[Managing Editor’s note: Rothbaum delivered these remarks Tuesday morning at a Fight for $15 protest at an East Oakland McDonald’s at the intersection of 98th and International. He says protestors marched down International and some spoke in front of the McDonald’s before the protestors sat down in the intersection. Police were already there, ready to arrest, and charged Rothbaum and others with a misdemeanor. The protest and action was one of many across the country on Nov. 29 demanding that corporations raise pay for fast-food, airport, child care, and home care workers, among others.]
Let’s talk about blessings. In this week’s Torah portion, Rebecca dresses her son Jacob in a costume of his brother Esau. His job is to trick their father, the blind Isaac, into giving him Esau’s blessing.
It works. Isaac is tricked. Jacob steals the blessing.
And ever since that moment, men have learned Jacob’s lesson, dividing us from one another in order to steal blessings.
But what if we could tell Jacob, tell the swindlers and hoarders and conmen: there’s enough blessing for everyone.
What if we said — at long last, stop dividing us!
Stop dividing cities from the country, when there’s enough blessing for everyone.
Stop dividing Jew from Methodist from Muslim from Mexican from Minnesota from Mississippi, when there’s enough blessing for everyone.
Stop dividing the white from the brown from the black, when there’s enough blessing for everyone.
Stop dividing the working-class white from workers of color, when a living wage would be blessing for everyone.
Why would we succumb to these simplistic distinctions, the distractions, this limitation of the sacred? This disintegration of the divine?
We’re not blind, like Isaac. We can see that justice for one is justice for all.
A living wage for the poultry farm, the factory floor, the flight attendant, the fry cook, the father’s home-health aide, the airport worker.
Can we find the blessing of fair pay in the city and the country, the red state and the blue state, the frustrated and incarcerated, the fatigued and the disenfranchised?
We stand today to insist, to demand, to shout it and sing it and pray it and teach it. To you, and to the ages. The promise is real. Don’t pretend to be blind. We can see it, right before us. As plain as day. Enough blessing, now and at last. For everyone.
Rabbi Mike Rothbaum serves as Bay Area Co-Chair for Bend the Arc: A Jewish Partnership for Justice and lives with his husband, Anthony Russell, in Oakland. His writing and speaking has been featured in Tikkun, the Huffington Post, The Forward, KQED radio, CNN, and Zeek.