By Mark H. Levine and Or Rose With every breath I took, the icy morning air burned my lungs. “Anybody know what the temperature is?” I hollered to nobody in particular. “Radio says it’s 28 degrees,” croaked a raspy, old voice, which rose from the crowd like a dying spark from last night’s fire. “Feels colder than that,” I snorted, stamping my feet nervously on the frost-covered grass. “If I had known we’d be marching in bad weather, I would have stayed home.” I had hoped that my lighthearted comment would break the tension, but several adults within earshot misunderstood me, and one of them snapped back in disgust, “Go home if you’re not willing to put your body on the line like those folks two weeks ago during Bloody Sunday.” Bloody Sunday, March 7, 1965, had shocked the nation. Approximately 500 civil rights activists gathered in Selma, Alabama, to march to the state capitol in Montgomery and demand voting rights for Negroes. Unfortunately, they never finished that 50-mile walk. In fact, tragedy struck before they had a chance to begin. As the marchers crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge, which stood only six blocks from where they had assembled, they were met by scores of Alabama State Troopers. Armed with clubs, whips, and tear gas, the troopers glared at the marchers for several minutes. The marchers stared back, frightened but unyielding; perhaps the words of Martin Luther King Jr. steeled their commitment to change and nonviolent resistance: “To accept passively an unjust system is to cooperate with that system,” the heroic civil rights leader had preached. Suddenly, and without provocation, the police attacked the helpless crowd. Bodies crumpled to the ground, beaten and bloodied by those who were responsible for maintaining the peace. A toxic cloud of tear gas hung in the air, choking the marchers and burning their eyes. There was no escape. Television cameras captured the brutality and broadcast it into America’s living rooms. The violence convinced people of good conscience that “racism is man’s gravest threat to man, the maximum of hatred for the minimum of reason, the maximum cruelty for a minimum of thinking.” I remember sitting around the kitchen table with my parents, watching the shocking newscast on television. As the images grew more horrifying, I felt the blood draining from my face. “How many disasters do we have to go through in order to realize that all of humanity has a stake in the liberty of one person; whenever one person is offended, we are all hurt. What begins as inequality of some inevitably ends as inequality of all.” At that precise moment, I knew I had to join the Negroes’ struggle for dignity and human rights. And when I learned that Reverend King was organizing another Selma march on March 22, and that he had invited Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, a respected Jewish thinker and activist, I decided immediately to participate; after all, “in a free society, some are guilty, but all are responsible.” At 8 a.m., word spread quickly that the march was about to begin. Reverend King, Rabbi Heschel, and several religious leaders linked arms and led the column of marchers eastward along Highway 80. With each historic step, “I felt my legs were praying.” Did my ancestors feel a similar joy as they marched out of Egyptian slavery? But fear and doubt haunted me too. If we encountered hatred and contempt along the way, would I have the moral courage, like Moshe, to face it? The thought of my people’s ancient history inspired me and helped me realize that “we are all Pharaohs or slaves of Pharaohs. It is sad to be a slave of Pharaoh. It is horrible to be a Pharaoh.” I walked alongside an energetic group of teenage girls who were singing freedom songs and chatting cheerfully. Several of them spoke reverently about Rabbi Heschel, whom they called Father Abraham. Rabbi Heschel had electrified everyone at a prayer service before we began the march. Looking like an ancient prophet with disheveled, white hair and a wispy beard that he occasionally stroked unconsciously, he recited Psalm 27, “God is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?” These timeless words of comfort from Tanakh eased our fears and strengthened our resolve. Heschel’s majestic presence and the spiritual power of his message filled me with pride to be a Jew, a link in the chain of tradition that reminds the world that “to be arrogant toward man is to be blasphemous toward God.” Today, Rabbi Heschel taught me that there is “a grain of prophet in every person,” and that one of the highest ideals of Judaism—the relentless pursuit of justice and compassion—can change our country.