Honoring Legacies: Dr. King and Rabbi Heschel

This is a guest post by Vic Rosenthal, Executive Director of Jewish Community Action.
This week many Minnesotans will attend forums, take time off from work, and march, to remember the legacy of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. For many of us, it is an opportunity to think about the civil rights movement and the struggle for equality. Despite the breakthrough election of Barack Obama as president, many recognize the disparities that still exist between whites and people of color in the areas of housing, health care, and education.
Not coincidentally, this is also an important time to remember the yahrtzeit of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, which fell just one week ago. Dr. King and Rabbi Heschel became close allies during the civil rights movement and marched together for voting rights and justice. Rabbi Heschel famously observed “I was praying with my feet.”
Rabbi Heschel also said “We are not all guilty, but we are all responsible.”
Jewish Community Action (JCA) takes Rabbi Heschel’s comments personally and literally. We put our understanding of Torah into action: we pray with our feet. Our members march to preserve health care for the most vulnerable, immigrant rights for all, and to prevent foreclosure and homelessness.
To continue Dr. King’s struggle for civil rights, racial equality, and economic justice, Jewish Community Action is part of a coalition trying to preserve General Assistance Medical Care. If we do not act, this program will end on March 1st. This state program provides health care access to many of the most vulnerable Minnesotans—more than 77,000 each year—who lived on less than $8,000 annually. Many are veterans, some are former prison inmates, others experience chronic illness (including mental illness and addiction), all are buffeted by the everyday challenges of deep poverty, such as homelessness and food insecurity. Because of the deep ties between economic injustice and systemic racism in our nation, a disproportionate number of GAMC recipients are people of color.
We have a long-term commitment to the rights of immigrants, especially those seeking permanent legal status. Because we remember that our own recent forebears immigrated to the U.S., members of Jewish Community Action share the responsibility for reforming our nation’s broken immigration system.
Through organizing the Northside Community Reinvestment Coalition, a Minneapolis initiative to stem foreclosure, we at JCA are “praying with our feet.” Our members and allies have knocked on hundreds of doors, sent thousands of letters, and directed many renters and homeowners to foreclosure prevention counseling. Our coalition is also working to negotiate loan modifications with lenders to permanently end the foreclosure crisis.
And in St. Paul, Jewish Community Action is part of Stops for Us! This multi-community effort monitors the development and construction of what will be the central corridor light rail line. Working arm-in-arm with many communities of color in St. Paul, our work will prevent community displacement, keep neighborhoods affordable and small businesses solvent, and lead to a transit system that benefits all, especially those most dependent on public transportation.
Through this work, we at Jewish Community Action, our many members, and our allies, live our Jewish values and honor both Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel and the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
This holiday, and throughout the year, we invite you to join us.