Jews and Racial Justice in the U.S.

January 7, 1923 (19th of Tevet, 5683): Emil Gustav Hirsch “a major Reform movement rabbi in the United States” passed away. Born on May 22, 1852 in Luxembourg, he was “a son of the rabbi and philosopher Samuel Hirsch. He later married the daughter of Rabbi David Einhorn. For forty-two years (1880-1922), Hirsch served as the rabbi of Chicago Sinai Congregation, one of the oldest synagogues in the midwest. At this post, he became well-known for an emphasis on social justice. From Chicago Sinai’s pulpit, he delivered rousing sermons on the social ills of the day and many Chicagoans, Jew and gentile alike, were in attendance. Appointed professor of rabbinical literature and philosophy at the University of Chicago in 1892, Hirsch also served on the Chicago Public Library board from 1885 to 1897. He was an influential exponent of advanced thought and Reform Judaism. He edited Der Zeitgeist (Milwaukee) (1880–82) and the Reform Advocate (1891–1923). He also edited the Department of the Bible of the Jewish Encyclopedia. Hirsch is the namesake of the Emil G. Hirsch Metropolitan High School of Communications (Hirsch Metro), located in the South Shore neighborhood of Chicago. In keeping with his interest in education, Hirsch advised a wealthy congregant, Julius Rosenwald of Sears, Roebuck & Co., to use part of his wealth to help build public schools which black students could attend in the segregated south. The school building program was one of the largest programs, but not the only, administered by the Rosenwald Fund.

Later in U.S. history, the segregation of public schools would become illegal on the basis of the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka Supreme Court ruling.  The United States Postal Service issued a stamp on August 30, 2005 honoring this landmark court case.  It can be stated with a good measure of confidence that the Jews of the United States played a part in ameliorating the harms caused by racial segregation.

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