March 28, 2020

Martin Luther King’s Hollywood dream

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 Temple Israel of Hollywood, 7300 Hollywood Blvd., Los Angeles. For more information, call (323) 876-8330.

Dr. King audio courtesy Temple Israel of Hollywood. All Rights Reserved.

LA blogger Kevin Roderick helped us pin down the exact date of the sermon, and adds interesting notes about the 1965 zeitgeist in his blog. Thanks, Kevin!

NPR’s ‘News & Notes’ interviewed Web Director Dennis Wilen about the tapes.

Jewish Journal Editor-in-Chief Rob Eshman listened to the tapes and then he asked a tough question.