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A Lamed Vav-nik Learns and Teaches:A Long-time Advocate for Equality in Education

Rabbi Jonathan Biatch

The world is blessed, because there are, at any moment in time, 36 righteous souls who quietly yet efficiently, prevent the world from falling into ruin by bringing wholeness to our world. These individuals are called lamed vav-niks because the number 36 is presented in our sacred literature as Lamed Vav. Here is a story about one of these righteous people.
 
The rabbis of the Talmud taught that the first human being was created as a single person to show forth the greatness of God, the Ruler Who is beyond all Rulers. When a human ruler like the Roman Emperor (who was indeed the ruler in the Talmudic era) mints many coins from one mold, they all look the same. God, on the other hand, shaped all human beings in the Divine Image, and yet not one of them resembles another. To remind us that true equality must exist within humanity is the task of this lamed vav-nik.
 
Linda Brown died in March 2018, 67 years after she was prevented from enrolling in a segregated Kansas school district in 1951. Three years later, in 1954, her experience helped the Supreme Court to strike down Jim Crow segregation in all American schools.
 
“The fight of Linda Brown and her father led to the SCOTUS decision entitled Brown v Board of Education, setting the stage for students like me to avoid the kind of discrimination she suffered,” tweeted Rolling Stone’s Jamil Smith. “I’ll always argue that she was one of the most important Americans who ever lived.”
 
Linda Brown was a reserved young woman propelled into prominence in connection with this Supreme Court decision ending school segregation. The Brown family long has emphasized the importance many plaintiffs played in Brown v. Board, saying their family has been given an outsized starring role.
 
Linda’s father, Oliver Brown, was rejected when attempting to enroll his third-grader in an all-white school in Topeka. The Topeka school district maintained 18 elementary schools for white children and four for black children.
 
Oliver Brown responded by joining a dozen other plaintiffs in a legal challenge of segregated schooling in Kansas. Cases from the District of Columbia and four states — South Carolina, Virginia, Delaware and Kansas — were consolidated into Brown v Board of Education. And the Supreme Court ruled unanimously in 1954 that “separate but equal” schools violated the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment to the Constitution.
 
In 1979, Linda Brown, now with her own children in integrated Topeka schools, became a plaintiff in a resurrected version of Brown, which still had the same title. The plaintiffs sued the school district again for not following through with desegregation. She won this case as well.
 
For her tenacity in securing the blessings of equality and liberty for herself and for others, she might have been one of our lamed vav-niks.
 
You can learn more about Linda Brown by going to:
https://www.biography.com/people/linda-brown-21134187 https://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2018/03/26/597154953/linda-brown-who-was-at-center-of-brown-v-board-of-education-dies

October 16, 2019 17 Tishrei 5780