On Sunday, about 100 Evanston residents gathered at Northwestern University's Alice Millar Chapel to honor Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and to unite to fight against the rise of anti-Semitism in the United States. The idea was Michael Nabors', senior pastor of Second Baptist Church and president of the North Shore chapter of the NAACP, who offered a powerful sermon.
"Today’s gathering to stand against anti-Semitism is, by virtue of its very presence, also a gathering to stand against all hatred and bias experienced by people anywhere in this nation and world," he said.
Tahera Ahmad, associate chaplain at Northwestern University welcomed the congregation. Rev. Charlie de Kay, St. Matthews Episcopal Church, Pastor Daniel Ruen of Grace Lutheran Church, and Rev. Eileen Wiviott of the Unitarian Church of Evanston participated in the service, which included singing by the Second Baptist, Grace Lutheran, and Beth Emet Choirs, a mime ministry performance and liturgical dance by Second Baptist dancers.
"I'm so proud of this community. I'm just filled with joy," Rabbi Andrea Coustan London told the congregation. I'm just filled with possibility that better days are around the corner because we're going to bring those days. God is calling us to justice, God is calling us to righteousness."
Funds raised from congregants donations went to T'ruah, an organization of 2,000 rabbis that works to protect and advance human rights in North America, Israel, and the occupied Palestinian territories.
"We are in darkness when we don't see each other. When we don't recognize the dignity and worth of every beloved human being created in the divine image. We are in darkness when we discriminate against other human beings based on the color of our skin, our gender, our sexual orientation, our religion, our national origin, or anything that makes us different and uniquely precious," said Rabbi London.
"Today we refuse to let this darkness envelop us. We come together to pledge to be beacons of light, to uplift and celebrate our differences and common humanity. We refuse to be hateful and cruel. We reject the politics of divide and conquer."
Grace Lutheran Church's Pastor Daniel Ruen offered the call to action, encouraging those gathered to board buses and head to Washington, DC on June 19 for the Poor People's Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival march. The campaign, a revival of the one begun by Dr. King in 1968, just before he died focuses on ending systemic racism, poverty, ecological devastation, and the war economy and militarism. I'll write more about the march and how you can get involved in a separate post.
Here is the transcript of Pastor Nabors' remarks (slightly edited for length)
WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE?
I am grateful for your presence today. In this frigid weather, your very presence is a testimony to the power of Dr. King and the desire to end anti-Semitism in our nation and world.
As we worked to frame today’s community worship, it became abundantly clear that our focus for today must be on the rising tide of anti-Semitism in our nation and world.
This does not mean that the rising tide of racism, or Islamaphobia, or Homophobia, or Immigration phobia are not as pressing and pervasive. They are. It is time, however, that we learned a vitally important lesson: when we band together to stand against and fight down one horrible discrimination, the others will also begin to wilt and soon be thrown into a Dark Sea of history. Perpetrators and beneficiaries of hatred and prejudice have used every instrument available to cause those groups who are hated, to be divided among themselves. They know, and we should know, that divided we can accomplish nothing. But united we have potential to change the world.
Today’s gathering to stand against anti-Semitism is by virtue of its very presence also a gathering to stand against all hatred and bias experienced by people anywhere in this nation and world.
It is my hope that one day, we will learn that uniting under the umbrella of all humanity will benefit every race, every ethnicity, every country and nation on earth. An example of such unity, is one that I would like to share with you briefly. When I arrived in Evanston four and a half years ago, Rabbi London reached out to me and took me to lunch, "The Little Mexican Cafe." An African American man, a Jewish woman, tearing up some Mexican food. What an introduction to a town that takes great pride in its diversity.
Soon after that lunch, she and I, and my daughter Spencer and others from Beth Emet, were on a flight to South Carolina. We marched with that group who started out from Selma and went all the way to Washington, DC, commemorating the Civil Rights Act of 1965.
Two years later, Pastor Ruen joined us on a flight to Washington, DC to join thousands of clergy in support of the Black Action Network of Al Sharpton and a demonstration at the United States Justice Department.
Last spring high school students from each of our congregations joined together for four nights and five days to learn about civil rights and social justice right here in the Metro Chicago area. And in October, members of Beth Emet, Pastor Daniel, Rabbi London and I traveled to Israel and Palestine to learn about social justice there--among Jews and Muslims, Israel and Palestine. We need more of these experiences. We need more opportunities for races and ethnicities, for religions and faiths, to come under the cosmic umbrella of humanity so that we may sense the divine in us all. As a matter of fact, not only do we need more of this, but there is a deep-seated urgency among us, demanding it from us.
The words of Dr. King ring so precisely today, “Either we will learn to live together as brothers and sisters or we will perish separately as fools.”
On that trip we found ourselves on the highest point of a brand new city built by Palestinians called Ruwabi. There, in a welcome center for people interested in moving to a brand new town, I caught a vision of possibility. I believe that one day, in that very space in that most sacred region of the world, there will be an Interfaith gathering of people from every willing country and every willing race and religion. And in that gathering we will talk about how our respective faiths, with a focus on full equality and peace, must influence our nations and the people in them.
I share this story to say that it is only by building relationships, it is only by departing from our comfort zones, it is only by reaching out over the aisle, that we can begin working on a better world.
The subject today is “Where do we go from here?” You all know that we have had this theme at one of our previous gatherings. It is derived from the last book authored by Dr. King as he offered analysis on the Black community’s future, not long before his death. The book revealed that King’s horizons and outreach were extending outward. He would conclude, All Americans must united to fight poverty. He would also conclude that the Vietnam War was a literal distraction from the exacting domestic problems in the United States, chiefly poverty.
An unwitting partner in this argument was the renowned Rabbi, Abraham Joshua Heschel. Heschel was born in Warsaw, Poland in 1907. He recalled in an interview with a Benedictine priest, "I have often been beaten and stoned in Warsaw by boys who had just come out of church." One of Dr. King’s childhood memories is when he was told by the parent of a childhood boy, who happened to be white, that they were not to play or be friends anymore. Two faiths, two bruised childhood souls, who would become among the most stalwart moral and spiritual leaders in the history of the United States.
Rabbi Heschel was invited to speak at the first gathering of the National Conference of Christians and Jews. He stunned the conference when he said, “The exodus is not over. It was easier for the children of Israel to cross the Red Sea than for some Negroes to cross certain university campuses.”
Rabbi Heschel would join the Selma march with Dr. King and shared how he was so wonderfully welcomed and treated by King and his associates. He said, “I felt a sense of the Holy in what I was doing.” I pray all of us feel some sense of the Holy in our gathering this afternoon. We are here, not just to gather. We are here not just to be entertained by sacred dancing and faithful songs. We are here to make a difference. We are here to stand together and stop the spread of anti-Semitism in this nation.
We are here to say to those who thrive on anti-Semitism: “Anti-Semitism has no place here. We are here to say those who thrive on hatred, “Hatred has no home here.” We are here to say to those who thrive on racism, “Racism has no home here.” We are here to say to those who thrive on sexism, “Sexism has no home here.”
The Rabbi invited Dr. King to his home for the Passover Seder on April 16th, 1968. King accepted. But he was shot and killed in Memphis, Tennessee on April 4th.
When news arrived of his death, Rabbi Heschel’s daughter would say, “My father came home from his office early that day. He heard the news and got into bed and turned out the lights. He never just stayed in bed. But that day and night, he did.”
Coretta Scott King invited him to speak at at her husband’s funeral. He read from Isaiah, “He was despised and rejected by people; a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hid their faces, he was despised, and we esteemed him not.”
In December 1972, the Rabbi died on the Sabbath in his sleep, “a kiss from God,” according to his tradition.
While both men had their own journey, their own work and their own responsibility, it was amazing how mutual respect won the day. And if it could win the day in the 1960’s, mutual respect ought to win the day as we begin this new year and decade in 2020.
We may not always agree on politics. We may not always agree on history. We may not always agree on cultural aspects in our lives. But we can agree that evil must always be challenged, cruelty must always be named, and any form of prejudice must always be met and defeated!
We in Evanston have such possibility. Just two months ago, our city was nationally recognized as Robin Rue Simmons 5th Ward Alderman and City Council passed a resolution calling for Reparations for those out of the African Diaspora. In a flurry of national attention, everyone moved from near total shock, to questions about the next steps. It would only happen in a town like Evanston, where most of us believe that the best is not behind us. The best is just ahead. In Evanston we have such possibility. It is a town where the first Black police officer and fire chief were hired, long before it was in vogue. It is a town where a synagogue filled with Jewish people and a Baptist church filled with Black people formed a collaboration nearly 30 years ago that is still carried on today.
In this town and in our time, we can, and we must, forge partnerships that look beyond race and religion, and focuses on righteousness and justice.
In our town, with all the voices demanding justice, equality and equity, let us weave together a singular advocacy that demands justice, equality and equity for us all.
In 2018, there were a reported 1,879 incidents of anti-Semitism in our nation. The global rise of white racism and supremacy is not a myth! Through social media like Google, Facebook and Twitter untold tens of thousands are being fed a daily, an hourly, diet of vitriol.
Sick and twisted men and women are spewing their hatred across fiber-optics and throughs satellite signals with much greater speed and accuracy than our houses of worship can keep up with. George Orwell’s Oratorio cries out across the landscape, “Nothing but a miracle can save us now.”
We mourn for those stabbed in a vicious assault upon Jews in a New York City suburb in December. We mourn for the shoppers killed in a Kosher grocery store in Jersey City. We mourn for shootings in synagogues from Pittsburg to California. We mourn for unprecedented harassment attacks against Jews in so many cities around our country and world. Not only do we mourn, we also stand to say, “Enough and no more.”
In our Christian tradition there is a song we sing around Christmas, “Go tell it on the mountain.” And there are some things that need to be told by those of us who strive to see better days in our town!
We will not have anti-Semitism in our town and we are prepared to confront and defeat it with the power of love, and the indomitable presence of unity.
We will not allow even superfluous acts of harassment to go unnoticed or unchallenged. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.
We will not raise our children in a neighborhood, in a school system, in a town where it is permissible to engage in public hatred. We will condemn it and arrest it!
We will not laugh at ethnic jokes and we will take people to task for daring to speak them in our presence, we will not have prejudiced friends and we will boldly and courageously face down our own mothers and fathers to end this moral wrong.
This is what we can do in our town. It is why I believe God brought us all together for such a time as this. We are the hands, the feet, the legs, the arms and the lips of the divine, uttering out a trajectory of God infused hope for a better day. The saying is true, “We may not have it all together. But together we have it all.”
We can disagree on any number of issues. That’s alright. Families don’t always agree on everything. But let us do so with a chivalry and respectability that wins the day. The unity that we are able to share in our town must become infectious and fill our homes and streets. Let our working together, beyond doctrines and pedagogies serve as an example that it can be done.
We must begin to catch the vision of Amos who cried out one day at Bethel to the King and his priest Amaziah, “Let justice roll down as rivers and righteousness as an ever flowing stream.” Let that justice begin to flow not just on South Blvd and Wesley, not just on Dempster and Ridge, not just on Benson!
But let rivers of righteousness flow up to Church and Dodge, down Simpson and Foster, on both sides of Howard Street, over on Central Avenue and all the way up to Lincoln and Sheridan!
Let us dedicate and re-dedicate ourselves to the proposition that Truth crushed to the ground will rise again. Let us believe God is about to do something right now, to turn hatred ineffective and spring love back into the human drama.
Let our mantra fill us with hope that takes the form of tireless work and advocacy. I don’t know about you, but I remain ever hopeful. No matter what, I possess an undergirding of hope that whatever we are facing at any time in our lives, better days are just on the horizon.
I’m hopeful that dark nights of despair will eventually be transformed into mornings where light will find its way back into our lives.
I’m hopeful that true love will win the day.
I’m hopeful that wrong and ill-will are weaker than right and good intentions.
I’m hopeful that good people are stronger than those who are evil.
I’m hopeful that crushing injustices exacted upon the poor and disenfranchised people of the world, will be replaced by exacting, righteous retribution.
I’m hopeful that people will celebrate life beyond their own circles and fully enjoy all people and things equally.
I’m hopeful the tired, weary and battle-fatigued among us, will find rest for their weary souls and continue their journey.
I will never stop hoping or dreaming, or caring, or loving, or smiling. Nor shall we cease to work with every fiber of our being, to bring these hopes to fruition.
Where do we go from here? This is where we go from here! A world where every person can live free of fear and rise to become their best selves. A nation where every community joins arms and marches to the drum beat of justice. And a town called Evanston where every boy and girl, every man and woman, every family, will find any and all resource to achieve success and where every success, is interwoven and sewn together into a full tapestry of sisterhood and brotherhood.
Co-sponsors were: Bethel AME Church Evanston, Beth Emet The Free Synagogue, Unitarian Church of Evanston, Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary, Jewish Reconstructionist Congregation - JRC, Lake Street Church of Evanston, Grace Lutheran Church, Second Baptist Evanston, St Andrew's Pentecost Episcopal Church,, Muslim Community Center, Evanston/North Shore Branch NAACP, Northminster Presbyterian Church of Evanston, and Northwestern University