Temple Beth-El hosts Shabbat Service to honor Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
On Friday, Jan. 12, Temple Beth-El of Great Neck hosted its annual interfaith service honoring the legacy of Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
In 1967, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. visited Great Neck’s Temple Beth-El for a rally during the civil rights movement of the 1960s. To honor the 57th anniversary of Dr. King’s visit, Temple Beth-El hosted its annual Erev Shabbat Service on MLK weekend for people to come together and join one another in remembrance of Dr. King and his involvement in the civil rights movement.
Each year, Temple Beth-El invites a keynote speaker to address the residents and remind them of Dr. King’s service and how his work is still relevant today. This year’s keynote speaker was New York State Governor Kathy Hochul.
The Temple Beth-El of Great Neck community has always supported equality, freedom and progress. Recently, public expressions of racism, antisemitism, and anti-Asian prejudice have been increasing. Hate crimes, hate speech, brutality, violence, and general acts of disrespect have reportedly increased in communities across America, especially with the ongoing conflict in Israel. The special service gathering not only honors MLK and his work but inspires hope, strength, community, and respect among everyone in attendance.
Temple Beth-El Rabbi Brian Stoller opened the service. Congregation members led the service with beautiful prayers and songs to celebrate MLK’s dream. Alongside Temple Beth-El’s Cantor Adam Davis, Conductor Nigel Gretton led the interfaith choir, comprised of members from Temple Beth-El, First Baptist Church of Great Neck, Mount Olive Baptist Church of Manhasset, Congregational Church of South Hempstead and St. Joseph’s Episcopal Church of Queens Village. Shir Appeal A Cappella group from Tufts University also joined the service to perform for those in attendance.
Past President of Temple Beth-El and current NYS Board of Regents member Roger Tilles had the honor of speaking and introducing Governor Hochul.
“After the atrocious events of Oct. 7 and the tremendous number of incidents we’ve had of antisemitism in our schools and colleges all around, I had a press conference, and I asked some of the educators and people to stand with me against antisemitism,” said Tilles. “At that press conference, several educators didn’t feel it concerned them enough to stand against violence and antisemitism. And that’s why I was so excited when the governor stood up and wanted to make sure that this state was going to be against antisemitism. So we thank our Governor Hochul for that.”
Governor Hochul was welcomed to the stage with applause and support from the crowd gathered at Temple Beth-El to honor Dr. King.
“It is a huge point of pride for all of us that Dr. King spoke in this setting 57 years ago. Most of you look too young to be even alive back then, but I’ll tell you what happened,” said Governor Hochul. “He had about 1,200 people in the audience. Between 1957 and 1968, Dr. King traveled over six million miles doing over 25,000 events. But here is when he spoke about something that is still with us today. He spoke about the two Americas that he saw back then, one where people have the milk of prosperity and the honey of equality and the other full of despair and injustice. He spoke of the fatigue of despair. Yet he was an optimistic man.”
Although she was young then, Governor Hochul recalled the civil rights movement and her parents’ involvement in the marches as they worked hard to integrate the community. Governor Hochul remembers reading a book about Dr. King in third grade, where she learned about his story and became intrigued by his message.
When Dr. King was assassinated in April of 1968, Governor Hochul remembers how upset her parents had been and how they prayed for their country together. In addition to Dr. King’s assassination in 1968, America suffered the loss of Bobby Kennedy, friction at the Democratic Convention and the Vietnam protests.
“A lot of people said, ‘How can our country possibly heal? We’re so divided.’ So when I think about today, I think about Dr. King’s words: ‘The arc of the moral universe is long, but it does bend toward justice.’ That’s a very hopeful thought to me that despite the times that he found himself in, he still found a way to speak about hope. My friends, that’s what we must find ourselves today,” said Governor Hochul.
“Yes, there can still be two Americas, and sometimes it looks like there’s two New Yorks. And that’s why I’m so focused on the communities that have been so oppressed,” said Governor Hochul. “The Black and brown communities that are still not achieving the same sense of equality that Dr. King would have envisioned all those years ago. We are all called to talk about that, to put a spotlight on that. But more than just talk, we have to do something about it. And that’s why, as the governor of the state of New York, I’m so proud that I have the ability to think about Dr. King and what he would have wanted us to do to help lift up communities.”
“That’s why we’re focused on infant and maternal mortality. That’s why we’re focused on bringing good housing to people. That’s why we’re focused on education and quality healthcare to end those healthcare deserts and all those disparities. Because that’s what Dr. King would expect,” said Governor Hochul.
Governor Hochul shared that after the events in Israel on Oct. 7, she traveled to Israel as soon as possible. “I knew I needed to go there as the proud representative of the largest Jewish population outside of Israel. Because I had to bear witness so I could speak the truth, so I could come back and talk about what I saw with my own eyes. We want no loss of life, but I want our hostages brought home. Because they deserve to have freedom.”
“I’m going to continue speaking out every single opportunity I have. I’ve condemned antisemitism on college campuses. In fact, in September, before Oct. 7, we had already seen a rise in antisemitism in our very state,” said Governor Hochul. “We have to be strong, my friends. We cannot let any incident go unaddressed or unprosecuted. And I want to have more voices speaking as one.”
“Yes, we’ll always condemn racism because it still lives with us today. We’ll condemn Islamophobia because it does exist today. We’ll condemn anti-Asian hate and homophobia. Yes, we’ll do that,” said Governor Hochul. “But I want people to stand together as one, as Dr. King would have expected. And as Dr. King has said, it is the right thing to do. So, as you gather here tonight, inspired by the words of a man who walked this earth a long time ago but whose influence is still felt and still present with us today, let us all know that, yes, that arc of the moral universe is long, but it doesn’t bend toward justice by itself. It takes the people united together to bend it and be united in that cause. And then, if we can band together during these difficult times and come out even stronger, which I know we can do, we will be worthy of the name the United States of America. Because that’s what Dr. King would have expected.”