Last Shabbat, before the prayer for our country, I told my congregation that we must do more than pray with words. I reminded them of the late Rabbi Abraham Heschel, who in March 1965 walked linking arms with the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. from Selma to Montgomery to protest the harsh and inhumane treatment of African Americans. For Heschel, the march had spiritual significance. He wrote, “For many of us the march from Selma to Montgomery was about protest and prayer. Legs are not lips and walking is not kneeling. And yet our legs uttered songs. Even without words, our march was worship. I felt my legs were praying.”
And that is exactly what I requested of my congregation last weekend. I urged the 400 congregants assembled to remember the words of Rabbi Heschel who, after marching with King exclaimed, “When in Selma I learned to pray with my feet.” I implored everyone in the congregation to do the same in regards to the government shutdown and reminded them that “our representatives in Washington work for us” and suggested that their behavior and lack of leadership has been reprehensible.
I asked everyone to “pray with their feet” and pick up their phones in the coming week and call their members of Congress and demand that our elected officials end this irresponsible dilemma which they themselves created and which has negatively impacted millions of Americans while our officials on Capitol Hill still receive their paychecks.
When I called the office of Rep. Tom McClintock, one of our local representatives who voted to shut down the government, I was stunned by the response of the young aide who answered my call. She told me that “the congressman did not vote to shut down the government. He voted for resolutions to stop unnecessary spending.” This doublespeak made me even more irate. I urged her to let the congressman know that we are a government by the people and for the people and to ask the congressman and his colleagues to step to the plate and end this quagmire.
I tried contacting House Speaker John Boehner’s office to voice my concerns only to hear a recording of patriotic music, including “When Johnny Comes Marching Home.”
Should the speaker continue down the path he and others have already paved, he may eventually be marching to civilian life in his native home of Ohio. After I held for almost 30 minutes with no one answering my call, I then hung up and called one of the speaker’s colleagues, Rep. Bob Gibbs of Ohio’s 7th District. My call was immediately answered, and I asked the aide on the other line to convey to the congressman my desire to share with the speaker of the House, his Ohio colleague, to end this stalemate now.
I also contacted the Washington office of my representative, Rep. Doris Matsui, and asked her aide to convey to Matsui my concern about the shutdown and to urge the congresswoman to take leadership to work toward ending this unnecessary stalemate. I repeated my concerns to aides in the offices of Rep. Ami Bera, my two senators, and to the president at the White House via the comment line.
While I also have concerns about the Affordable Care Act, it is the law of the land. Those who are responsible for the government shutdown are holding this legislation hostage by insisting that the health reform law be defunded. While there is never a perfect solution to health care and every problem in America, at the very least our elected officials ought to strive to resolve issues in a bipartisan fashion. The constant bickering and power struggles do not bode well for modeling the kind of leadership for the future generation of government leaders. On the contrary, the behavior of our elected officials may very well drive away good, decent Americans who could make a positive difference if they ran for and were elected to office.
I urge every American who cares about our country to demand accountability and flood the phone lines of our elected officials with our “prayers.” If we make our voices heard loudly, maybe our members of Congress will get the message that we will not stand for gridlock any longer. And if they don’t respond to that message and mediate this impasse, then they need to be ushered out of office at the next election. To find your representative’s phone number go to www.contactingthecongress.org.
Reuven Taff is rabbi and spiritual leader of Sacramento’s Mosaic Law Congregation.