Nearly 1,000 people, including Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, gathered together in our sanctuary on Friday and Sunday to rally behind our commitment to uphold and sustain Judaism’s core values.
Rabbi Ammiel Hirsch introduced the synagogue’s call to action in his sermon on February 3 and then elaborated on our plans at a community gathering on Sunday, February 5. “It’s time to get to work,” he said on Sunday. “If we take Judaism seriously, we don’t have a choice; Judaism requires us to be active — there’s no relaxing in matters of rights and progress in society.”
Rabbi Hirsch invited community members to sign up for three newly created task forces, each focused on one of three areas: domestic civil liberties, anti-Semitism, and immigration and refugees. “These task forces will narrow down our concerns and the specific actions we want to take,” Rabbi Hirsch said. “The real energy needs to be on the long term. How are we going to sustain this energy and do good work in the long term?”
About domestic civil liberties: “There is nothing inevitable about progress. Everything we care about — LBGTQ rights, minority rights, religious rights — need to be fought for.”
About anti-Semitism: “America has been so good to us that in the liberal Jewish community, many of us don’t even consider ourselves a minority. But something has changed in this country where haters — including anti-Semites — feel more comfortable and more empowered. If we don’t stand up for ourselves, nobody will.”
About immigration and refugees: “It’s just so easy to turn our backs on incalculable and immeasurable human suffering. We are not sensitive enough and we are not compassionate enough. We have a compassion deficit.”
Rabbi Hirsch also elaborated on the synagogue’s inaugural refugee relief mission, which will bring a group from the synagogue to Greece and Germany in May to offer direct aid to struggling refugees. “What we want to do is sensitize hundreds and thousands of people to the moral obligation that we have as American citizens and as Jews,” he said.
Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer spoke about her work trying “to counter what could be the most divisive set of priorities that we’ve ever seen.”
If there is a “silver lining,” she said, it’s the “coming together of so many [people and] institutions. The question we’re asked constantly is ‘What can we do to be helpful?’” Brewer said. “This congregation is answering this better than anybody else.”
Synagogue president Michael Patterson, who will lead the refugee relief trip with Rabbi Hirsch and Rabbi Diana Fersko, also addressed the congregation. “I’m going to Greece… and we need you to come with us!”
“This is not about Democrats and Republicans,” he said. “It’s not about conservatives and liberals. It’s about a community… doing what we need to do. It’s not just about coming out one Sunday morning, or for a week or two — this will take years. And we all have to stay with it.”