Remembering Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
50th anniversary of his assassination
Essex County Ceremony at the Hall of Records, Newark
Rabbi Faith Joy Dantowitz
19 Nisan 5778
April 4, 2018
Thursday, April 4th marked the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Like most others, I was thinking about Dr. King in the days leading up to his yahrzeit and wondered how I would mark the day. I was honored to participate in Essex County’s commemoration at the Hall of Records in Newark. It was inspiring to hear three high school seniors from Newark who spoke eloquently about the legacy of King. I was moved to hear personal reflections from William “Bill” Payne, who was a friend of Dr. King’s and Essex County Deputy Chief of Staff. After I delivered the Benediction, we joined together singing “We Shall Overcome” and the spirit of the music was truly uplifting. Following the song, we went outside to the statue of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. where the students placed a wreath.
Dear God, on this 50th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., we pray that you give us the strength to continue his work for justice.
We think particularly how he raised the issues of economic injustice and racial injustice. He spearheaded the Poor People’s Campaign. He recognized that we can not celebrate the freedom of some when others are not yet free.
This week is the Jewish holiday of Passover during which we remember the Israelites’ journey from slavery to freedom. We are commanded to retell the story each year and to see ourselves as if we too were slaves. When our cities, states and country do not embody the ideals of a beloved community, we are not yet free.
The Talmud teaches that
All who can protest against [something wrong that] one of their family [is doing] and does not protest, is held accountable for their family. [All who can protest against something wrong that] a citizen of their city [is doing and does not protest], is held accountable for all citizens of the city. [All who can protest against something wrong that is being done] in the whole world, is accountable together with all citizens of the world.—B Shabbat 54b
In his letter from a Birmingham jail Dr. King said, “We must come to see that human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability. It comes through the tireless efforts and persistent work of men [and women] willing to be co-workers with God, and without this hard work time itself becomes an ally of the forces of social stagnation.”
May we be inspired by his legacy as we work on so many of these same issues 50 years later and have the courage to pursue justice and freedom for all. In our work to make this city, our state, our country, and our world a better place, God help us bring healing to the broken and wholeness to all. Amen.