As we prepare to commemorate and celebrate the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on Monday, there are many ways our Jewish community can engage and show up. I look forward to attending the MLK Breakfast on Monday with other community leaders.
Today is an historic day for the City of Boston as a new memorial to Dr. King, The Embrace, is being unveiled on Boston Common. According to Embrace Boston, the organization behind the sculpture, “The Embrace reminds viewers of our shared humanity, and honors King’s ideals of fostering a ‘beloved community’ in which everyone can realize their role in bringing about a more just society.”
Dr. King spoke about love and its relationship to power and justice in a 1967 speech in Atlanta, Georgia:
“What is needed is a realization that power without love is reckless and abusive, and that love without power is sentimental and anemic. Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice, and justice at its best is love correcting everything that stands against love.”
This Shabbat, we begin reading the Book of Exodus, and the themes of love and building a just society are perfectly aligned with Dr. King’s message.
In one of Moses’ formative moments, he emerges from the royal palace and sees an Egyptian taskmaster beating a Hebrew slave. “He went out to his brothers and saw their suffering,” before striking the taskmaster. It is precisely when Moses comes down from his place of power and identifies with the slaves’ suffering that the Torah describes them as his brothers. Empathy and compassion awaken him to his beloved family and community, which in turn compel him to act on behalf of the vulnerable and in the name of justice. In doing so, Moses begins to emerge as a leader and teacher whose humility and servant-leadership will be the antitheses of Pharoah’s abuse of power and the model for generations to come, including MLK.
The work of leaving Egypt and overthrowing Pharoah is ongoing, and our task is to keep moving forward with love and in pursuit of justice for all. We have much work to do to continue to advance civil rights and work for inclusion, equality, equity, and justice for People of Color.
As Jews, it is important for us to remember to lift up the struggle for racial equality, even as we face an alarming rise of Jew hate directed at our community and Israel. Like other forms of racism, bigotry, and hate, antisemitism can strike fear in our hearts, causing us to demonize the other, and even one another. Or we can stand together with our allies to demand safety, security, dignity, and well-being for all. We can fight back with the strong, demanding, justice-pursuing love of which Dr. King spoke.
We suffer together, we struggle together, and we will build a better, more inclusive and equitable city and world when we work together, with empathy, compassion, and love.
Rabbi Marc Baker