This past week more than 500 of our neighbors lined the streets around Shawsheen Square in Andover, respectfully and peacefully protesting the unequal treatment of African Americans and the unfinished business of purging from our midst the racism that continues to plague our society.
With their characteristic professionalism, the Andover police stood by to protect the demonstrators — a diverse group in age, gender and race, and a reflection of our community and the value of tolerance that unites us.
As I stood with two of my minister friends, I was reminded of a different time 55 years ago this spring.
A rabbi and a minister, with arms linked, led a group of 25,000 people in a march from Selma to Montgomery, a landmark event in the Civil Rights Movement that ultimately brought about the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
The Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel came from two very different places. King, the son of a minister grew up in the segregated South. Heschel barely survived the horrors of Nazi Germany — a fate his mother and sisters did not escape.
With the zeal of the prophets and the eloquence of poets, the minister and the rabbi forcefully condemned prejudice, intolerance and bigotry. Their visionary call for justice was heard around the world.
What made their message so compelling was their appeal to the better instincts of both black and white America.
Rabbi Heschel called religious communities to “worry less about the purity of dogma, (more) about the integrity of love. … Reverence for God is shown in reverence for man. … In a free society, some are guilty and all are responsible.”
And Dr. King in his “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” wrote, “Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”
We are neither prophets nor kings, but what I saw on a cool spring afternoon on Andover’s North Main Street was hundreds of our neighbors, people of good will, responding to the still small voice within — at times barely audible — a voice that compels each of us to do our part to fashion a more just and decent society.
Rabbi Robert S. Goldstein is spiritual leader of Temple Emanuel in Andover.