Several years ago, some great Rabbis, in whose symbolic shadow we stand today, signed the Chabad Meshichist ban. This momentous decree came as a great shock to millions of lubavitchers who had been seared in the flames of withering injustice. It came as a terrible surprise to learn of the reasons.
Still many years later, the Chabadnick is still is not free. Many years later, the life of the Lubavitcher is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination. Many years later, the Lubavitcher lives on a lonely island of Chassidus in the midst of a vast ocean of Mussar. Many years later, the Chabadnick is still languished in the corners of American and Israeli society and finds himself an exile in his own land. And so we’ve come here today to dramatize a shameful condition.
In a sense we’ve come to our nation’s capital to cash a check. When the gedolim of our sect wrote the magnificent words of the Sichos and the Maimaros, they were signing a promissory note to which every Jew was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men, yes, chabad as well as regular Jews, would be guaranteed the “unalienable Rights” of “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” It is obvious today that Judaism has defaulted on this promissory note, insofar as her citizens of crushed hat are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, Judaism has given the Chabad people a bad check, a check which has come back marked “insufficient funds.”
But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this religion. And so, we’ve come to cash this check, a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice.
We have also come to this hallowed spot to remind the Jews of the fierce urgency of Now. This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quick sands of misnaged injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood. Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God’s children.
It would be fatal for the nation to overlook the urgency of the moment. This sweltering summer of Chabads legitimate discontent will not pass until there is an invigorating autumn of freedom and equality. 2010 is not an end, but a beginning. And those who hope that chabad needed to blow off steam and will now be content will have a rude awakening if the Jews returns to business as usual. And there will be neither rest nor tranquility in America and Israel until the Lubavitcher is granted his full rights. The whirlwinds of revolt will continue to shake the foundations of our nation until the bright day of justice emerges.
But there is something that I must say to my people, who stand on the warm threshold which leads into the palace of justice: In the process of gaining our rightful place, we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of sinas chinam. We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again, we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force.
The marvelous new militancy which has engulfed the Chabad community must not lead us to a distrust of all frum Jewish people, for many of our Jewish brothers, as evidenced by their presence here today, have come to realize that their destiny is tied up with our destiny. And they have come to realize that their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom.
We cannot walk alone.
And as we walk, we must make the pledge that we shall always march ahead.
We cannot turn back.
There are those who are asking the devotees of chabad rights, “When will you be satisfied?” We can never be satisfied as long as the lubavitcher is the victim of the unspeakable horrors of religious discrimination. We can never be satisfied as long as our bodies, heavy with the fatigue of travel, cannot gain lodging in the motels of the highways and the hotels of the cities. We cannot be satisfied as long as the Lubvaicthers basic mobility is from one chabad house to the next. We can never be satisfied as long as our children are stripped of their self-hood and robbed of their dignity by signs stating: “For Snags Only.” We cannot be satisfied as long as a chabadnick in Boro Park cannot feel safe and a Lubavicther in Monsey believes he has nothing for which to do. No, no, we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until “justice rolls down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream.”¹
I am not unmindful that some of you have come here out of great trials and tribulations. Some of you have come fresh from misnaged islands. And some of you have come from areas where your quest — quest for freedom left you battered by the storms of persecution and staggered by the winds of anti-chabad sentiment. You have been the veterans of creative suffering. Continue to work with the faith that unearned suffering is redemptive. Go back to Mississippi, go back to Alabama, go back to South Carolina, go back to Georgia, go back to Louisiana, go back to the slums and ghettos of our northern cities, knowing that somehow this situation can and will be changed.
Let us not wallow in the valley of despair, I say to you today, my friends.
And so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.
I have a dream that one day the Jewish people will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all Jews are created equal.”
I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of chabad Rabbis and the sons of Satmar Rabbis will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.
I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice. (they have no chabad house there)
I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their table cloths but by the content of their character.
I have a dream today!
I have a dream that one day, down in Lakewood, with its vicious Misnagdim, with its Rabbonom having their lips dripping with the words of “apikorsim” and “they are the closest religion to Judaism we have” — one day right there in Lakewood little chabad boys and chabad girls will be able to join hands with little yershivish boys and yeshivish girls as sisters and brothers.
I have a dream today!
I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, and every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the gay places will be made straight; “and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together.”2
This is our hope, and this is the faith that I go back to the Crown Heights with.
With this faith, we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith, we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith, we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to simchas together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.
And this will be the day — this will be the day when all of God’s children will be able to sing with new meaning:
My country ’tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing.
Land where my fathers died, land of the Pilgrim’s pride,
From every mountainside, let freedom ring!
And if America is to be a great nation, this must become true.
And so let freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire.
Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York.
Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania.
Let freedom ring from the snow-capped Rockies of Colorado.
Let freedom ring from the curvaceous slopes of California.
But not only that:
Let freedom ring from BMG in Lakewood.
Let freedom ring from the roof of Aish Hatorah in Jerusalem.
Let freedom ring from every hill and molehill of Williamsburg.
From every shtetl, let freedom ring.
And when this happens, when we allow freedom ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black hat men and kipah srugah men, modern orthodox and yeshivish, Chassidim and Misnagdim, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old chabad spiritual: