The Martin Luther King holiday is coming up this weekend, and every year as it approaches I consider how to make it a meaningful observance for myself, my kids, and our community as a whole. It has become a day of service for people all across our country, which is wonderful, but I know acts of kindness and service were but just a slice the full legacy that King left us. He was a civil rights activist who preached a clear-eyed vision of racial equality, universal human rights, and peaceful co-existence he called the Beloved Community. He issued scathing indictments of war, poverty, and materialism that made many Americans, who led contented middle-class lives, quite uncomfortable.
As a Jew, when I read the difficult parts of Torah such as the plagues or the death of the first-born, I am uncomfortable. I question whether the collective punishment that the plaques wrought was effective, much less moral. It may be perhaps a traditional approach to stand in awe of God’s might and power as the plaques are unleashed, proving our God the victor, both morally and magically.
But if we are to truly be the more righteous people, made more compassionate through our suffering and servitude, then we must pay attention to the gap – both in the Torah, and our society today. How have we become complacent, accepting of injustices both small and large? Where have we not spoken out when we should have? What is our part in creating the Beloved Community? Where do we have privilege in our society, and how can we stand with and support others without that cushion? These are uncomfortable questions that we must explore and face, and that is what this special weekend dedicated to the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King calls me to do.
I hope you will join our beloved community at Friday night services at 7:30pm as we welcome Barbara Simmons, Pastor Danny Thomas, and Gayle Evans, all of the Peace Center, to share with us their vision of how we can each do our part in created the Beloved Community in Bucks County. We are so honored to have all three of them to share Shabbat with us. Also, on MLK Day itself, I will be speaking at two events – one at the First United Methodist Church of Hightstown, NJ that is in part a family service opportunity and part an interfaith dialogue, which begins at 10am (the interfaith dialogue begins after 11am). In the evening I am honored to be the speaker at our Newtown/Yardley annual interfaith Martin Luther King service at Macedonia Baptist Church in Newtown at 7pm.
I hope both your participation in both service and vision will be part of this special weekend!