In an impressive display of solidarity, 35 community religious institutions and organizations came together to lead an interfaith solidarity march through Morningside Heights and Harlem last week. More than 200 community members and congregants gathered to promote racial justice and religious tolerance, highlighted by Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS) Chancellor Arnold Eisen, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, Riverside Church’s Rev. Dr. Amy Butler and Mosque of Islamic Brotherhood Inc.’s Imam Al-Hajj Talib ’Abdur-Rashid.
“We gather in Harlem, where so many have called us to speak and work for justice,” said Rev. Butler. “We remember especially this week that it has been 50 years since Martin Luther King Jr. called on us to speak up, to break the silence, to ‘rededicate ourselves to the long and bitter, but beautiful, struggle for a new world.’ And so, we shall.”
Brewer stressed that tolerance is a principle upon which the nation—and New York City—was built. “I’m proud to be joining JTS in their march for justice and religious tolerance. Now more than ever, it’s vital that we stand up for the values that make us who we are,” she said.
“Today we come together to affirm our belief as a diverse community of faith, that God is talking and we are listening,” said ’Abdur-Rashid, the lineal descendant of the Muslim Mosque Inc. founded by the late El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz (Malcolm X). “[God] declares the oneness of humanity and we are listening. He commands the doing of good and forbidding of wrong, and we hear and obey not as a religious left, but from a moral center. He uplifts and establishes justice and denounces intolerance and bigotry, and we are listening and acting to demonstrate our commitment to build a beloved community based upon those principles.”
In the leadup to Passover and Easter, the STANDING UPtown for Justice and Religious Tolerance coalition demonstrated a powerful, united front uptown, organizing in support of “welcoming the stranger, racial justice and religious tolerance.”
“The Passover seder opens with two simple sentences that explain why we are marching today: ‘This year, we are slaves. Next year, we will be free,’” said Eisen. “We are asked to reflect on what it means to be enslaved and to be free, body and soul, and we are also asked to focus on the hugely important word ‘we.’ When we realize that this ‘we’ embraces our neighbors down the street, the fellow citizens of our country and our fellow inhabitants on this planet, then we understand that we are indeed enslaved this year, because some of us are, and that all of us must work harder, together, to be free. Undertaking this work with our neighbors gives us the strength that will move us from the place called Egypt to the Promised Land.”
The march began at the JTS, a preeminent institution of Jewish higher education training thoughtful, innovative leaders—rabbis, cantors, educators, lay leaders and scholars—who strengthen our communities with a vision of Judaism that is deeply grounded in the Jewish past and thoroughly engaged with contemporary society. The JTS also provides high-caliber lifelong learning and professional development to our alumni, adult learners and Jewish communities throughout North America. Through its library, the JTS preserves and makes accessible to students and scholars throughout the world the greatest collection of Judaica in the Western Hemisphere.
“This is a powerful action by people of faith and conviction who share the neighborhoods of Morningside Heights and Harlem, and share a commitment to welcoming the stranger and advancing racial justice in our community, the city and the nation,” said Ruth Messinger, JTS Finkelstein Institute social justice fellow. “The 30-plus organizations that were eager to sponsor today look forward to important and collaborative work in the future.”
The march ended at Harlem’s National Black Theatre: Institute for Action Arts, a nonprofit educational and cultural corporation as well as one of the oldest black theaters in the country. Its productions aim to enhance African American cultural identity by telling authentic stories of the black experience.