Voices From Our Community

As we celebrate Martin Luther King Jr Day, we asked several local leaders to write about the meaning of his legacy to the Jewish community and how we can honor him this year. 

Rabbi Andrew Busch

Martin Luther King and The Sea 

By Rabbi Andrew Busch 

This year, the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday precedes his holiday, by falling on Shabbat, January 15th.  This particular Shabbat is a significant one in our practice, as it is Shabbat Shirah, when we read Parashat Beshalach, the Torah portion recording the Israelites’ Exodus from Egypt and journey across the Sea. This coincidence of Torah and birthday points us to a direct connection between Dr. King and the Torah.

Martin Luther King Jr. delivered a well-known sermon regarding Exodus 14:30, which he translated as “And Israel saw the Egyptians dead upon the seashore.”  He delivered this sermon in 1956, at the Episcopalian cathedral in Manhattan. Possibly the most familiar teaching for Jews regarding this passage is the teaching that we should not rejoice at the death of others, for all people are part of God’s creation. (Babylonian Talmud Sanhedrin 39b and elsewhere). Dr. King’s sermon echoes this midrash and delivers a message we can embrace, at least in part.    

He said: “This story symbolizes something basic about the universe. It symbolizes something much deeper than the drowning of a few men, for no one can rejoice at the death or the defeat of a human person. This story, at bottom, symbolizes the death of evil. It was the death of inhuman oppression and ungodly exploitation.” 

King’s legacy is one of fighting for equal rights and respect, for presenting an unyielding message of anti-racism, and for combatting poverty and war. These are messages that we as Jews and our Jewish community embrace as well.  

There may be disagreements about tactics and specifics. However, we certainly are eager for the defeat of evil and the end of oppression and exploitation. There is never perfect overlap of views. However, Martin Luther King Jr. dedicated his life to the defeat of evil, and he has inspired so many, including so many Jews, to work towards this goal as well.  

Rabbi Andrew Busch has led Baltimore Hebrew Congregation since 2008 and is the President of the Baltimore Jewish Council. 

Sarah David

Celebrating Dr. King 

By Sarah David 

As the winter holidays come to a close and we are faced with the opportunity and challenge of a New Year, we as leaders in the Jewish community are given the opportunity to celebrate, reflect and engage with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day. For generations, the Jewish community has celebrated the work of Dr. King and cherished quotations that emphasize the unity between our communities. Dr. King famously stated, “Our unity is born of our common struggle for centuries, not only to rid ourselves of bondage, but to make oppression of any people by others an impossibility.” 

Over the past few years, The Associated and the Jewish community, as a whole, have taken the opportunity to reflect on the work of Dr. King, not only as work to be celebrated, but as work to challenge our community to see our role in anti-racism and systemic inequality as more than what it has been. We as Jews have a unique lens to reflect on the challenges of anti-racism. The Associated has worked to see ourselves in that role more clearly and now we have the opportunity to engage.  

We have the opportunity to take our celebration and reflection and create a substantive lens to engage in the work that Dr. King so admirably led. We have engaged through Changing the Conversations, a workgroup comprised of our lay and professional leaders to better understand the dialogue surrounding anti-racism. We have begun to implement the work of the Baltimore City Partnerships Commission through the incredible work of our agencies, specifically CHAI, BJC, Pearlstone and the Jewish Volunteer Connection. 

While all our agencies work to engage with Dr. King’s important message, you have the opportunity to engage in meaningful dialogue and service through JVC’s MLK Day. You have the opportunity to celebrate the work of an incredible leader. The opportunity to reflect on that work in our modern context and your role in a society that can help mend so many cracks in our systems and institutions. The opportunity to engage in meaningful service to meet vital community needs and to serve as an example of the unity Dr. King so eloquently noted and highlighted by our greater community.  

We hope you take a step toward the opportunity as Dr. King said, “to make oppression of any people by others an impossibility” and participate this year. 

Sarah David is the Chair of Jewish Volunteer Connection 

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The Associated is a home for everyone in the Baltimore Jewish community. We offer several email lists to help people find a community, engage with their peers and support Jewish journeys around the world.

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