Two South Florida rabbis, Rabbi Bradd Boxman (Congregation Kol Tikvah in Parkland) and Rabbi Rachel Greengrass (Temple Beth Am in Pinecrest) carried the Torah on the streets of southern states in pursuit of greater civil rights, as was done by the famed civil rights advocates half a century ago.
The duo joined approximately 150 Reform rabbis from around the country, all whom marched 40 days collectively with the Torah, along with the National Association For Advancement Of Colored People (NAACP) in an 860-mile journey from Selma, Alabama to Washington, D.C.
The journey, titled “America’s Journey For Justice,” took place from Aug. 1 through Sept. 16.
Greengrass marched with the Torah for approximately 20 miles through Cheraw and other towns in South Carolina for twelve hours on Aug. 29.
“I am so proud to be a member of this historic event and walk alongside those working tirelessly for equal rights,” said Greengrass.
“By being a part of such a momentous demonstration, I, along with hundreds of other rabbis, lend our support to the Voting Rights Act, which is slowly eroding.”
Boxman marched with the Torah on Sept. 2 for a 15-mile trek through Fayetteville and other towns in North Carolina.
“What an exhilarating feeling to carry the scroll on my shoulders, mile after mile, just as I imagined Moses and our Israelite forbearers carrying the Ten Commandments through the desert on their way to the Promised Land,” said Boxman.
Boxman was particularly moved that many whom participated in the march were seniors, with an 85-year-old woman leading the way, on a day in which the temperature was 98 degrees.
“On this emotional one day journey, I met some of the most dedicated, passionate and physically determined individuals one will ever have the privilege of knowing. There was a 68-year-old African American war veteran who called himself ‘Middle Passage’ and Ruth, an 85-year-old Jewish woman, who set the pace.”
“Behind Ruth, the rabbis took turns carrying the Torah while others followed behind. Among them were the ‘raging grannies,’ a group of eight grandmothers who proudly stepped up to join this rallying of the human spirit,” said Boxman.
Boxman was passionate about the many civil rights causes that united everyone in his journey.
“As we marched, we chanted slogans calling for voter rights, especially in North Carolina, where voter suppression makes it difficult or near impossible, for many African Americans to get to the polls or to provide the required documentation to vote.”
“We held placards and called out for equal justice for all, for protection from global warming and a woman’s right for equal pay for equal work,” said Boxman.
Beyond the historical significance of recreating the battles for civil rights that took place fifty years ago in Selma with Jews who marched side by side with blacks, the rabbis also marched with the Torah to continue the pursuit for social justice.
Both rabbis participated in the march as members of Rabbis Organizing Rabbis, a division of the Reform movement’s Religious Action Center.
“Just as Reform Jews who marched 50 years ago in Selma and throughout the Civil Rights movement understood that racism and racial inequality undermine the social fabric of our communities, we know it is still true today,” said Rabbi Jonah Dov Pesner, director of the RAC.
After the rabbis ended a day of marching with the Torah, they came together each evening in prayer and study to learn more about contemporary civil rights issues.
NAACP President Cornell Brooks acknowledged the strong bonds and common ground between blacks and Jews.
“There’s a language, a shared experience, shared oppression, shared deprivation that not everyone gets,” said Brooks.
Both South Florida rabbis, along with their rabbinical colleagues who participated in “America’s Journey for Justice,” felt the strong mandate from the Torah to fight oppression and were enriched by marching with the Torah.
“At the end of our day’s journey, with blisters on my feet and pains in my calves, I never felt better in my entire life,” said Boxman.
Boxman shared the spirit of the Torah after the day of marching ended.
“The group wished to see the scroll unfurled, for most, the first time in their lives. I lifted the Torah high above my head, and proclaimed my favorite words, ‘This is the Torah that Moses placed before the people of Israel to fulfill the word of God,'” said Boxman.
To learn more about “America’s Journey For Justice,” go to www.rac.org
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