The People Who Made America:
The Most Arrested Rabbi in America
Continuing something I started in 2009, but extending it beyond its designed month, I would like to share another story that needs to be heard. Continuing my series, “The People Who Made America”, formally titled “Whites in Black History”, I ask you to join me in exploring the contributions and sacrifices made by Rabbi Israel Si Dresner.
Rabbi Dresner was dubbed “the most arrested Rabbi in America,” by some. The outspoken Rabbi participated in the June 13-16 Interfaith Freedom Ride from Washington, DC to Tallahassee, FL. The son of a Brooklyn delicatessen owner, he graduated from the University of Chicago in 1950 and Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Theology.
After successfully completing the Freedom Ride to Tallahassee, the Interfaith Riders had planned to fly home. First, however, they decided to test whether or not the group would be served in the segregated airport restaurant. As a result 10 Freedom Riders, later known as the Tallahassee Ten, were arrested for unlawful assembly and taken to the city jail. They were convicted and sentenced later that same month; legal appeal of the airport arrests continued for years. Dresner returned along with 9 of the original riders to serve brief jail terms in August 1964 – and ate triumphantly in the same airport restaurant that had earlier refused them service.
Dresner continued his civil rights activism and advocacy throughout his career as a reform Jewish rabbi in northern New Jersey, participating in the 1962 Albany campaign to desegregate municipal facilities and in the 1965 Selma-to-Montgomery march. He retired in 1996.
I share this very brief story to continue making the point the series attempts to suggest and offer to all with a mind and heart open enough to receive its message. Do not be deceived by those who will have you believe that Blacks, Whites, Latinos, Asians and Arabs can not get along with Jews or vice versa. This is nonsense and simply a ploy to keep people apart with divisionary tactics based on fear.
Rabbi Dresner might have been dubbed the most arrested Rabbi in America, but understand the characterization. He was the most arrested, not the only arrested. So many stories are never told about the friendships, alliances and coalitions between our race and faith that offers great examples of more than what we are, but who we can be.
So I conclude by offering my appreciation towards Rabbi Dresner and his many contributions towards truth, freedom and equality. If it wasn’t for him and many others, I would likely face an overwhelmingly different audience and reception to my openness and motivations behind many of the things I write and say. I also want to show appreciation to my Jewish friends, because I know that we do not walk alone on this journey. Sometimes the static consciousness of many people may be burdensome when you seek truth, freedom and equality, but like Rabbi Dresner we must realize that we are not alone.