As I watch the events in Baltimore, I keep hearing phrases from the historical footage in I Shall Not Be Silent. I hear John F. Kennedy: "The fires of frustration and discord are burning in every city. Where legal remedies are not at hand, redress is sought in the streets. We face, therefore, a moral crisis as a country and a people." I hear Rabbi Prinz: “What we are concerned with is the soul, and the heart, and the moral health of the nation.” These words were spoken over fifty years ago.
After screenings of I Shall Not Be Silent, many people ask us what they can do to embrace Rabbi Prinz’s legacy. How can they make sure not to be silent in the face of injustice? I reply that each of us can think about what is happening that we believe is most harmful to the “moral health of the nation,” as Rabbi Prinz put it, and then find ways to correct that injustice.
People often ask why we made this film. I'm glad that the film preserves part of the historical record of Jewish activism for civil rights. But that is a fringe benefit. Actually, we made the film to help all of us learn how to stand in solidarity with people who are suffering, how to work for a true democracy with liberty and justice for all. It’s true that many Jews were involved in the civil rights movement, Rabbi Prinz being a primary example. But Rabbi Prinz would be the first to state that the work is far from finished, and that our pride in the work of our elders must spur us to action.
If the work were complete, these words, written by Rabbi Prinz to Martin Luther King, Jr. after Newark’s violent summer of 1967, would not be so tragically relevant today. “All of us know painfully of the indescribable despair among the people living in the ghettos . . . people waiting for America to fulfill its promise to restore them to a full life of dignity.”
It is up to us to fulfill the promise, to continue the work—in memory of our elders, for peace and justice for all our neighbors, and to ensure that our children inherit a more just democracy. Rabbi Prinz is not here to lead us, but we can still hear his words: “America must not become a nation of silent onlookers.”
Note: To begin exploring what you can do, here is a small selection of organizations to start with: