By Sara Sideman, JCC Camps at Medford Assistant Director
The relationship between Martin Luther King Jr. and Abraham Joshua Heschel has made a lasting impact on the passion of the Jewish community when it comes to social justice. Both men were great leaders in their own right. We all know MLK Jr.’s incredible leadership in the Civil Rights movement. Abraham Joshua Heschel is considered one of the greatest rabbis and Jewish theologians of the 20th century, but he was also a very active fighter of social injustice and a protestor of the Vietnam War.
The friendship between these two leaders, though, has made that much more of an impact. They encouraged each other to fight for each other’s causes. King was the keynote speaker at Heschel’s 60th birthday celebration, among Conservative rabbis from across the country, and Heschel was the rabbi who spoke at King’s funeral. The photo of them walking at Selma together is iconic.
So what can we learn from this relationship? Thanks to the friendship between Martin Luther King Jr. and Abraham Joshua Heschel, the Jewish community has since been at the forefront of fighting social injustice. In a telegram to President John F. Kennedy in 1963, Heschel suggested calling for a state of “moral emergency” in this country. He felt that society would like at the Civil Rights movement, like it did the weather: “Everybody talks about it but nobody does anything about it.” We as a Jewish community fight hard to never let that be the case. When we see social injustice, when we see a need, we fight to meet it.
Each year, the Katz JCC and South Jersey Region BBYO collaborate on a day of service for teens in grades 7-12. This year on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Jewish teens in our community will be spending their day off in a meaningful way. Alongside teens with special needs, they will work together to create soup jars for the JFCS food bank, toy packages for children in local hospitals, and get creative making colorful placemats to be used at the JCC’s Adult and ACHaD special needs Passover Seders this spring. (It’s not too late to register for the event: learn more here: https://bit.ly/17mlkday)
I could not think of a better to commemorate, not only Martin Luther King Jr., but his relationship with Heschel, as well. As a Jewish community, we can continue to fight injustice through acts of advocacy and volunteerism. Make Martin Luther King Jr. Day a DAY ON, instead of a DAY OFF.