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Remembering the Words of Rev. Martin Niemoller

The column below appears in the print version of the WJC Winter Program Guide. A number of readers asked if they could also have these words in electronic form so that they could forward them to others, and I decided to share the entire piece with all of you in this format.

 As we at the WJC begin to do what we can to enact the message of the words below, please note the following very relevant activities coming up at the WJC in the coming week:

  • This Sunday, January 8, 11am-1pm, I will lead a discussion at our “First Sunday” brunch on “Maintaining our moral center in the Trump era: supporting one another to be our best selves as we carry our values into the world.” 
  • On Saturday, January 14, in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, our Shabbat service will include teachings of Dr. King, followed by a dairy/veggie pot luck lunch with lots of good food at noon, and then at 1pm a screening and discussion of the brilliant documentary “13th”. “13th” describes the way racism maintained its grip on America after the 13th Amendment ending slavery was ratified, leading up to our system of mass incarceration of people of color to this day. This is an important film.

All are welcome at these events, and of course at all of our activities at the WJC.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Jonathan


Dear Members and Friends of Kehillat Lev Shalem,

In our lobby hangs an artistic rendering of the famous words of Rev. Martin Niemoller (1892-1984), a German Lutheran pastor who opposed the Nazi regime. As a result of his public resistance, Rev. Niemoller was arrested and fortunately survived the war, confined to Sachsenhausen and Dachau. The Allies liberated him in 1945, and he continued to speak out as a leading voice of penance and reconciliation for the German people until his death.

Here are his words:

First they came for the Communists

And I did not speak out

Because I was not a Communist

Then they came for the Socialists

And I did not speak out

Because I was not a Socialist

Then they came for the trade unionists

And I did not speak out

Because I was not a trade unionist

Then they came for the Jews

And I did not speak out

Because I was not a Jew

Then they came for me

And there was no one left

To speak out for me

Rabbi Michael Adam Latz, Senior Rabbi of Congregation Shir Tikvah in Minneapolis, Minnesota, recently wrote this response to Rev. Niemoller’s piece, as he contemplates the potential for the past to repeat itself, even in the United States of America. I am moved by his words, and I want to share them with you:

In response to Martin Niemoller (z”l):

First they came for the African Americans and I spoke up 

Because I am my sisters’ and my brothers’ keeper.

And then they came for the women and I spoke up

Because women hold up half the sky.

And then they came for the immigrants and I spoke up—

Because I remember the ideals of our democracy.

And then they came for the Muslims and I spoke up—

Because they are my cousins and we are one human family.

And then they came for the Native Americans and Mother Earth and I spoke up—

Because the blood-soaked land cries and the mountains weep.

They keep coming.

We keep rising up.

Because we Jews know the cost of silence.

We remember where we came from.

And we will link arms, because when you come for our neighbors, you come for us

And THAT just won’t stand.

As we enter 2017, with trepidation and legitimate concerns, I stand with Rabbi Latz, I stand with my neighbors, and I stand with you. Let’s stay connected and be a sanctuary for one another and for everyone who might need our presence.


Rabbi Jonathan Kligler