Martin Luther King Jr. (MLK) Day became a federal holiday in 1986, making 2016 its 30th anniversary! For many, MLK Day means a welcome break from work. For Jewish people, there are hundreds of questions to be asked about the intersection of Judaism with King’s work and legacy, and his support of Israel.
MLK had expressed support for Israel throughout his life, believing that that the history of anti-Semitism and the Holocaust made it a moral cause worth defending. According to King, "Peace for Israel means security, and we must stand with all our might to protect her right to exist, its territorial integrity and the right to use whatever sea lanes it needs. Israel is one of the great outposts of democracy in the world, and a marvelous example of what can be done, how desert land can be transformed into an oasis of brotherhood and democracy. Peace for Israel means security, and that security must be a reality."
In fact, in 1967, on the eve of the Arab-Israeli Six-Day War, King lent his name to an open letter published in The New York Times urging U.S. support for Israel. But, according to experts, King privately rued the decision, worrying that Israel might itself become the aggressor.
Despite King's changing views, according to Clayborne Carson, a leading King historian at Stanford, “I think he was for the Zionist project as he understood it.” And, today, Israel’s more ardent Jewish supporters are more likely to quote a pro-Israel statement King made months after the Six-Day War ended. In fact, in a letter written to Morris Abram, president of the American Jewish Committee and a longtime King supporter, King wrote that “Israel’s right to exist as a state in security is incontestable.”
In addition to MLK's support of Israel, he preached "repairing the world," which aligns with the Jewish value of Tikkun Olam. He also brought people from diverse backgrounds together to discuss questions of racial justice and equality, as Shabbat dinners “open up a space for respectful, passionate, and structured conversations about racial injustice in America and beyond.”
In recognition of MLK day, the Maccabeats teamed up with Naturally 7, an African American a cappella group, to produce a touching cover of James Taylor’s “Shed a Little Light” for this Martin Luther King day. The music video, which sees the two groups on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial where MLK delivered his famous “I Have a Dream Speech” and in front of the relatively new MLK Memorial, is a hopeful, joyful reminder of the historic collaboration between African Americans and Jews. Check it out here.
Whatever you're doing to celebrate MLK day, hope you enjoy a peaceful day with loved ones.