MLK Day and the Jews make a natural fit

MLK Day and the Jews make a natural fit

It’s been said that with all the attention the Jewish world gives Martin Luther King Day, which fell this week, it sometimes seems that the holiday has more resonance in the Jewish community than in the African-American one.
With all the materials flooding in here in recent days, there’s little reason to think this year will be any different. Here’s a sampling:
Marc Schneier, the New York rabbi whose Foundation For Ethnic Understanding does a lot of interfaith work with African Americans (music mogul Russell Simmons is Schneier’s partner in the organization), has a whole series of events this week and next with black leaders, including Martin Luther King III, Jesse Jackson, and Al Sharpton. On Saturday, Schneier will welcome an African-American gospel choir to his congregation, the New York Synagogue.
At the Jewish Theological Seminary, where King was an honorary alumnus, a Web page has been set up to showcase several goodies culled from the school’s archives. There’s the iconic photo of Abraham Joshua Heschel marching with MLK, and a radio interview with the seminary chancellor, Arnold Eisen, discussing Heschel.
But really worth checking out is the speech of former JTS Chancellor Louis Finkelstein on NBC television from April 7, 1968. With Tuesday’s inauguration of the country’s first black president, a president who invites us to think of him in a Lincolnesque mold, this passage is particularly poignant:
“For the world today needs above all a spiritual leader, an effective guide through the morass of hatred and disdain which divide peoples and nations from one another. Our youth needs hope — hope which derives from effective action, guided by wise insights and great courage.”
“It is the loss of this hope which has brought dismay to so many in other lands, as they look over our country today, regarding its spiritual prospects as bleak. America has amassed great power — greater than any state in history. But in the process it has lost the spiritual vigor and leadership, which it possessed in the days of its founding fathers. Dr. Martin Luther King was its opportunity to regain this leadership, as the moral guide of the world; precisely the same opportunity. which Abraham Lincoln offered in his day.
“Is it not strange that both of these spiritual heroes of America, whose moral greatness transcended all differences of color, ethnic background, creed and nationality should have been cut down before their time, through an assassin’s bullet.”
Over at, the campus group provides a study guide to King’s landmark “I Have a Dream Speech,” outlining the Jewish and Biblical references.
And finally, Moment Magazine has a photo essay in the current issue on Jews and blacks in America. The Web adaptation of the photography could be better, but there’s an interesting accompanying text.

(Ben Harris is a staff writer for JTA.)