Rabbis Without Borders
Rabbis Without Borders is a dynamic forum for exploring contemporary issues in the Jewish world and beyond. Written by rabbis of different denominations, viewpoints, and parts of the country, Rabbis Without Borders is a project of Clal – The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership.
The sanctuary of Temple Kol Emeth is completely filled. Judges, lawyers and rabbis who will address the crowd sit on the bima, ready to be introduced. Next to the choir, there are rows of seats with names of local clergy. I find my seat and introduce myself to my neighbors.
The pastor from a local church, located in downtown Marietta, tells me that he recalls learning a song from his grandparents about the murder of Mary Phagan and subsequent hanging of Leo Frank. He sings the beginning part; it reminds me of Rock-a-bye Baby and other frightening nursery rhymes of my childhood. He trails off, shaking his head of the memory, and describes discussing Frank’s case with his grandmother — many years later — noting that historians provided abundant evidence of his innocence. She was not persuaded.
“I know why I’m here,” he tells me. Then he gestures toward the pews and asks, “But why are all these people here?”
I was wondering that, too. I’m not exactly sure why I’m here.
I’ve come at the personal invitation of Rabbi Steven Lebow, because I’m intrigued by written accounts of the Leo Frank case and I want to learn more from those who fought for his pardon. I also want to pray for Leo Frank on his yahrzeit.
One after another, distinguished guest speakers recount the accumulated injustices endured by Leo Frank. They recall the angry mobs outside the courthouse, chanting “hang the Jew, or we’ll hang you,” and the lynch mob that kidnapped Frank from his prison cell. The revival of the Ku Klux Klan in Georgia, with its racism and violence directed primarily toward African-Americans, began with this heinous act against a Jew.
Why, after more than 15 years in Marietta, did I attend this particular memorial service?
Not merely to learn, because I know retelling this tragic tale will not bring Leo Frank back to life. While reciting Mourner’s Kaddish for Leo Frank and Mary Phagan I am moved to tears, because I know prayers will not serve to cleanse an ugly stain on our history. As the voices of the chorus crescendo during the final lines of God Bless America, I realize that I’m here to seek justice for Leo Frank.
After 100 years, it is time for the governor of Georgia and the elected officials of our State Legislature to acknowledge Leo Frank’s innocence. In his eloquent demand for full exoneration, Rabbi Lebow reminds us, “Justice is the debt that the present owes the future.”
My children and future grandchildren must be unburdened of this hateful past. Together we must seek justice and pursue peace for all citizens.
Learn more & sign petition to exonerate Leo Frank