Speech for NAACP MLK Celebration 2009
January 15, 2009
Rabbi David Jay Kaufman
On March 25, 1968, ten days before his death, Dr. Martin Luther King spoke at a national convention held by Conservative Jewish rabbis in order to celebrate the 60th birthday of his good friend, the theologian Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, a pillar of social action and non-violence, who had joined him in his civil rights march from Selma to Montgomery and been a strong supporter of Dr. King's efforts.
Dr. King spoke that night of many things, including the state of the economy. He also spoke of his views of the relationship between African Americans and American Jews and specifically about peace in the Middle East which was on the minds of all of those assembled. Dr. King said:
I think it is necessary to say that what is basic and what is needed in the Middle East is peace. Peace for Israel is one thing. Peace for the Arab side of that world is another thing. Peace for Israel means security, and we must stand with all of our might to protect its right to exist, its territorial integrity. I see Israel, and never mind saying it, as one of the great outposts of democracy in the world and a marvelous example of what can be done, how desert land almost can be transformed into an oasis of brotherhood and democracy."
To hear that from Dr. King was a great assurance of support at a time when many Jewish leaders felt all too alone.
Congressman John Lewis said of Dr. King's understanding of the relationship between African Americans and Jews:
· He knew that both peoples were uprooted involuntarily from their homelands.
· He knew that both peoples were shaped by the tragic experience of slavery.
· He knew that both peoples were forced to live in ghettoes, victims of segregation.
· He knew that both peoples were subject to laws passed with the particular intent of oppressing them simply because they were Jewish or black.
· He knew that both peoples have been subjected to oppression and genocide on a level unprecedented in history.
Dr. Martin Luther King was a good friend of the Jewish people around the world and the Jewish community honors that memory. It is an honor to be with you here tonight in celebration of it and only a few days before President-Elect Obama, another friend of the Jewish people, becomes the President. Yes, it is indeed an honor to be with you here tonight.
Peace, my friends is not with us yet.
Peace doesn't just come. We have to make it come.
Righteousness does not just overcome evil, if we leave evil alone.
We have to help righteousness overcome evil.
Peace may seem to be a long way away, but we can march together to get there.
Prosperity may be somewhere beyond the frigid cold outside, but we will get there.
An end to discrimination and prejudice may be outside our grasp right now, but our nation is taking more than a few steps forward next week.
Our hands are Gods hands. We will keep reaching.
Our tired and weary feet are God's tired and weary feet.
And we will keep marching.
Working together, my friends, in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King's memory and committed to his dreams, "We shall overcome."