Of course, the circumstances surrounding the civil rights marches of the ’60s and our march last week across the Brooklyn Bridge are very different. Still, Dr. King’s example — his courage and dignity in the face of harassment and threats, his commitment to nonviolent protest, his embrace of all people, and his dedication to public service — remains a powerful model for all of us today.
This Monday, our nation honors Dr. King’s legacy with a day devoted to amplifying the ideals he lived by.
For many years now, UJA has embraced MLK Day as an opportunity to bring our community together to touch UJA’s work and experience firsthand the often unseen needs of those all around us. I hope you’ll join with thousands of others on Monday at one of our 60 volunteer sites across New York City, Westchester, and Long Island. Come to package medical supplies for those hit by natural disaster, share a meal with our city’s homeless, assemble birthday packages for foster children, paint a mural to beautify local community spaces, and much, much more. If you’ve not already signed up to volunteer, you can do so here.
This Shabbat also happens to mark the 47th anniversary of my bar mitzvah. All those years ago, I learned this week’s Torah portion, detailing the birth and early years of the Jewish people’s greatest leader, Moses — a story that has deep resonance as we approach MLK Day.
A question frequently asked about Moses is why he was chosen to take the Israelites out of Egypt and lead them to the Promised Land. What about Moses’ life made him worthy of such leadership?
The answer may be found in his unusual upbringing and the sacrifices he chose to make in his early years. Though he grew up a prince of Egypt, Moses ventures outside the comfortable palace gates to see the vast needs and suffering around him. He repeatedly intercedes to protect the vulnerable, the persecuted, the other.
And yet, despite his early sacrifices and despite leading his people out of Egypt, Moses is denied the opportunity to bring the Israelites into the Promised Land. Dr. King drew inspiration from that story in his last speech, delivered the day before he was killed. Almost foreseeing his own death and accepting he might not live to see his dream realized, he said: “I’ve been to the mountaintop, and I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land.”
Dr. King sought to inspire his followers to keep going, knowing we wouldn’t likely experience a world without racism, without anti-Semitism, without hunger, without inequality — not in our lifetimes. But we keep at it, if not for ourselves, then for future generations.
As we begin a new decade, and in the spirit of great leaders who inspire, may we seriously commit to look even more closely to see the suffering around us, and work ever more diligently to achieve a more equitable world.