Shabbat Shuvah, the Saturday between Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur, traditionally presents rabbis the opportunity to sermonize before a packed congregation about problems in the Jewish community.
This year Shabbat Shuvah presented some rabbis with a problem.
Should they encourage members of the Jewish community to attend a rally promoting economic and civil rights for immigrants in the United States, but which took place on Shabbat?
The rally, at Flushing Meadows-Corona Park in Queens, followed a two-week, cross-country Immigrant Workers Freedom Ride, in which some 900 immigrants and their supporters traveled from cities across the country to Washington and then to New York. An estimated 100,000 people attended Saturday’s event.
No count was made of the number of Jewish participants, but Rabbi Arthur Waskow, whose Philadelphia-based Shalom Center was a sponsor of the rally, and Rabbi Robert Marx, president of the board of directors of the National Interfaith Committee for Worker Justice, which coordinated the pro-immigrant action, guess that several were in attendance.
Getting to the rally was "a problem: not an insuperable problem," said Rabbi Waskow, who added, "I rarely take part in Shabbat demonstrations."
Participating in the rally did not conflict with "the spirit" of Shabbat observance, said Rabbi Marx, emeritus spiritual leader of Congregation Hakafa in Glencoe, Ill., and a longtime community activist.
"I remember marching in Selma and Chicago with Martin Luther King Jr.," Rabbi Marx said in a telephone interview. "We were good friends.
"Then the civil rights movement captured the public," Rabbi Marx said. "This march is an effort to create an awareness of similar problems faced by immigrant workers."
The freedom ride (inspired by the 1960’s freedom riders in the South) and rally urged the legalization of undocumented workers, better working conditions and legislation to help reunite families.
"We’re very much committed to the idea," Rabbi Marx said. "Our immigrant experience should certainly make us aware of the experience of [other] immigrants. We understand what it is to be oppressed."
Rabbi Marx, who moved away from Glencoe after retiring from his fulltime pulpit position, said he attended the Queens rally in spirit. He was in Glencoe for Shabbat Shuvah and Yom Kippur. "I’ve been called back to work for the High Holy Days," he said.
Marx said Jewish participants on the cross-country bus rides, including representatives of the JERICO (Jews for Equal Rights for Immigrant Communities) organization were hosted along the way by local Jewish communities, who offered food and financial support. "There has been a wonderful Jewish support."