Shalom friends,

Last week, I went with some Elon University students to celebrate all those brave souls who joined the NAACP’s Journey to Justice as they marched from Selma, Alabama, to Washington, D.C.

We caught up with them in Raleigh, where we joined a rally for voter rights.

Believe it or not, in 2015, in our home, the state of North Carolina has passed the most restrictive voting rights laws in the country. Believe it or not, in 2015, there are now more obstacles for some of North Carolina’s citizens to execute their constitutional right to vote than in any year since 1965.

“True freedom is built on liberty.” This Jewish lesson instructs us that there can be no freedom without equal rights — and this includes all rights: voting rights, working rights, education rights, equal pay rights, environmental justice rights, marriage equality rights, reproductive justice rights and every right found in our great nation that is offered to any one of its citizens.

Freedom is either the greatest word in our society, or it is the most vapid. In a democracy, freedom represents the radical notion that no human being has more rights than another, no one’s life is more valuable than another’s, and no one’s blood is redder than another’s. This is the greatest principle that our country represents. And it is being chiseled away by every law or official action that restricts our rights.

“True freedom is built on liberty.” True freedom is built on rights — legal and binding rights — offered equally to every citizen. Otherwise, freedom is simply a pretty word that stands for nothing at all.

When we were in Raleigh, I met a new teacher. His name is Dr. Rev. Cornell Brooks, and he is the CEO and President of the NAACP. If you have never heard him speak, you need to rectify that. Here is what Dr. Brooks taught:

“It is impossible to carry the Torah,

impossible to carry the Bible,

impossible to carry God’s word

without God’s word laying upon your heart and crossing your heart.”

I know that the Torah I carry is a Torah of freedom. I know that the Torah I carry is a Torah of justice. I know that the Torah I carry is a Torah of love. My question for you: What is the Torah you carry? What are you doing about it?

Only blessings for a freedom-filled new year.

Rabbi Meir Goldstein is Associate Chaplain for Jewish Life.