“Brothers and sisters, we are gathered here, in a meager structure, not fit to weather the fury of God.” Were the words Rabbi William Fineshriber opened with, glowering over his wire-rimmed glasses, not at his congregation, but around them.
“A man is dead.” He followed, his gaze not lessening. “Hundreds, no thousands, witnessed his dousing in gasoline and his being lit a’fire. Yet not one of them raised a voice in protest over the lies and neglect and absenteeism of his arrest and illegal trial by public jury.”
The rabbi paused, and swept his gaze across the room. What came next would cause him, and all that followed him trouble.
“Our faith, our people, should not be at issue here. But, rather, the issue should be the life of a man lost in vain. A poor man. A humble man. A man, whom in all aspects, was unequivocally righteous. He was the same as us in his love of God.”
Fineshriber paused, taking a breath, judging his words.
“To take a stand now is not a noble thing. That was lost before this hour, before the lynching of an innocent man. All that remains is what we do after.”
In 1917, a man was burned alive with out trial or jury. His name was Eli Person, and his only crime was living too close to a murder scene. He was burned alive on the Wolf River bridge in front of nearly five thousand spectators. One of the most vocal protestors of that act was the rabbi of Temple Israel, one Rabbi William Fineshriber, who lead a protest that crossed religious boundaries. His was a legacy of civil rights before there was any such movement to give a name to.