A Lesson in Peaceful Confrontation

This spring, a Rabbi in Pennsylvania shared with readers everywhere his plan to counter a racist demonstration. Learn from his letter below to his congregation how he utilizes his own traditions to create a universal response to hatred.

Dear Friends:

Yes, this weekly message is very early and very urgent. Aside from timing, I cannot see ending this week, as I always do, wishing you only a Shabbat of peace and blessing, because it is truly a request that we make this a Shabbat of activism and solidarity, a Shabbat to raise our voices and to stand together, as we defy racism and hatred.

As they do periodically, the KKK will be gathering in Quarryville for a cross burning on Saturday. Working with experts in the field of developing appropriate responses, our local chapter of the NAACP has decided against an approach that confronts directly—the Klan thrives on the media attention that such confrontations create. Instead, we will be gathering with people of good will, of all faiths, races, and beliefs, at a Day of Unity titled "Rise! Embrace, Envision, Empower." The gathering will take place from 3:00-5:00 on the courthouse steps on King Street. As the NAACP describes it, this will be a day “including members of the clergy, civic leaders, youth and performing artists. This event is a call to the Lancaster community to stand for a whole and just multiracial community.”

For those of you who are unaware, the Klan attempts to stir the pot and test the waters in Lancaster every few years. They are clearly feeling emboldened with the climate of the country as it is today. Our voices must be included in a resounding statement that there is no place for hatred here—in our county, in our country, or in the world. I need to know that you’ll be there with me.

What is a Mitzvah? Is it a good deed, as in the typical Yiddish usage? A commandment, from the traditional Hebrew? A sacred obligation? My friends, however you understand “mitzvah,” I hope you’ll embrace this response to a communal need on Saturday, on Shabbat, as exactly that. It’s not merely a nice thing to do. I believe it is a moral imperative, a commandment from the Torah, to stand with sisters and brothers, to oppose violence and hate, to raise our voices. As a Reform rabbi, you know I don’t refer lightly to things being imperative. This is one of those moments.

And yes, when Shabbat comes around, and you see this message again, I will wish you a Shabbat Shalom u’m’vorach, a Shabbat of peace and of blessing. Join us to learn about a different way of pursuing justice when the Silberts speak to us at services on Friday as we pray and sing together to welcome Shabbat. Join us on Shabbat morning to study the writings of the Prophets together.

And join us on Shabbat afternoon on the courthouse steps. May we find blessing and peace. May we find our voices and our community. May we find the spirit to stand together with the good people of our community. May we be present to affirm justice and right as taught by our faith.

Sincerely, Rabbi Jack P. Paskoff,

Lancaster, PA

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