Shoftim 5774

Posted on February 27, 2014


By Joe Goldberg, EMTZA USY

Martin Niemoller, a German and Lutheran pastor, famously said:

First they came for the socialists,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a socialist.

Then they came for the trade unionists,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Jews,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a Jew.

Then they came for me,
and there was no one left to speak for me.

This poem reflects the principle of standing up for others as we would want others to stand for us. Throughout history, many groups have been persecuted and denied basic rights.

During the Holocaust, very few people stood up for us Jews, we were a largely unpopular group. As a result, we were allowed to be almost wiped out. It is horrific to think that this could have occurred less than 100 years ago.

It’s easy to persecute a group that is labeled “other.” Not so long ago, we were the “other,” but we weren’t the only ones on the outside.

Up until 1920, women in the United States were not allowed to vote. It took 144 years after the signing of the Declaration of Independence for woman to attain suffrage.

In the 1960s African American’s finally obtained civil rights and it took many more years after for the rights to actually be implemented and accepted.

Today, yet another social injustice is sweeping throughout the country; gays and lesbians across the country are still discriminated against and not given the proper respect they deserve. Teenagers across the country are harassed and made fun of for their orientation.

Taken from Exodus is the phrase: תּוֹרָה אַחַת יִהְיֶה לָאֶזְרָח וְלַגֵּר הַגָּר םבְּתוֹכְכֶ, this directly translates to: There shall be one law for the citizen and for the stranger who dwells among you. The Torah blatantly states that there shall be one law for both the citizen and the “other”. One may interpret this to also include social status as well as civil rights. Based upon this line from the Torah, gays and lesbians should be treated equally as human beings as well as before the law. Therefore, as Jews, we should be advocates for the legalization of gay marriage.

Regardless of your personal views, love is love. The love a man may feel for a woman and vice versa is no different than the love felt between two men or two women. They want the right to marry the partner of their choice and create a family. In reality, their decision has no effect on heterosexual people. By giving homosexual people the right to peacefully exist– a social justice that is already provided to the rest of the United States will now extend to a greater number of people.

A principle that we as Jews hold dear to our heart is: Tzedek tzedek tear dof. This phrase comes from Parshat Shoftim in Deuteronomy and translates directly to: Justice, justice you shall pursue. In theme with the weekend, the Justice League seeked out justice; the superheroes stood up for what they believe in and helped to ensure safety and justice for all. We have the opportunity to be superheroes in modern day society. By advocating for respect and dignity to be brought to the gay and lesbian community we help extend civil rights to all people in our community.

Throughout the Holocaust, no one stood up for the Jews and our persecution and mass murder has reshaped the recent development of our religion and culture. Because we stood alone, as Jews, it is our moral obligation and responsibility to stand up for those that now stand alone, while their rights are being infringed upon. Not too long ago, throughout most of the world, Jewish people lost many civil rights such as the right inter-marry, the right to own a business, and even the right walk on a sidewalk. Our people have suffered through worst of the worst and because of this we must stand up for those being denied rights we once lost ourselves. In our custom, when remembering the Holocaust, we say: Zachor v’yizkor or Remember and Remembrance. We say this in order to remind ourselves not to forget the tragedy that happened to our people. Therefore, it is our duty to not forget the morals and values our ancestors died for and to help implement them in our society. We can help stop the persecution of gays and lesbians by one offering them a hand in our community as well as advocate for them on the national level. Our ancestors died because they were proud of who they were, lets not let their dignity and honor go to shame.

As Social Action/Tikun Olam Vice President my challenge for all of us is to create a community within EMTZA USY that allows everyone to have a home. I want people to find acceptance and comfort in their lives through USY. Together, we all have an incredible opportunity to make USY a safe zone for all people and encourage the diversity that makes our group so special. Already, EMTZA has done an incredible job of creating an accepting community that allows everyone to be themselves.

While we, as American citizens, enjoy more rights than most, there may come a time in your life when you feel deprived of a civil liberty. If that happens you will be looking for support. People will remember when you stood with them and now they will stand with you.

No one stood with the Jews and we were allowed to suffer. However, now we have the opportunity to stand with another group of people. We can’t change the past, but by providing social acceptance for other groups of people we are changing our future and reshaping the world that allowed our ancestors to suffer.

I hope you have had a fantastic convention and hope it continues to go from good to great! I would love to meet every one of you so don’t be afraid to come and introduce yourself!

Thank you for listening and please remember that together, we can change the social norm, making our world accepting to all. It is our job to make everyone feel welcome, and make sure that everyone has a place that they can call home.