What Choice Do You Make on the Staircase?

January 21, 2019


Shalom. I am Jeffrey Myers, the rabbi of Tree of Life in Pittsburgh, PA. I stand with you as we commemorate the birth of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.


This occasion provides us with the opportunity to reflect on the messages of Dr. King and what has been done to meet his dreams. How might Dr. King challenge us if he were still alive today? What commentary would he offer on the current state of American society?


With the massacre of 11 beautiful souls who had come to pray and celebrate the Lord's Sabbath, the three congregations who worshiped in the Tree of Life synagogue were forced to find a new temporary home until such time as we can reoccupy our building, as it is not currently a prayerful place. Many synagogues, temples, and churches reached out to us offering not only solace and comfort, but also physical space. Ultimately, Tree of Life Congregation chose to meet in Rodef Shalom, a synagogue located only about a mile down the road from where we were.


Every day now, when I enter Rodef Shalom, I am greeted by the powerful words of Dr. King that are emblazoned on the glass entry way:


"Faith is taking the first step, even when you don't see the whole staircase."


Apart from the physical challenge of climbing the first set of steps towards the lobby, Dr. King's words challenge me every day. Each of us are climbing a staircase to get closer to G-d. The godlier we act in word and deed, the greater the progress. When we falter, we lose steps. While many humans may not even see the upper most heights of the staircase, let alone reach them, I cannot help of think of a text from the Mishnah, which I'll paraphrase:


"It is not incumbent upon us to finish the task, but neither are we free to desist from it."


Our responsibility, each and every day of our lives, is to climb that staircase, to get closer to the divine. When someone massacres 11 Jews in a synagogue, who are there to worship their G-d, that person is headed the wrong way on the staircase. When a basketball referee demands that a young African American athlete cut his hair, that person is heading the wrong way on the staircase. When someone spray paints red swastikas around the office of a professor at Columbia University, that person is headed the wrong way on the staircase.


I too have a dream. I dream that one day, the Anti-Defamation League will go out of business because it is not needed anymore. I dream that one day Black Lives Matter won't exist because it isn't needed anymore. I dream that the Me Too Movement doesn't exist because it is no longer necessary. 


Now, I can guess that probably some or possible even most of you think that I'm some crazy White Jewish guy who's clueless. You think "no way this could ever happen." But that's the thing about dreams, they reveal a part of your soul. I don't just dream it; I want to see it happen. I have taken the first step on the staircase and I extend my hand in friendship to all who will shake it in joining me to eradicate the hate from out vocabulary, which I call the "H word" and I'll only use it once here.


All of use can identify people headed the wrong way on that staircase and sometimes the sheer quantity can be overwhelming. A lack of understanding of our neighbors leads to fear and loathing. Fear leads to the "H word" and the "H word" leads to act of violence. If we are ever to remove the "H word" from our society, it must start with pledging to not use the "H word" in our speech, as I have done. I challenge all who are present today, to join me in a simple move to eradicate the "H word," in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr and the 11 lives lost. Just don't say it. Our words can wound and our words can heal.


What choice do you make on that staircase?



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