Times of Challenge
The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.
—Martin Luther King Jr. Strength to Love (1963)
Last Martin Luther King Jr. Day, the rabbinical school went to Union Theological Seminary to learn with three special teachers. Rev. John Vaughn and Rev. Fred Davie shared their stories of having grown up black in the United States, struggling against racial bias in one case and poverty in the other. They explained how Dr. King’s leadership helped them imagine themselves as leaders and citizens who could and should help shape society. He offered them dignity and affirmed that each of us must act to achieve justice for everyone. Peter Geffen asked us what would be different at JTS next King Day. Would we, in a year, have done any more than just have a nice session with a few Christian leaders of color and learned a bit about Dr. King?
It’s now one year later—much has changed, and the work is urgent. Last week, together with Chancellor Eisen and some faculty members, we studied the book of Jeremiah with black clergy and lay leaders from Harlem. This is a group that has committed to learning together regularly and expanding our membership. Julio Medina told us that the catalyst for him to create Exodus Transitional Community was studying Jeremiah in Sing Sing Prison. To be challenged to seek the welfare of the community where you live (Jer. 29:7), when you live in Sing Sing, was for him a call to build community anywhere, no matter who is “in charge”— because ultimately, each of us in charge in some way. Each of us will be judged by our leadership, or lack of it, in moments of challenge.
The challenge is here—at our feet. What will we do? How will we create durable relationships in the communities where we live and commit to standing for justice, even when—especially when—it is unpopular?