While for many, Martin Luther King Day means a welcome break from work. For those eager to spend it honoring King’s memory, here are some options for celebrating the day — with a Jewish spin.
The best way to recognize King’s service is by continuing his legacy. Repair the World, an organization dedicated to building strong group of Jewish volunteers across the country, is hosting volunteer events all weekend long. For those in areas without Repair the World projects scheduled, look for substitutes through the service organization Points of Light, which organizes thousands of service projects annually across the country on MLK day. Enter your zip code here and see what projects are options in your area.
How did Jews participate in the Civil Rights Movement? What were King’s views on Israel? What’s the relationship between the American Jewish community and movements for racial justice like today, and how has it changed since the Civil Rights Movement? There are hundreds of questions to be asked about the intersection of Judaism with King’s work and legacy, and just as many resources to help you answer them. Check out this excerpt from Howard Sachar’s “A History of Jews in America,” this partial archive of JTA’s coverage of the Civil Rights Movement, and this introduction to Martin Luther King’s relationship to American Jews and Israel for a start.
3) Attend a Sunday or Shabbat supper
Sunday Suppers, another prong of Points of Light’s MLK day programming, honor King’s legacy by bringing people from diverse backgrounds together to discuss questions of racial justice and equality. These conversations are just as relevant today as they were during the civil rights movement, and just as specifically important to American Jews. Repair the World is putting a Jewish spin on the suppers through Turn the Tables, Shabbat dinners that, in their words, “open up a space for respectful, passionate, and structured conversations about racial injustice in America and beyond.” Contact Repair the World with help finding a Shabbat supper to attend or hosting your own – they’ve got lots of resources developed to make sure the conversation is challenging and constructive.
4) Sing along!
The Maccabeats, perennial favorite among Jewish a cappella groups, 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.
5) Seek out artists who are both black and Jewish
The Forward profiled Aaron Samuels, a black, Jewish poet, earlier this year. Read some of Samuels’ work on what those two identities mean to him, or seek out other black Jewish artists. Start with Camonghne Felix and Amani Hayes-Messinger, two of Samuels’ favorite black and Jewish poets, James McBride, whose memoir “The Color of Water” is a classic exploration of what it means to be black and Jewish in America, and Sammy Davis Jr., who converted to Judaism during the Civil Rights Movement.
Talya Zax is the Forward’s culture intern.
This story "5 Jewish Ways To Celebrate Martin Luther King Day" was written by Talya Zax.