MLK Day is over, however the inspiration we are able to draw from the life and work of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. don’t have to be confined to in the future. This 12 months, greater than ever, the teachings of the civil rights motion really feel related to our historic second.
On January 15, the three synagogues in Summit confirmed a movie, “Shared Legacies,” that portrayed the highly effective alliance between African People and Jews throughout the Nineteen Sixties. The message of the movie appeared essential at a time of rising antisemitism, elevated consciousness of the continuing results of systemic racism in our society, and an elevated incidence of hate crimes usually. What moved me most had been the ways in which Dr. King, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, and so many others insisted on seeing and valuing the humanity of all individuals. As a part of a those that has been dehumanized and focused by hate all through our historical past, how can we fail to be impressed by individuals who might see previous our variations to our widespread humanity?
Within the movie, Yavilla McCoy, the founding father of Ayecha, a nonprofit that gives sources and advocacy for Jews of colour, spoke eloquently in regards to the want for proximity between Jews and African People “so we feature one another’s tales in our hearts, minds, and spirits.” We should convey our communities again collectively “not for the sake of saving one another’s poor unlucky souls, however for the sake of understanding the important human dignity, we every carry.” She makes a plea to all of us “to not let go of the years and years of vitality, struggle, and our bodies on the road. To not let go of their legacy.”
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In dialogue teams after the movie and in a panel of Black and Jewish clergy, we talked about the necessity to construct mutual respect and belief. Certainly one of my congregants who watched the movie however was unable to attend the dialogue wrote to me: “I don’t see some other approach ahead besides to take the time to work collectively and forge shut and trusting relationships.” She was speaking particularly about Blacks and Jews, however I feel this message applies equally to all of the methods we’re separated from these we see as totally different from ourselves.
As a society and as a worldwide group, we face huge challenges that nobody particular person and nobody group can remedy alone. As my congregant mentioned, there isn’t a approach round taking the time to know one another’s historical past and expertise and constructing the belief we have to work collectively.
I’m proud to say that the Black and Jewish communities in Summit have labored laborious over the previous a number of years to forge relationships by way of joint storytelling initiatives, an annual liberation seder, and ongoing antiracism work. In the course of the pandemic, it has been tougher, however on the annual MLK Day service at Fountain Baptist, I used to be reminded of the significance of continuous to construct relationships as a result of our work isn’t finished.
The visitor preacher on the service, Reverend Willie Francois III of Mount Zion Baptist Church in Pleasantville, spoke in regards to the prophet Elijah. Most Jews affiliate Elijah with Passover, however Reverend Francois retold the story of Elijah singlehandedly taking up 450 prophets of Baal. After Elijah demonstrates that the Hebrew God is the true energy within the universe, Queen Jezebel desires to kill him, so he flees. As he hides in a cave, a mighty wind passes by, however God isn’t within the wind. After the wind, there’s an earthquake, however God isn’t within the earthquake. After the earthquake, there’s fireplace, however God isn’t within the fireplace. After the fireplace, there’s a “tender murmuring sound,” or “a nonetheless, small voice.”
“Why are you right here, Elijah?” God asks. When Elijah solutions, “The Israelites have forsaken your covenant. I alone am left, and they’re out to take my life,” God responds, “Return, Elijah.”
After all, Reverend Francois isn’t conscious that in our annual cycle of Torah readings, we are actually studying the E book of Exodus, however I can’t assist however word the parallels between Elijah’s and Moses’ tales. At the start of Exodus, Moses kills an Egyptian taskmaster and runs away, fearing for his life. God speaks to him on the burning bush, telling him to return to Egypt and lead his individuals to freedom. Moses reluctantly agrees to return and converse to the Israelites, however they don’t pay attention. Their spirits are crushed. Moses desires to surrender, however God retains sending him again.
Reverend Francois linked the story of Elijah with Martin Luther King Jr. He mentioned that over the last 12 months of his life, Dr. King was depressed. Like Elijah, even after nice success, he felt defeated. The forces in opposition to him had been highly effective, and other people certainly had been out to take his life.
Reverend Francois identified that we’ve got turned King right into a mythic, superhuman determine. The hazard is that nobody can stay as much as that. However King was human, like all of us. And there have been days when he couldn’t get off the bed.
I feel many people have days once we battle to get off the bed, once we would slightly disguise in a cave. So it is very important do not forget that despite the fact that Dr. King had these days, he didn’t quit. In February 1968, two months earlier than he was killed, he gave a speech in Washington and mentioned: “On some positions cowardice asks the query, is it protected? Expediency asks the query, is it politic? Vainness asks the query, is it well-liked? However conscience asks the query, is it proper? And there comes a time when one should take a place that’s neither protected, nor politic, nor well-liked, however one should take it as a result of conscience tells him it’s proper.” Dr. King heard the nonetheless, small voice telling him to do what was proper, telling him to “return.” He refused to surrender, and in April 1968 he went to Memphis to help placing sanitation employees, despite the fact that it was not protected nor politic nor well-liked.
“We received’t at all times win,” Reverend Francois advised us. “There have been many defeats. However we had been born to insurgent in opposition to injustice.” He reminded us that Moses rebelled in opposition to Pharaoh, Elijah rebelled in opposition to the prophets of Baal, and MLK rebelled in opposition to racism and Jim Crow. We might need to recalibrate. We might need to be taught to retell our story. We’ll absolutely have to do not forget that we’ve got listened to our conscience and finished what is true prior to now, and we are able to do it once more. “The struggle isn’t over, and we all know an excessive amount of about ourselves to surrender within the center,” he mentioned.
“Return,” God tells Elijah. The work isn’t finished.
After the service, I spoke with two ladies who’ve been energetic within the Summit group, who’ve labored laborious to convey individuals collectively, who at all times attempt to make issues higher in no matter methods they will. One mentioned that Rev. Francois’ message actually spoke to her as a result of she has been feeling depressed and defeated. I mentioned, “Me too!” Who hasn’t felt like hiding in a cave the previous few years? With the pandemic, the political divisions in our nation, the rise of hate, and the breakdown of democracy, it has been laborious to maintain going and really feel hopeful.
For me, it was useful to listen to that Dr. King was depressed on the finish of his life. We’re all human. It’s regular to take a look at the world and see the fires raging and wish to disguise in a cave. There can be days when it’s laborious to get off the bed. But when we’ve got the braveness to construct sturdy, trusting relationships, we may also help one another do not forget that we’ve got finished what is true prior to now, and we are able to do it once more. We is not going to at all times win, however we are able to hearken to the nonetheless, small voice that tells us: “Return. There’s extra to do.”
Hannah Orden is the rabbi of the Reconstructionist-affiliated Congregation Beth Hatikvah in Summit. She is a previous president of the Summit Interfaith Council and is a founding and energetic member of the council’s anti-racism committee.