President Obama: "I Don’t Think God Wants Us to Stop There”

Tonight, the NJDC will join with 17 other organizations representing virtually the entire spectrum of the American Jewish community in recognizing a Shabbat in solidarity with the African-American community following last week's tragic murders of 9 people in Charleston, SC. Suzanne Pollak writes at the Washington Jewish Week:

Eighteen Jewish organizations have pledged their solidarity with the people of Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church and will address head on the issues of hate and racism, said Rabbi Stuart Weinblatt of Congregation B’nai Tzedek in Potomac, who organized the effort.

The four leading Jewish movements — Orthodox, Conservative, Reform and Reconstructionist — as well as major Jewish organizations including AJC; Hillel International; the Anti-Defamation League; the Simon Wiesenthal Center; the Jewish Council for Public Affairs; and both the National Jewish Democratic Council and the Republican Jewish Coalition are participating either during Shabbat or by attending an African Methodist Episcopal church service on Sunday.

“The fact that so many responded so quickly and enthusiastically from so many different movements shows the unity of the Jewish community in reaffirming our commitment to pursue justice for all and the importance of our alliance with the African American community,” Weinblatt said.

The purpose is to let the African American community know that Jewish people stand with them “in sympathy and solidarity.” Weinblatt, president of the Rabbinic Cabinet of the Jewish Federations of North America, is personally calling on Jewish groups to use this moment to speak to their members, especially the younger ones, about Jewish involvement in the civil rights movement. “It’s a chance to reaffirm and remind ourselves of the shared experience,” he stressed.

Speaking at the funeral of Rev. Clemente Pickney, the South Carolina state senator and pastor at Emanuel African Methodist Church in Charleston who was killed last week, President Barack Obama gave a stirring eulogy culminating in a chorus of "Amazing Grace." DeNeen L. Brown and Greg Jaffe at the Washington Post write:

President Obama in remembering the life of slain pastor Rev. Clementa Pinckney delivered an impassioned call on Friday for unity and racial understanding.

Thousands of people packed an arena at the College of Charleston to pay their respects to Pinckney who was killed with eight other worshippers at the historic Emanuel AME Church. Obama played to the role of both pastor and president during his eulogy, leading the crowd in a loud and joyful rendition of “Amazing Grace.”

“Blinded by hatred, the alleged killer would not see the grace surrounding Reverend Pinckney and that Bible study group, the light of love that shown as they opened the church doors and invited a stranger to join in their prayer circle,” Obama said of the killings in which a 21-year-old man, Dylann Roof, apparently motivated by racial hatred, is alleged to have killed nine black worshippers during a Wednesday night Bible study. “The alleged killer could have never anticipated the way the families of the fallen would respond when they saw him in court in the midst of unspeakable grief, with words of forgiveness. He couldn’t imagine that...”

But soon the president’s eulogy turned into a meditation on the meaning of grace and a call to action on the issues of guns and race, two of the thorniest and most divisive problems of his presidency.

“For too long we were blind to the pain that the Confederate flag stirred in too many of our citizens,” Obama said...

The retiring of the flag after years of debate was an acknowledgment that slavery was wrong, Obama said, and “an expression of the amazing changes” that have transformed the nation for the better.

“By taking down that flag we express God’s grace,” Obama said. “But I don’t think God wants us to stop there.”

Obama then launched in some of the more pointed remarks of his presidency on the subject of race. He spoke of the black church and Pinckney’s AME Emanuel as a unique sanctuary in American life. “A sacred place,” he said, “not just for blacks, not just for Christians, but for any American who cares about the steady expansion of human rights and human dignity in this country.”

The president argued that the tragedy in Charleston should prompt Americans to ask tough questions about the persistence of poverty, poor schools, and inequality in the criminal justice system.

“Maybe now we realize the way racial bias can infect us,” Obama said, turning briefly to the subject of discrimination in the workplace. He asked Americans to consider the subtle bias that might lead some of them to“call Johnny back for a job interview but not Jamal.”

A full transcript of President Obama's eulogy can be found here. Video of the president leading the church in "Amazing Grace" can be found here: