#BeTheLight: 6 Ways to Respond to Charlottesville

Inside Leadership

#BeTheLight: 6 Ways to Respond to Charlottesville

Lighted faces of teenagers holding candles in the dark

Our world is imperfect. As Jews, we know this. 

The Torah teaches that God created a world capable of chaos and of order. While this can sometimes create moments of despair, it is also the basis for all hope, all light in the darkness.  

The violence and hatred witnessed over the weekend in Charlottesville, VA, weighs heavily on our minds and in our hearts. As Americans, many of us awoke today feeling ashamed, scared, and outraged. It is okay to feel these things. The fight for justice cannot come only from the head; it must come also from the heart.  

It is in these moments of darkness that Jewish tradition compels us to be brave, to seek the light. We are, as we read in Zechariah 9:12, asirei hatikvah, prisoners of hope.  

As I write this, the Reform Movement is working across lines of difference to coordinate an interfaith response to the violence in Charlottesville that calls for constructive solutions to the hatred and vitriol dividing our nation. The clergy and lay leadership of our Urgency of Now campaigns are organizing across North America to expand our network of Reform congregations working together for social justice. The RAC is preparing for the 1,000 Ministers March for Justice, happening in Washington, D.C., on August 28, where we will march alongside diverse clergy from across the nation to demand that the Department of Justice live up to its name.  

In recent months, we have seen our work on health care and criminal justice reform have a real, tangible impact at the federal level and in states including California, New York, and Ohio. We are constantly identifying and training passionate new leaders to help us more effectively and efficiently build the world we want—one driven by wholeness, justice and compassion. If you are interested in joining these efforts, please get in touch.  

Our world is imperfect, and so we respond with hope. Our world is full of darkness, and so we respond with light.    

What can you do to shed light in the coming days? 

  1. Introduce a conversation in your congregation about the Brit Olam–Covenant with our World, and commit to bringing social justice issues to the center of your congregational life. 
  2. Urge your members of Congress to denounce the violence in Charlottesville and visibly and consistently act to delegitimize white supremacy, anti-Semitism, and other forms of racism.  
  3. Join us on August 28 in Washington, D.C., for the 1000 Ministers March for Justice. Clergy and lay leaders alike are encouraged to attend. Find out more here.  
  4. Join the Reform Movement in sharing photos on social media with the hashtag #BeTheLightForJustice. Each action we take may feel small, almost insignificant, but while it will not solve the world’s ills, it has the potential to ease someone else’s pain. Please join us in sharing a picture of yourself holding a candle, and help spread the light.
  5. On September 9, ACT for America, the largest anti-Muslim hate group in the country, is planning a series of protests in cities throughout the country. If one is planned in your community, write to your mayor urging them to condemn this type of hatred and speak up for inclusion in your community.  
  6. Donate to organizations and causes that champion the rights and inclusion of all people, regardless of status, orientation, or religion. You can donate to the Union for Reform Judaism and the Religious Action Center

Let us move forward together with resolve, solidarity and hope. 

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Rabbi Jonah Dov Pesner represents the Reform Movement to Congress and the administration as the director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism. He also serves as the senior vice president of the Union for Reform Judaism. Named one of the most influential rabbis in America, he has been an inspirational leader, creative entrepreneur, and tireless advocate for social justice.

Rabbi Jonah Dov Pesner
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