I had the privilege to speak a number of times at the Democratic
National Committee Convention. The messages I delivered would have
been identical had I been similarly invited to the Republicans'
event. This talk was delivered to the Unity Breakfast commemorating
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech.
My task is impossible – to speak of the impact of the Jewish community on Dr King. Where do I begin? With Moses confronting Pharaoh? With Joshua entering the Promised land? With the gentle urgency of Jesus' teachings? I know that the intent is to highlight the thousands of Jews who came to the aid of Dr King and the movement to register voters, to ride for freedom, to march for civil rights, to advocate for legislation. Some of them came because of their Jewish faith and some of them came without that faith.
I know the intent is to highlight R. Abraham Joshua Heschel, who became a soul mate of the young black minister, who brought him to meet my fellow Conservative rabbis, who inspired my many colleagues to come to Alabama and Mississippi.
But I must tell you, there was far from unanimity in our community. The vibrant Jewish communities in the Southern states were torn between their Jewish values and their local culture. The comfortable businessmen of the north, like my beloved father, admired the man, but struggled with the implications of his empowering message. And Rabbi Heschel – well, his message of activism was unfamiliar to the denizens of academia. So permit me instead to point to the place of intersection between the Jewish community in 1960s America and the trajectory of Dr. King and the legacy we celebrate today.
When our father Jacob slept upon a lovely mountain, he dreamed a dream of angels on a ladder to heaven. When he awoke, filled with a vision of God's promises, he said, "God was in this place and I did not know it."
Thousands of years later, in a new land and in a new language, the Rev Dr Martin Luther King, Jr. reminded my community of that story. He reminded us of the power of the dream, and the dreamers came - the faithful and the skeptics, the pulpiteers and the Jews in the pews. Decades later, programs like Operation Understanding DC teach African-American and Jewish teenagers to dream together.
So I offer you the collective blessing taught to me by a student: When you lay your head, exhausted, on your pillow at night, may God give you dreams of the beloved community and a world repaired. When you awaken refreshed and filled with the vision, may you spend your day making those dreams into realities, so that when you lay your head, exhausted, on your pillow at night, God will give you dreams of the beloved community and a world repaired.