I haven’t seen the movie Selma yet, but I can think of no better way to honor Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s life than by doing so on MLK Day.
Based on actual events, Selma chronicles the Selma to Montgomery marches that took place as part of the Civil Rights Movement in 1965. These peaceful marches aimed to both inspire and register black voters in the South, who were facing fierce resistance and discrimination, even after the passing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Though previous attempts to complete the march to Montgomery were met with violence and opposition, on March 25th, blacks, whites, Jews and gentiles alike finished their trek to hear the prolific Dr. King address the crowd. Among those in attendance was Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, a renowned Jewish leader and religious activist who walked the front lines, living his Jewish values.
So what was a Jewish leader doing at a march for black voting rights? Three of Heschel’s immediate family members were murdered by Nazis, a tragedy that made him sympathize with the suffering and struggles of all people. And Heschel was not the only Jew who participated in this historic march. There were many other rabbis and Jewish lay leaders, impassioned by the power of the movement, who joined King in Selma, as well as for many other Civil Rights marches and protests—to bring the Jewish values they shared to life.
A recent article from Duke University suggests that Jewish participation in the Civil Rights Movement is overlooked in the film. However, we, as Jews, should not need Hollywood validation of the past to stand up for what is right today. In fact, per Heschel: “To be is to stand for.”
On Monday, I challenge all of us to stand for something, to remember why it is we celebrate Martin Luther King Jr., and to continue to fight for justice—to combat racism, anti-Semitism and other inequalities in our community, and around the world.
Following services at Hollywood Temple Beth El this Saturday, January 17th, Rabbi Norbert Weinberg (secretary to Rabbi Heschel) will touch on the topic of Selma, King and Rabbi during a presentation from 11:30 AM-12:30 PM. For more information on this community event, please click here.