Temple Beth-El hosts Shabbat Service to honor Martin Luther King Jr.
On Friday, Jan. 13, Temple Beth-El of Great Neck hosted its annual Shabbat Service honoring the Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King Jr. Each year on the Friday of Martin Luther King Jr. weekend, Temple Beth-El hosts a special Shabbat Service with a keynote speaker to honor MLK Jr. for his involvement in the civil rights moment and commemorate his visit to the Temple in 1967. This year’s keynote speaker was New York State’s Attorney General, Letitia James.
The Temple Beth-El of Great Neck community has always supported equality, freedom and progress. To honor MLK’s social justice movement and his historic speech at Temple Beth-El 56 years ago, the temple hosts this special service to remind people to support important causes.
Recently, public expressions of racism, anti-Semitism, and anti-Asian have been increasing. Hate crimes, hate speech, brutality, violence, and general acts of disrespect have increased in communities across America. The special service gathering not only honors MLK and his work but inspires hope, strength, community and respect among everyone in attendance. Keynote Speaker Attorney General James delivered a powerful and eloquent speech that energized the crowd.
When Attorney General James was elected in 2018, she became the first woman of color to hold statewide office in New York and the first woman to be elected Attorney General. She is a powerful, effective attorney and lifelong public servant.
At the Temple Beth-El Shabbat Service, congregation members spoke, beautiful prayers and songs were shared, and people came together to celebrate MLK’s dream. Conductor Nigel Gretton and friends joined the Temple Beth-El Choir to perform music with nearly 350 attendees clapping and singing. Many local and state government officials were in attendance to show support.
Temple Beth-El Rabbi Brian Stoller opened the service by greeting the crowd and expressing his excitement to experience his first special service for MLK at the temple.
“We come together at sacred moments like this year after year to translate history into present and future,” said Rabbi Stoller. “As we listen to the beautiful music, the inspiring prayers, and the passionate words of our honored speaker tonight, let them cause a stir in your soul and inspire you to translate history into future, fate into destiny, and dreams into reality.”
Temple Beth-El Vice President of the Board of Trustees Jordana Levine spoke on behalf of Board of Trustees President Gary Slobin, who could not attend.
“Dr. King’s commitment to social justice, his devotion to service, and his efforts to work towards ensuring that there is equity for all of us is a legacy that continues to inspire and galvanize generations to carry on his mission,” said Levine. “Here at Temple Beth-El, at our core, has always been a deep involvement and commitment to social justice and the intrinsic notion that we must bridge connections with our neighbors from all faiths, backgrounds and denominations.”
Temple Beth-El Cantor Adam Davis sang with Conductor Gretton’s stylings and the Temple Choir to lead the temple in prayer and song. A few congregants and visitors were chosen to read encouraging texts, including Standing On The Parted Shores (By Michael Walzer-Exodus Story) and an excerpt from MLK’s famous I Have Dream Speech (1963).
Past President of Temple Beth-El, Roger Tilles, played an important role in organizing the MLK event. Tilles had the honor to speak and introduce Attorney General James.
“Over the last 25 years that I’ve been involved here with the interfaith Martin Luther King Shabbat Service, I’ve had the pleasure of bringing to our temple speakers such as Hillary Clinton, Chuck Schumer, Hakeem Jeffries, Congressman John Lewis, Reverend Calvin Butts, Congressman Gary Ackerman and Steve Israel,” said Tilles. “Tonight, we’re fortunate to have Letitia James as our keynote speaker. She’s the 67th Attorney General for the State of New York with decades of experience and a long record of achievements. ”
Tilles discussed some of James’ great accomplishments as Attorney General, such as holding individuals and companies that broke state laws accountable, helping remove more than 4,000 guns from New York communities, and taking down dozens of dangerous drug trafficking rings throughout the state. Attorney General James takes on predatory landlords, goes after polluters and companies that fail to follow environmental protection laws and stands up for the vulnerable populations in our state.
The crowd gave Attorney General James a large and loud welcome to the podium at the MLK Shabbat Service. James expressed her joy and gratitude for being invited to speak at Temple Beth-El.
“Many places in the world and even in this country, this is not a normal sight, for Jews and Christians and blacks and whites and young and old coming together for the most basic, yet intimate ritual we do,” said Attorney General James. “And it is important that the very basic idea that we are all together tonight, cannot be overstated.”
James discussed a portion of the Torah that touches on the popular story of two midwives, Shiphrah and Puah. She discussed their acts of civil disobedience when a new Pharaoh rose to power and declared to reduce the Hebrew population. Shiprah and Puah paved the way for others to be brave when faced with tough decisions, which led to the Pharaoh’s daughter saving baby Moses from the river. Moses went on to free and Jewish people.
“We must follow the lead of those men and women who engaged in civil disobedience in the hope of a better society,” said James. “Fifty-six years ago, Dr. King was here at this congregation speaking about his vision of a nation’s people who would one day learn to live in harmony with one.”
“It can feel like, we are in the eye of a moral crisis, and frankly, at times, I feel overwhelmed by the hate and bigotry that continues to spread in America,” said James. “And I’m sure, based on the love that I’ve received this evening, that I’m not alone.”
James encouraged everyone to confront those who engage in hate because of racial, ethnic or religious differences.
“As an African American, I have a responsibility to speak out against anti-Semitism, just as Dr. King reminded us that it was illegal to aid and comfort Jews in Hitler’s Germany,” said Attorney General James. “Dr. King was certain that had he lived in Germany during that time that he would’ve aided and comforted his Jewish brothers and sisters, even if it was illegal.”
James listed examples of progress throughout our nation in the forms of government action and leadership that have broken social norms and made America a more inclusive and welcoming place for all.
“I’m hopeful that love, acceptance and inclusion will always push out, hate and darkness,” said James. “I’m hopeful because of people like all of you. I am seeing that spark that ignites the fires of change that have always simmered but have never fully flamed throughout our nation’s history. We have individuals to empower, communities to strengthen children, to educate the ceilings, to crack, all a tall task. It all can be accomplished when we work together and invest in each other.”