I Felt Conspicuous – Rabbi Joshua Caruso on the Upcoming MLK Weekend Observance at Fairmount Temple and Trinity Cathedral

This post to “If Not Now, When?” the interactive blog of Anshe Chesed Fairmount Temple, was written by Rabbi Caruso to help preview and highlight some of the topics we will address and challenges we face as we each year work with our partners at Trinity Episcopal Cathedral on important faith-community observances, dedicated to celebrating the values and activism for justice and freedom, embodied in Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. We encourage you to share this post widely, and to comment below to the blog if you wish.

“I felt conspicuous.”

That is how an African-American colleague described how he felt in the aftermath of the Trayvon Martin shooting. That “conspicuous” feeling is certainly something we Jews have experienced during our long and often difficult history.

Indeed, we Jews have much in common with our African-American brethren, for we share a similar narrative of enslavement and oppression. Members of both groups “kvell” when one of our own is in the news for an event worthy of pride, and cringe or grieve when the event portrays one of our own in an unflattering light.  There is, however, a difference.  Although Jews must continue to be vigilant in a world where anti-Semitism still surfaces in ugly ways, for most American Jews the battle to be treated equally and with respect is a battle hard fought and won.  Feeling conspicuous is no longer a prevailing challenge in our lives. The same cannot be said for our African-American brothers and sisters who still face countless challenges and everyday struggles within the civic commons.

There have been many episodes over the years that have served as lightening rods for the unresolved issues around race that we face in this country.  The Trayvon Martin episode was certainly one of those episodes!

When such an incident occurs, with all the suspicions, old hurts, fears, and other complicated issues that inevitably surround it, we are reminded once again how important it is for those issues to be addressed.   It is only when these issues are shared in a forum of common respect that the first steps toward resolution can be taken. Issues of race are part of the civil rights struggle with which we Jews so deeply identify.

I am proud that our people have always taken the lead on the difficult and pressing issues of our day – from women’s rights to upholding the Voting Rights Act to standing in solidarity with fellow Jews of the Former Soviet Union. It should be no different today. That is why each year, on the weekend our country honors his place in history, we honor the memory of the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., and his indomitable fight for civil rights.

This year we will focus on the place that Sanford, Florida has occupied in that history with two guest speakers.

Many decades ago, when Jackie Robinson was in Sanford to play baseball, he was told by his manager that a white mob was forming to come after him.  Because lynchings were not uncommon in Sanford at that time, Mr. Robinson took the threat seriously and was forced to flee Sanford.  Dr. Yohuru Williams, Chief Historian at the Jackie Robinson Foundation will speak about Jackie Robinson’s brief time in Sanford, (as depicted in the recent movie about the ball player) and about his accomplishments following his career in baseball.  Norton Bonaparte is the current City Manager of Sanford, FL, and is credited with taking a lead role in constructively addressing the city’s response to the tragedy of the Trayvon Martin shooting. At Friday evening services (6:15p), on January 17.

Both speakers will touch on the sensitive issues of race, and what we can do to address the systemic problems that face our community and our nation.

Then, later on MLK weekend, our children’s choir, Hava Nashira, will be participating in the Sunday morning service at Trinity Cathedral, and The Rev. Dr. Otis Moss, Jr., an extraordinarily eloquent speaker, legendary civil rights leader and a personal contemporary of Dr. King , will be giving the sermon that morning.

During and after the welcoming service at Trinity, members of our temple and the Trinity Episcopal Cathedral will join together for children’s activities, a mitzvah project, and ongoing fellowship and activism.

Please join us.