Tributes, protests mark Martin Luther King Jr. Day


Tributes to civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. were held nationwide on Monday as protests over the treatment of minorities by law enforcement rolled on across the country.

Observers of Martin Luther King Jr. Day have this year linked the federal holiday to a rallying cry in recent months during demonstrations over police brutality: “Black lives matter.”

King's 1960s dream of racial equality was being viewed through a lens focused on the recent deaths of unarmed black men after confrontations with police, including Eric Garner, who died in July after being put in a chokehold in New York City, and Michael Brown, shot in Ferguson, Missouri, in August.

More than 1,800 people pressed into a King commemoration service at the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, where King once preached, some holding signs with his famous quote “I am a man,” others with placards reading “I can't breathe” in Garner's memory and “Hands up! Don't shoot!” to honor Brown.

“We look at the yellow crime scene tape that's wrapped around America now and we know that we have a lot of work still to do,” Gwendoyln Boyd, president of Alabama State University, told the crowd that responded with an earsplitting “Amen!”

MLK CALLED 'DISRUPTIVE'

About 400 protesters blocked traffic in New York City as they walked about 60 blocks from Harlem to near the United Nations, chanting “Black lives matter!” as King's speeches blared from loudspeakers.

“This march is about reclaiming Martin Luther King. He was a radical organizer – he's been arrested, he believed in non-violence, but he was also disruptive,” said Linda Sarsour, spokeswoman for the Justice League NYC, which organized the #Dream4Justice March.

Hours before an evening vigil on the Staten Island street where Garner died, his family placed wreaths on the Brooklyn street where two uniformed officers were ambushed in December by a gunman claiming to avenge the deaths of Garner and Brown.

“This holiday should also represent that we are unequivocally against the shedding of innocent blood,” said the Rev. Al Sharpton, who accompanied Garner's widow, mother and children as they laid down the arrangements of blue hyacinths and white roses.

Protests in other U.S. cities included a pre-dawn rally in Oakland, California on Monday, about 40 demonstrators converged on the home of Mayor Libby Schaaf, calling for harsher punishment of police who use violence against civilians.

They chalked outlines of bodies on the tree-lined street, played recordings of King's speeches and projected an image of the slain civil rights leader with the words “Black lives matter,” on the mayor's garage door.

President Barack Obama, the nation's first African-American president, took a more traditional approach to honoring King on Monday, spending the day working with his family and other children on a literacy project at a Washington charity.

Obama has shied away from race-related activism, but after a grand jury failed to indict a white officer in Brown's death, he spoke out against what he called the “deep distrust” between law enforcement and black Americans, vowing to use his last two years in office to improve community policing and trust between the groups.

DC Jews react on Obama inauguration, honor MLK with service


Monday’s 57th Presidential Inauguration officially sent off Barack Obama into a second term as America’s 44th President and the country’s first African American commander-in-chief. After being formally sworn in Sunday at the White House, Obama gave his inaugural address to about one million people Monday, according to a recent White House estimate. This day also coincided with Martin Luther King Day.

In addition to participating in inauguration-weekend activism and service events, members of the Washington D.C. Jewish community shared with JNS.org a variety of views on the President’s reelection and upcoming second term.

In the 1960s Jewish activists, such as Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, collaborated with Martin Luther King Jr. in the Civil Rights Movement. Nearly half a century later, the Friday before the presidential inauguration, a women’s leadership event, the Women’s Leadership Network luncheon of the National Jewish Democratic Council, kicked off the inaugural weekend in Jewish Washington. The discussion panel included former White House Communications Director Ann Lewis, Rep. Susan Davis (D-CA) and The Jerusalem Post Washington Bureau Chief Hilary Krieger.

It was “one of the most inspirational events I’ve attended in a very long time,” Barbara Goldberg Goldman told JNS.org.  “Proud Jewish women of all ages came together to share their desire to perform tikun olam and make a difference in the world in which they live.“

Goldman isn’t worried about Obama’s recent decision to nominate former Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) for defense secretary in the president’s second term. Hagel has made controversial statements such as “the Jewish lobby intimidates a lot of people in Congress,” and critics are concerned with his questionable record on Israel.

Hagel’s “record has been distorted and twisted,” she said, and President Obama is “has done more for Israeli defense than any other president,” she said.

As the 57th Presidential inauguration unfolded Jewish U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) spoke of the “American tradition of transferring or re-affirming the immense power of the United States…as an enduring symbol of the American democracy.”

But even among those attending inaugural functions, not all members of the Washington D.C. Jewish community supported the President and his policies. One law student and Republican named Dan, who asked not to reveal his last name, spoke with JNS.org at a special Inaugural Ball organized by the Washington D.C. JCC Monday. He is deeply concerned with the on-going growth of social assistance programs he feels remove individual responsibility and harm the American work ethic. “The drive to succeed will disappear,” he said. But “even if I don't agree, you've got to see democracy in action, and hope that people will stand together to make the country grow,” he added.

Though Obama did not mention Israel in his inaugural address, the President emphasized his administration “will support democracy from Asia to Africa; from the Americas to the Middle East, because our interests and our conscience compel us to act on behalf of those who long for freedom.”

However, just recently Jewish American columnist Jeffrey Goldberg reported Obama has said in private conversations that “Israel doesn’t know what its own best interests are” when it comes to construction beyond the Green Line. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu responded in an interview that he is “confident that President Obama understands that only a sovereign Israeli government can determine what Israel’s interests are.”

Senior Online Editor of Commentary magazine Jonathan S. Tobin recently wrote that “there are good reasons to believe that tension between President Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu will continue to simmer during their respective terms. The disconnect between the president’s view of the region and the consensus of the overwhelming majority of Israelis about the future of the peace process has created a gap between the two countries that continues to cause trouble. The fact that the two men don’t like each other also doesn’t help.”

Scott Perlo, rabbi and associate director of Jewish programming at the historic Washington, D.C. Synagogue Sixth and I, is also less certain about the President’s second term but optimistic.

“I am conscious of the stratified society and social and economic inequities…Whatever your feelings are about the election, the new president is a vindication of the fact the democratic process works,” Perlo said.

The Sixth and I synagogue’s combined Moorish, Romanesque, and Byzantine-styled building was dedicated in 1908. After the congregation moved to another location, the building became a church, but was returned to the Jewish community in 2000. The building was restored, and now functions not only as a synagogue but also as a venue for lectures and exhibitions.

Inaugural festivities at the historic shul began with a January 16 NPR “Political Junkie Road Show” hosted by Neal Conan and Ken Rudin. “We have people whose perspective tends to be an inside-the-belt-way one. If you were a Jew in America in the 80’s, the presumption was you were a Democrat, but strongly pro-Israel.  That demography is changing,” Perlo said.

Leading up to the inauguration Washington’s Jewish community also participated in the National Day of Service Saturday. Erica Steen, Director of Community Engagement at the Washington, D.C. Jewish Community Center (JCC), spent Shabbat afternoon at the Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service Fair in the National Mall speaking with thousands of participating visitors about the outreach efforts of the Washington Jewish community. Repair the World, a New York City organization dedicated to Jewish community service, also represented the Jewish community at the fair.

Among the beneficiaries of the JCC’s outreach efforts is the Temporary Emergency Residential Resource institute for Families In Crisis (TERRIFIC, Inc.).  As part of inaugural weekend activities, more than twenty-five volunteers painted and repaired apartments for homeless families.

“It’s a community weekend,” Steen said, “an opportunity for the nation to come together to celebrate the presidential inauguration, remember Martin Luther King and really give back to the community.” 

“Judaism believes strongly in service – a basic critical elements of what makes someone a Jew… a sense of obligation to make the world a better place,” Perlo added.

Gil Steinlauf, Senior Rabbi of Washington’s largest Conservative congregation Adas Israel, said “it is a great honor to be attending the inauguration, representing one of the oldest congregations in the District – truly a joy and a celebration.” Both American Ambassador to Israel, Dan Shapiro, and Israel’s Ambassador to the United States, Michael Oren, attend the synagogue, he said.

Steinlauf believes Obama’s selection of Chuck Hagel as Secretary of Defense, “is of concern” and “attention must be paid.” Although he is optimistic about “the United States’ continued support for Israel” and does not think we will see “some of the alarmist situations that some in the Jewish community fear,” he said, “the President will pose certain challenges,” Steinlauf agreed.

A special bond: Martin Luther King Jr., Israel and American Jewry


This year, U.S. Jews, like other Americans, mark Martin Luther King, Jr. Day by remembering him as a powerful voice against racism and for civil rights. But for Jews, Dr. King was also something else: a uniquely important ally in the fight against anti-Semitism and for a secure Israel.

Today, Dr. King’s close bond with the Jewish community is treated only as a small footnote of his life and work. But, toward the end of his life, Dr. King devoted significant time and energy to strengthening what were becoming increasingly strained ties between black Americans and U.S. Jews. One issue Dr. King was particularly concerned with was the growing mischaracterization of Zionism as racism.

Dr. King spoke and wrote often about Israel. However, the true depth of Dr. King’s commitment to Israel was readily apparent in a September, 1967 letter he sent to Adolph Held, then president of the organization I now lead, the Jewish Labor Committee. Dr. King wrote Held after the Jewish leader contacted him regarding press accounts of a conference that Dr. King’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference participated in. At the meeting, strongly worded resolutions blasting Zionism and embracing the position of the Arab powers had been considered.

Understanding Held’s worries, Dr. King explained that, beyond offering opening remarks, he had no part in the conference. But, Dr. King said, had he been present during the discussion of the resolutions “I would have made it crystal clear that I could not have supported any resolution calling for black separatism or calling for a condemnation of Israel and an unqualified endorsement of the policy of the Arab powers.”

“Israel’s right to exist as a state is incontestable,” Dr. King wrote. He then added, almost prophetically, “At the same time the great powers have the obligation to recognize that the Arab world is in a state of imposed poverty and backwardness that must threaten peace and harmony.”

Referring to the stake U.S. oil companies have in the Middle East, Dr. King went on to note that “some Arab feudal rulers are no less concerned for oil wealth and neglect the plight of their own peoples. The solution will have to be found in statesmanship by Israel and progressive Arab forces who in concert with the great powers recognize fair and peaceful solutions are the concern of all humanity and must be found.”

Were Dr. King’s comments to Held intended only to soothe a miffed supporter? Hardly. In a March 25, 1968 speech to the Rabbinical Assembly, Dr. King said: “peace for Israel means security, and we must stand with all our might to protect its right to exist, its territorial integrity. I see Israel as one of the great outposts of democracy in the world, and a marvelous example of what can be done, how desert land can be transformed into an oasis of brotherhood and democracy. Peace for Israel means security and that security must be a reality.” Less than two weeks later, on April 4, Dr. King was murdered while organizing support for striking sanitation workers in Memphis, Tennessee.

We can only speculate how, had he lived, Dr. King might have helped heal the divisions between Jews and African-Americans – or even the contributions he could have made toward achieving Middle East peace. What we do know is that Dr. King’s vision of a secure Israel and a peaceful Middle East is as relevant today as it was in the 1960s. We know something else, too: that it’s up to each of us to help make it a reality. For American Jews, maybe that’s what this Martin Luther King, Jr., Day is really all about.


Stuart Appelbaum, President of the Jewish Labor Committee, is President of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, UFCW.

VIDEO: Blacks and Jews are back together and working side by side for an Obama victory


JTA’s Eric Fingerhut and Ron Kampeas on Thursday’s events at the Democratic National Convention in Denver.  With a focus on the 45th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s ‘I Have A Dream’ speech, they explore a new emphasis on rebuilding the Civil Rights-era alliance of Jews and Blacks.  Included—Rev. Al Sharpton, Rep. John Lewis.

Martin Luther King’s Hollywood dream


Dr. Martin Luther King’s sermon at Temple Israel of Hollywood in 1965
“>Part II, 14 min., MP3, 1.6MB

Temple Israel of Hollywood has had many milestones in its 80 years as a Jewish cultural landmark in our city. One that bears special significance this month, however, occurred on Friday, Feb. 26, 1965 , when the synagogue’s Rabbi Max Nussbaum welcomed the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to share the bimah with him and to offer a sermon.

Nearly forty-two years later, in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, the synagogue will welcome the reverend’s voice back into the sanctuary in a special service on Jan. 12 with The Word Center Church Gospel Singers, as well as its pastors and musicians.

The brainchild of Michael Skloff, a member of the temple’s board of trustees and a professional composer and songwriter, the Friday night service, which is open to all, will feature songs performed by musicians and choir members from both congregations, separately and together.

While interfaith Jewish/gospel services in honor of the observance are fairly common in Los Angeles, Temple Israel’s stands out for its inclusion of a musical piece arranged by Skloff, featuring recorded excerpts of King speaking at the synagogue in 1965. King’s voice will be accompanied by both choirs’ vocals and music played by members of both congregations.

Skloff said he’d always looked for an opportunity to infuse into a Jewish service the level of ecstatic devotion he’d witnessed in gospel churches.
But he said his intent is larger than that, as well.

“I don’t want to wait for some tragic event, for another Rodney King situation … for all of us to think, ‘Well, we really have to get together and heal this rift,'” he said. “We shouldn’t wait. We should always be working on the relationship between the Jewish community and African American community.”

For this new venture, the relationship began with a gathering involving Skloff, as well as Temple Israel’s Rabbi John Rosove and Cantor Aviva Rosenbloom with The Word Center pastors Alan and T. Marvene Wright and choir director Contrella Patrick-Henry.

“By the end of the meeting, we were all sort of kibitzing with each other,” Rosenbloom said. “We’re hoping that this is just the first annual Martin Luther King weekend collaboration, and we are hoping that we’ll be invited to participate in one of their services, although that hasn’t been worked out yet.”

For now, they’re working on the details of the program, which will begin with a song written by Rosenbloom called, “Shechinah Niggun,” and move into the spiritual, “Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child.”

“Their soloist and I will start off the service by melding our two songs — melding two songs from our different traditions.” Rosenbloom said. The evening will also include gospel renditions of prayers, like “Adon Olam,” “Romemu” and “Lecha Dodi;” traditional gospel songs, like “This Little Light of Mine,” as well as readings of King’s words by Rosove and both pastors.

The centerpiece of the night will be the musical arrangement of the King speech recording.

“It’s … a historical connection to our social justice work, starting in the ’60s, when Rabbi Nussbaum had Dr. King speak here, [and] our commitment to civil rights at the time, which has continued throughout the life of the temple,” Rosenbloom said.


The Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. service will be held Friday, Jan. 12, at 6 p.m. at ” target = “_blank”>LAObserved.com blog. Thanks, Kevin!

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