A call went out recently to rabbis to join the NAACP’s America’s Journey for Justice March (#justicesummer) — an 860-mile, 40-day walk, beginning Aug. 1 in Selma and ending Sept. 16 in Washington, D.C. The organizers hoped enough rabbis would join them so that each day a rabbi could carry the Torah, the Jewish symbol of justice, in solidarity, relay-style. Instead of 40 rabbis, more than 150 volunteered. I chose to go Aug. 13, joining the march as it made its way through Atlanta, with just enough time to return home for New College of Florida’s Orientation. It was remarkable to share a day in this momentous journey.
All day long I was continually impressed by the organization of the march. The NAACP had made plans and continued to fine-tune them after each day’s debriefing. They set a goal each day of 20-21 miles, broken into seven stages of three miles each. Marchers were asked to spend a stage on the bus when we tired.
In addition, a nursing station followed us in a different bus, in case any of the marchers needed medical assistance, and hydration stations were set up at each mile. Churches, synagogues and mosques along the route had signed up to serve as meeting points, provide lunches and dinners, sites for Teach-Ins, and more.
And this doesn’t begin to scratch the surface of the advance work the NAACP did with law enforcement and a myriad of municipal and state jurisdictions to arrange for our passage. The leaders of the NAACP took turns marching and working all this out. Their preparations matched their vision.
If the project itself wasn’t enough to fill me with awe, the beginning of our leg in Atlanta Aug. 13 at the Dr. Martin Luther King Memorial was overwhelming, both emotionally and symbolically. As the bus dropped us off where the march had ended the day before and we waited for the signal to march, we got to observe the Georgia state troopers, who were there to help insure the safety of the marchers, black and white officers, posing together for a group photo in front of the Dr. King memorial. Their pride and hope filled me with awe all over again.
The march marks the 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act. It is part of a nationwide effort to remind people that much work still needs to be done to create fair voting, equal education and justice for all. This is a task that needs to be addressed throughout the country and in our nation’s capital.
Each of the marchers came from near and far because they wanted to help spread this call for justice. Some of the marchers came for a day, some for several days and a small handful has been marching since Selma.
I joined three other rabbis, becoming part of an unbroken chain that held our Torah so that it too could march to Washington and proclaim its demanding words from Deuteronomy, “Justice, Justice, you shall Pursue.” The other three rabbis were congregational rabbis and will preach about the march at their congregations on Rosh Hashannah, the Jewish New Year. I will be back in my New College of Florida classroom by then, where I feel privileged to work, knowing that as a public institution New College symbolizes equal access. Nevertheless, all of us at New College know how hard we have to fight to preserve good public education and make sure that there is equal access.
My day of marching and meeting others who were working so exquisitely for this cause, pointed a way forward and strengthened me. From time to time, as we marched through Atlanta and out into the northeast suburbs, someone in line would call out, “What do we want?” And we would answer, “Justice.” “When do we want it?” continued the caller. “Now,” we all answered, and so must we continue to answer.