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MLK Day -- Chronicle Online/The WORD 01/12/23

Weekly On-line Rabbi's D'var-Torah

January 12, 2023

19 Tevet 5783

Parashat Shemot

Sixty years ago almost to the day, from January 14 to January 17 of 1963, a group of Catholic, Protestant, and Jewish leaders came together in Chicago for what was called the National Conference on Religion and Race. The idea was to figure out how to get more white religious leaders involved in the Civil Rights movement. Among the organizers of this conference were Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel. It would be the beginning of a special bond between these two remarkable men. Despite their vastly different backgrounds—Heschel was born in Poland in 1907 and escaped the Holocaust and King was born in “Jim Crow” Atlanta in 1929—they both turned to the books of the Hebrew prophets for guidance and inspiration. In turn, each of these giants would refer to the other as “a prophet.” When Rabbi Heschel got up to deliver his address at the conference, entitled "The Religious Basis of Equality of Opportunity," he started off by saying, “Friends, at the first conference on religion and race, the main participants were Pharaoh and Moses.” That meeting is described in this week’s Torah portion—Exodus 5. In other words, humanity’s capacity to treat other human beings unjustly is nothing new. Professor Heschel and Dr. King both understood that the story of the Exodus from Egypt was the perfect analogy for the journey of the African-American community. It would require nothing less than divine intervention and extraordinary human leadership to enable a people to make the transition from slavery to freedom. Intuitively, we understand how amazing this kind of transformation is, which helps to explain why over 90% of Jews celebrate a Passover Seder each year some 3,000 years after the Exodus.This powerful analogy, though, goes even deeper. In the case of our ancestors in Egypt, it took a leader like Moshe to remind the people that they were children of God who deserved a better life. He pushed, prodded, and cajoled them out of the land of Egypt in the wilderness. He gave them a purpose (the Torah) and a dream (the Promised Land). After 40 years of wandering, his disciple, Joshua, completed the journey into the Land of Canaan. The settling of the land would take many years. It was not an instantaneous conclusion to the transformation, but it was a significant moment nonetheless. In March, 1968—just weeks before King’s assassination—Heschel introduced King to the Rabbinical Assembly Convention where he was to deliver an address. Heschel said, “Where in America do we hear a voice like the voice of the prophets of Israel? Martin Luther King is a sign that God has not forsaken the United States of America. God has sent him to us. His presence is the hope of America.” King’s voice gave the African-American community a purpose—civil rights—and a dream—full equality. Sadly, that voice was silenced. Almost 55 years later, we’re still trying to realize that dream. I invite you to join us for at least one of the three events our congregation is participating in this year in honor of Dr. King’s birthday: Shabbat in Harmony Friday, January 13, 5:45 p.m. (Happy Holy Hour at 5:15 p.m.) at Congregation Ohr Shalom All three Summit synagogues will join together for this special service during which teen participants will share some of their experiences from their Civil Rights Journey this past fall and the three synagogue choirs will lead us in song and prayer.“Shared Legacies: The African-American-Jewish Civil Rights Alliance”—A Film and Conversation Sunday, January 15, 3:00 p.m. (Discussion at 5:00 p.m.) at Congregation Beth Hatikvah First, we will view this thought-provoking film, then we will have the opportunity to discuss it in small groups followed by a panel discussion. This event is free, but you can preregister at The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Community Service Monday, January 16, 7:30 p.m. at Fountain Baptist Church Summit’s MLK Day of Service concludes with this service honoring the memory of Dr. King through song, prayer, and word. Shalom, RAF.

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