Martin Luther King Day, January 19, is an important national day for commemoration and reflection, and not only for African Americans. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. understood the meaning of discrimination and oppression. He sought ways to achieve liberation and peace. As Jews we have a special affinity to the experience of the blacks in America. Both Jews and Blacks were peoples shaped by the tragic experience of slavery. Both were forced to live in ghettos, victims of segregation. Both peoples were subject to laws passed with the particular intent of oppressing them simply because they were Jewish or black. Both peoples have been subjected to oppression and brutality and genocide on a level unprecedented in history. Dr. King understood how important it is not to stand by in the face of injustice. He understood the cry, “Let my people go.”
There are so many elements of Dr. King’s spirit that serve as a model for us today as we look to overcome oppression and find redemption. The first is surely that of nonviolence. In a world filled with violence, from terrorism to war, from continual discrimination and prejudice against minority groups especially against people of color and members of the GLBT community, Dr. King showed us how to channel rage away from destruction into nonviolent protest for the redress of grievance. Dr. King also showed humility and faith in the face of hatred and bigotry. Above all, Martin Luther King, Jr. was a man of hope and affirmation. He was able to articulate with eloquence the highest ideals. He was a voice of reason in a troubled time and his concern went far beyond the prejudice that was leveled against his own people. MLK Day is an important day in our calendar. It is a holiday that was created to memorialize the life of a great man and to remind us of the work that remains to be done to realize his vision.