Living the Legacy


Jewish clergy in the Civil Rights Movement

Unit 2 , Lesson 6

Jewish Women's Archive - Living the Legacy

Jewish clergy in the Civil Rights Movement

Lesson plan:
  1. Introduction: Rabbi Milton Grafman Sermon

    1. Explain to your class that while the Civil Rights Movement was a social movement to change American laws and behaviors, it began in churches, and involved many Christian and Jewish clergy in addition to politicians, students, and other "ordinary people" without public roles. Today, we will learn about a number of Jewish clergy who participated in the Civil Rights Movement, and examine their reasons for getting involved, their level of involvement, and whether we think it was appropriate for them to be involved as clergy rather than just as American citizens.
    2. Distribute copies of the Rabbi Milton Grafman SermonRabbi Milton Grafman SermonRabbi Milton Grafman Sermon to each student. Have your students follow along on their copy as they listen to the audio recording of Rabbi Grafman giving his sermon.
    3. Play portions of the audio recording of Rabbi Grafman's sermon. Be sure to test the volume level before class. (Sermon is 38:54 minutes.)
    4. Use the questions on Rabbi Grafman's sermon to generate class discussion.
    5. When you are finished discussing Rabbi Grafman's sermon, explain to your students that now they are going to have a chance to learn about some other Jewish clergy and their involvement in the Civil Rights Movement on their own.
  2. Document Study: Jewish Clergy in the Civil Rights Movement

    1. Divide your class into four groups. [Note to teacher: If you have a small class, you may want to choose just a few of the documents included with the lesson rather than using them all.]
    2. Provide each group with a different Document Study from the following list:
    3. Have each group read about the rabbi(s) they've been assigned and discuss the questions on their study guide. You may want to walk around the classroom, checking in with each group to make sure they understand terms and to see how they are progressing.
    4. When each group is done studying its document, explain to your class that during the Civil Rights Movement individuals and groups often carried banners that identified them and/or stated their goals. Since each group today has studied a different document representing different rabbis, each group is going to design a banner that will represent their rabbi(s), the rabbi(s)' role in the Civil Rights Movement, and their reasons for getting involved. The groups may want to include drawings, quotes or slogans, and/or symbolic representations to help get their messages across. When the banners are done, each group will be asked to bring their banner to the front of the classroom and give a brief explanation.
    5. Distribute mural paper and art supplies to each group. Allow the groups enough time to create their banners.
    6. When the groups have completed their banners, invite one group at a time to come to the front of the classroom and display its banner. (You can encourage groups to walk behind their banner as they come up to the front of the room, for extra effect.) Have a few members of the group share with the class the name of the rabbi(s) they studied and explain what they put in their banner. You may want to fill-in or expand upon any important points for the class to know.
    7. If there is time, and you have arranged for it ahead of time, you may want to have your students march to another classroom (possibly that of a younger grade) with their banners and have them teach the students a little of what they have learned.
  3. Discussion: What is the Role of a Rabbi?

    1. Have a wrap-up discussion with your class using the following questions:
      • How would you describe to someone who is not Jewish what a rabbi does? (You may want to write their descriptions on the chalk board, white board, or chart paper, or invite students to do so.)
      • How, if at all, did the rabbis we studied today go beyond this definition? (or differ from it). Give examples of specific rabbis that support your argument.
      • What types of roles did the rabbis we studied today play in the Civil Rights Movement?
      • From what you read, what do you think were the experiences and values that most influenced these rabbis?
      • Do you think it is appropriate for a rabbi to participate in political/social demonstrations as a clergyperson? (If students give conditional answers, or all pick one side, encourage students to explain when they think it is ok, and when they think it is not ok. Or you can encourage students to talk more generally now, and go into specifics with the subsequent questions.) What about participating as a more anonymous individual? What would the difference be? Why?
      • On what current political/social issues would you want to see your rabbi take a stand? What type of involvement do you think would be most appropriate?
      • On what current political/social issues would you not want to see your rabbi take a stand? Why not?
  4. OPTIONAL ACTIVITY: Clergy Interview

    1. Invite a member of the Jewish or Christian clergy (working or retired) in your community to speak to your class about his/her involvement in the Civil Rights Movement or another social justice project. Ask the clergyperson to focus on the reasons for his/her involvement (both personal and religious), the way in which he/she participated, the response of his/her congregation, and his/her thoughts on what role clergy should play in social justice issues (particularly divisive ones). You also may want to ask the clergyperson to answer the question: “What do you see as the civil rights issues of today?” This activity can be done at the beginning of the lesson as an introduction to the topic or at the end of class as a final wrap-up activity.
      • Introduce the clergy person to your class and explain the reason for his/her visit.
      • Give the clergyperson 15-20 minutes to speak to your class.
      • Give the students sufficient opportunity to ask questions and hear responses.

How to cite this page

Jewish Women's Archive. "Living the Legacy - Lesson: Jewish clergy in the Civil Rights Movement." (Viewed on April 18, 2014) <>.