On February 25, 1965, only seventy-five days after Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. received the Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo, only four days after Malcolm X was assassinated in New York, and two months before his march from Selma to Montgomery, Dr. King spoke in the Sanctuary of my synagogue, Temple Israel of Hollywood under very tight security before fifteen hundred congregants about the state of race relations in America, the struggle for freedom, for equal rights and voting rights, and the need for partnership among all peoples of faith and good will to attain the goals promised to all Americans as declared the Declaration of Independence and the Preamble to the United States Constitution.
Dr. King was introduced by my esteemed predecessor, Rabbi Max Nussbaum, a refugee from Berlin who had fled in the middle of the night in 1940 to Amsterdam and then to the US with his wife Ruth to avoid arrest the following morning by the Nazi SS.
Rabbi Nussbaum was one of our g’dolei dor (the great rabbinic leaders of his generation), a brilliant scholar, activist and orator as was Dr. King, and they had much in common reflecting the common struggle of African Americans and the Jewish people in history.
This past Sunday evening, January 18, our synagogue joined with the diverse interfaith and inter-ethnic community of Los Angeles including Christians, Muslims, African Americans, Koreans, Latinos, and peoples from the Middle East to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of Dr. King’s appearance at Temple Israel as well as his work, spirit and legacy.
I shared with the assembled 1400 people that just as Dr. King and Rabbi Nussbaum met at a difficult time in American history, we too were meeting at a difficult time filled still with so much injustice and poverty, alienation and insecurity, war and violence here and around the world, and that despite the passage of a half-century since Dr. King spoke to our community, and despite the many achievements made in promoting greater justice and human rights for Americans and peoples around the world, that we are in dire need still of the courageous and loving spirit of Dr. King, that it may penetrate our hearts, minds, and souls and stir us and all people to action that we may bend the arc of justice even further on behalf of others.
Dr. King understood that a people that fought for its rights was only as honorable as was its concern for the rights of all people, which is why we joined together earlier this week – to act on behalf of the rights of all people in America and around the world.
We were graced on Sunday evening with the presence of many distinguished clergy, community leaders and public officials including Father Ian Davies, Canon, of St Thomas Episcopal Church in Hollywood, Imam Sheikh Asim Buyuksoy of the Islamic Center of Los Angeles, the Reverend Dr. Ignacio Castuera of the United Methodist Church, Dr. John B. Cobb Jr., Professor Emeritus at the Claremont School of Theology and at Claremont Graduate University, Pastor Alan Wright of the Word Center Church in South LA, Pastor Sam Koh of Hillside Ministry of the Los Angeles Christian Presbyterian Church, Pastor Greg Bellamy of One Church International in mid-Los Angeles, Hyepin Im, President and CEO of Korean Churches for Community Development, West Hollywood Mayor John D’Amica, Cameron Onumah representing Senator Dianne Feinstein, and the Mayor of the City of Los Angeles, Eric Garcetti, who greeted us with special eloquence. NPR talk show host and author Tavis Smiley delivered the keynote address.
The evening was filled with music led by 86 voices of the Temple Israel of Hollywood Choir, the Leimert Park Choir and the Life Choir. We listened to the ethnic music of the Persian Lian Ensemble, a Mozart Mass performed by the Luminai String quartet and two sopranos, and the music of the Mexican ensemble Cambalache. We were treated to traditional Korean dance by beautifully costumed women and young girls from the Jung Im Lee Dance Academy.
All conceived, directed and produced by our synagogue’s Vice President of the Arts, Michael Skloff, a composer of Broadway and television music (e.g. the theme song for NBCs long-running hit “Friends”) and a video montage of the participating clergy overlaid with photographs and film footage from the civil rights movement and other American and worldwide human rights struggles as filmed and edited by documentary film-makers and Temple Israel members Roberta Grossman and Sophie Sartain.
The highlight of the evening was a tape-recording of Dr. King’s speech delivered fifty years ago in our Sanctuary (made possible then by Leo Wainschul who also captured the iconic image of Rabbi Nussbaum and Dr. King shaking hands together). I have transcribed Dr. King’s entire speech and it can be heard at this link – http://www.americanrhetoric.com/speeches/mlktempleisraelhollywood.htm.
For those wishing to watch the program itself, click https://new.livestream.com/tioh.
The event was covered in The Los Angeles Times – see http://www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-ln-temple-israel-martin-luther-king-jr-20150118-story.html
and The Los Angeles Jewish Journal – http://www.jewishjournal.com/los_angeles/article/50_years_after_his_visit_a_multicultural_homage_to_mlk
We partnered on this King Holiday with “Big Sunday,” conceived and born at Temple Israel. Each Martin Luther King Holiday Big Sunday, led by founder David Levinson, hosts a breakfast and clothing drive at its offices on Melrose Avenue attended on Monday by 400 volunteers who provided clothing to nearly 6000 individuals.
It was a memorable day, punctuated by love and calling us all to renewed action on behalf of others.