Remembering Courage

A blog post by Executive Director Marvin Pinkert.

On this Martin Luther King Day we quite naturally reflect on the progress made in civil rights in the span of one lifetime.  While we still have not reached the ideal world that Dr. King envisioned, the incremental steps we have taken towards a society where content of character trumps color of skin are really quite remarkable.  As an American, and especially as an American Jew, I am a beneficiary of the civil rights movement and so I dedicate today’s blog post to all those with the courage to make change.

I am just a little too young to have been an active participant in the events of the late 50s and early 60s.  My older sister was an early member of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and I do remember intense discussions around the dinner table about whether it was “safe” for her to attend a march.

My closest connection to the civil rights movement actually came many years later.  In the 1990’s we joined Congregation Hakafa in Glencoe, IL.  The Congregation had been founded by Rabbi Robert J. Marx (pictured here at my daughter’s bat mitzvah party in 1997).  Rabbi Marx had been a crusader for causes of civil rights and social justice since he had arrived in Chicago in 1962.

Rabbi Robert J. Marx, with glasses, is pictured with the Rev. Martin Luther King in the 1960s.

Here is a photo of Rabbi Marx with Dr. King from 1968. Marx had joined King’s march for justice in Selma, Alabama and then, as seen in this photo, joined him again when a march down Michigan Avenue took on discrimination in Chicago.  As Rabbi Marx tells the story, he was hit with a small stone intended for Dr. King.  Worried friends seeing this on the evening news called to ask “were you hurt?”.  “No damage, I am fine,” he answered. And then he thought about and added:  “No, I am hurt — not by the stone but by the hatred, the bitterness, the rage,” I said.

Rabbi Marx is now 85 and “emeritus” at the Congregation, but he is still active in speaking out on issues…and still fearless when it comes to challenging the status quo.  While I may not have agreed with every position took, it was one of my great honors and pleasures to participate in his Sunday discussion groups.  It made me feel linked in some small way to the legacy of the brave men and women who have brought about a better America.

In scouring the web for materials about Rabbi Marx, I ran across his 1966 letter to friends and rabbinic colleagues explaining his decision to join the movement.  Even though fifty years have passed, I think you’ll find his passion compelling.  It is also a fascinating artifact of the arguments within the Jewish community about the role of Judaism in civil rights.

Page 1 of Rabbi Marx's Letter. Click the image to go to the full text.
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