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.
Looking back on the first three weeks of 2020, a theme for the month of January emerges.
On the eve of the new year, I participated in the burial of a child survivor of the German invasion of Byelorussia. Rosa had watched as nearly all the Jews in her village were murdered. Less than a week after I sang El Malei Rahamim at her graveside, I joined nearly 1500 people that gathered with the Jews of Metro Atlanta to stand in solidarity against antisemitism and hatred.
At this event on January 6th, everyone gathered was encouraged to take out their phones and text their support of a bill, backed by the Hate Free Georgia coalition, to protect Georgia citizens from hate crimes.
One week later, on January 13th, the 2020 Georgia legislative session began.
It is the second year of a two-year cycle, and we’re prepared to advocate for bills that are still alive from 2019, such as the Hate Crime Bill, which passed in the State House by a vote of 96 to 64 last year. Georgia is one of five states without a hate crime law, and we’re eager to focus on getting this legislation passed in the State Senate and signed by the governor. There are several other bills that had committee hearings in 2019—including a Civil Rights Act and a Conversion Therapy Ban, both of which would protect Georgia’s LGBTQ+ citizens from discrimination—that are worthy of attention in 2020.
On Day 2 of the legislative session, Faith in Public Life sent an email requesting clergy attendance at a press conference to demonstrate our resolve to oppose the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). I couldn’t help but feel discouraged. This bill stalled in the State Senate Judiciary Committee without a hearing in 2019; it’s a bill that we successfully fought for years and was finally vetoed by the governor in 2016. As one colleague noted, RFRA is at best a distraction from more pressing legislation and at worst a dangerous law that will potentially harm many Georgians. So we gathered on Day 4 of the legislative session, and we stood together and raised our collective voice against injustice.
On Monday, a group of us from Congregation Bet Haverim met at the corner of Peachtree Street and Andrew Young International Boulevard to join the MLK Day March. Despite bitter cold and insufficiently warm gloves, we carried our banner on the walk to Ebenezer Baptist Church, chanting “one people, one race” with the Bahai group behind us. We cannot face the challenges that deeply divide us unless we stand together, as one people united against injustice.
There is so much yet to be done, here in Georgia and across our nation, to ensure civil rights and equal protection under the law, income equality, access to housing and health care, freedom from discrimination and safety from violence for all people. I pray we have the courage and endurance to work together, to seek peace and to pursue justice for all.