A pair of religious leaders from Augusta are planning to head south today to take part in a historic march for racial equality.

Rabbi Erica Asch, of Temple Beth El, and Pastor Erik Karas, of Prince of Peace Lutheran Church and St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, are planning to walk more than 20 miles Wednesday through Virginia as part of America’s Journey for Justice.

Sponsored by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the 860-mile march from Selma, Alabama to Washington, D.C., is being conducted to call for improvement in fairness and quality of jobs, justice, education and voting. The march began Aug. 1 and is expected to conclude with rally Sept. 16 in Washington. The leg Asch and Karas will walk in Virginia stretches from South Hill to near Richmond, and will likely include dozens of other protesters, including three other rabbis from the east coast.

Issues of racism have come to the forefront in recent months after police-involved shootings in Ferguson, Missouri, and after a June shooting in a historic black church in Charleston, South Carolina, left nine dead. Asch said she hopes the walk will spark a continued dialogue about inequality.

“We can’t do anything about these issues if we’re not talking about them,” she said.

Asch is joining the march as part of an effort by Reform Jews to have rabbis walk every mile of the route in support of equal justice. She will begin her march by picking up a Torah that has been carried all the way from Selma and will pass it off to the next rabbis at the end of her leg of the trip.

“Justice is central to our Jewish faith,” Asch said. “We must act now to work for a more just world that reflects the values we cherish.”

Asch taught in a Mississippi high school after graduating from college. People there still talk about the support they received from the Jewish community during the civil rights movement of the 1960’s.

“Those were really moving and powerful stories for me, but they’re also stories from 50 years ago,” Asch said. “I think it’s important for me to be a part of that today.”

Karas heard about the march a few months ago and was interested in joining, but he decided to act when Asch asked him to join her in the trip.

“That seemed to be the push I needed,” he said.

Karas said justice is fundamental to his faith. He said it’s important to point out places were there is injustice. Karas said the shooting at the Charleston church affected him personally because a couple of the pastors who were murdered had graduated from the same seminary where Karas did. He didn’t know them, but the men had many of the same professors.

“The climate of inequality and racism has been growing,” Karas said. “That one event made it personal.”

Karas has even seen evidence of it in Augusta, where his efforts to help Iraqi refugees has drawn criticism from others who receive assistance for basics such as clothing and food.

“There’s sometimes a lack of basic understanding that we’re all in this together,” Karas said. “We’re all humans and we could do better just working together.”

Craig Crosby — 621-5642

[email protected]

Twitter: @CraigCrosby4

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