T’ruah calls on our band of angels

Rabbi Randy Fleisher serves Central Reform Congregation.


One of my favorite Jewish imaginings is that traveling with every single human being is a band of angels announcing to all who encounter them: “Make way for an image of God!” 

I take that to mean that every one of us carries within everything that is most important, meaningful and precious in the world. What would it be like if we acted like we saw those angels and heard their message? It would surely suggest to us that we ought to treat others with dignity, respect, justice, compassion and love. It would guide us to accept responsibility for one another; for those we know and those we may never meet, because the angels travel with every single one of us, announcing our infinite worth.

Seeing the angels and hearing their message would lead us to want to rescue victims of human trafficking. Protect children who are forced to work, often in unsafe conditions, to pay off age old debts, a form of modern slavery. Condemn governments all over the world that, because of prejudice and ignorance,  criminalize, harass and imprison LGBTQ individuals. Push for recognition of the rights of minorities worldwide. Call attention to the school-to-prison pipeline in our own country that targets low-income students of color, pushes them out of school for minor infractions, and too often leads them on a path of poverty and desperation. Protest torture of all kinds. Demand compassion for refugees, asylum seekers and immigrants. Organize with those workers who are underpaid and undervalued. Ensure that health care is available and affordable to all, regardless of economic circumstances. 

Right here in our St. Louis home, demand an end to bias and profiling that occurs in our businesses, policing and court systems. 

An organization called T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights (named for one of the shofar blasts, calling us to awaken to liberation and the creation of a more just world) consists of 1,800 rabbis and cantors across the movements of Judaism who bring a rabbinic voice to protecting and advancing human rights. 

For the past 10 years, T’ruah has encouraged Jewish communities to mark the Shabbat closest to International Human Rights Day as Human Rights Shabbat. Over the past decade, nearly 500 congregations and organizations have participated in Human Rights Shabbat; this year’s observance will take place this weekend, Dec. 8-9.

In August, I participated in a gathering of T’ruah clergy. We prayed the Rosh Chodesh Elul morning prayers and sounded the shofar at an ICE detention facility where Hugo Mejia, an undocumented worker, family man and longtime San Rafael, Calif., resident, is being held, facing deportation without a trial. Members of the local Jewish community have befriended Hugo and taken up his cause, participating in regular vigils calling for him to be treated with dignity. 

Not too much later and back at home, I joined clergy of various denominations to support a church in Webster Groves that is giving sanctuary to Alex Garcia, a respected resident of Poplar Bluffs whose wife and five children are United States citizens, who is also facing deportation as an undocumented immigrant. 

Both Hugo and Alex have the retinue of angels trumpeting their inherent value as human beings and as such deserve the human rights of due process and a loving, protective community.

These are the stories and messages we will share on Human Rights Shabbat. It is inspiring to me that so many people all over the world representing diverse cultures, traditions and races, understand the ancient imagining of the angels who travel with us and accept the accompanying responsibility to look out for one another. 

There is much work to do and so many people to protect, but it is holy work, and we are not doing it alone. I see you and am moved to say, “Make way for yet another person who represents everything we hold dear.”