I SHALL NOT BE SILENT–THE STORY OF RABBI JOACHIM PRINZ
We all remember, or have seen the footage, of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech at the “March on Washington”. And for good reason–King’s speech is one of the greatest in American history. Even today, we marvel at the power and beauty of his words, and how this speech inspired a nation.
But do you know who spoke before King? History little remembers that it was a New Jersey rabbi! That rabbi was a remarkable man, who, on that fateful day of August 28, 1963 likewise delivered a deeply moving oration.
Rabbi Joachim Prinz was a charismatic young rabbi in Berlin. He began warning of the Nazi peril even before the Holocaust. He ran afoul of the authorities and was expelled from Germany in 1937. Prinz came to America and eventually assumed the pulpit of Temple B’nai Abraham in Newark, immediately reviving the struggling congregation. In his newly adopted country Prinz also became involved in the civil rights struggle.
In his capacity as president of the American Jewish Congress from 1958-1963, he worked with King and all the civil rights pioneers. It came as no surprise that he was chosen to represent the Jewish community at the historic rally.
Rabbi Prinz’ speech hit his moral high note as he recalled, “When I was the rabbi of the Jewish community in Berlin under the Hitler regime, I learned many things. The most important thing that I learned under those tragic circumstances was that bigotry and hatred are not the most urgent problem. The most urgent, the most disgraceful, the most shameful and the most tragic problem is silence.”
The rabbi went on to proclaim that, “America must not become a nation of onlookers. America must not remain silent. Not merely black America, but all of America. It must speak up and act from the President down to the humblest of us, and not for the sake of the Negro, not for the sake of the black community but for the sake of the image, the idea and the aspiration of America itself.”
The story of Rabbi Joachim Prinz has now been told in a dramatic hour-long documentary, fittingly entitled, I Shall Not Be Silent. Like King, Rabbi Prinz epitomized the spirit of the ancient Hebrew prophets, whose words, “For the sake of Zion I will not be silent” (Isaiah 62:1), inspire us still.
I invite you on behalf of the Adult Education Committee to join the Confirmation class in viewing the film on Sunday morning, January 10 (10:00 AM), as a prelude to the national holiday that honors King the week after.