflected in the soul of Dr. King. He tells us that sitting and studying in order to affect change is not enough – you must be willing to create the change, too. Both leaders knew that words must be accompanied by action to affect radical social change.
One way to honor of the excellence and courage of Martin Luther King Jr. is to reflect on the Jewish values that lead us on a path to justice. We don’t have to look far – NFTY’s Thirteen Principles, like kol yehudim (pluralism), and shutafut (partnership), help guide us towards our goal of fostering allyship and mutual understanding.
As NFTYites and as Jews, we really appreciate pluralism – we know that there is no single “Jewish experience” – everyone brings their own unique experiences and identities to build a vibrant, diverse community. This is one of the biggest strengths of our Movement, and was one of the greatest strengths of Martin Luther King Jr.’s movement as well. His work and successes inspire us and remind us just how important it is to be accepting and open-minded.
We know we can make meaningful change in the world on our own, but we are so much stronger when we work together! This is where partnership comes in – there are other communities whose missions and goals overlap with ours, and we can come together to make even greater change. There are also communities that are marginalized, whose voices are being silenced – we can help them by being their allies in speaking out against injustice, just like Dr. King did.
These values, pluralism and partnership, help us, as a Jewish Youth Movement, to understand how we can stand up for every person of every race, gender, sexual orientation, class, or creed. As members of NFTY, it is our responsibility to stand with the marginalized and the oppressed. We’ll perpetuate Martin Luther King Jr.’s work by marching, protesting, fighting for equality, and wrestling with the status quo. We are reminded on this day, and every day, that we cannot fight for justice sitting down.
For more resources, go to NFTY.org/RacialJustice.