49 Years Later, Does America Still Have a Dream? A Look to the Midrash

by Asaf Bar-Tura, Director of Programs
Jewish Council on Urban Affairs

49 years ago – August 28, 1963 – 250,000 people participated in the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom in Washington, D.C. It was here that Martin Luther King, Jr., delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech.

The March on Washington DC in 1963

The midrash says that a person may walk through 49 gates of impurity, but once one crosses the 50th, one cannot be redeemed. It is said that while in slavery in Egypt, the Israelites were in such dire straits, that they had crossed “49 gates of impurity.” Hence, the midrash teaches, we count 49 days from Passover to Shavuot, when the Torah was given. These 49 days redeem us back from slavery to liberation – passing through 49 gates of sanctification.

It has been 49 years since the march and the speech. Let us not cross into a 50th year of rampant poverty, racial inquality, and economic injustice… Let us make our way back through the gates, toward a truly moral society. Join JCUA in doing what’s right, not what’s easy, as we pursue justice in partnership with Chicago’s diverse communities.

The journey is long. But we shall overcome.

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