By Jane Herman
“We must use time creatively, in the knowledge that the time is always ripe to do right.”
– Martin Luther King Jr.
Long devoted to non-violent efforts to end racial segregation in the south in the 1950s and 60s, Martin Luther King Jr. is honored in the United States on the third Monday in January. Across the country, Jewish Community Centers (JCCs) are offering outstanding online and socially distanced programs, service events, and learning opportunities to acknowledge and celebrate the civil rights leader and his lifelong work to achieve racial justice and repair our world.
- In Houston, at the Evelyn Rubinstein JCC members can pick up MLK Mitzvah Day To-Go Kits curbside and use the materials and instructions to complete one of three service projects as a family: create a no-sew blanket for a homebound senior or a child in need; paint messages of kindness on rocks to inspire people and beautify the Mystical Garden at the J; or bake “helping hand” cookies to thank a neighbor, a first responder, or someone else who has been helpful to you or the community during these challenging months.
- Tamara Fish, a leading voice on Jews of Color and immediate past president of the Jewish Multiracial Network (JMN), will deliver the Renard Lecture: Counting Jews of Color at the Shames JCC on the Hudson in Tarrytown, New York on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Later, a family-friendly, interactive event that’s always a sell-out will bring people together to pack boxes of non-perishable food for seniors and families in need in the local area.
- In partnership with Rise Against Hunger, volunteers at the Riverdale Y in Bronx, New York, will aim to package more than 15,000 meals and other life-changing aid bound for people in developing nations. On the same day, in a partnership with Afya, other volunteers will pack medical supplies to help address their critical shortage in underserved communities worldwide. For teens from 13-17, the Y is offering a online, service-learning gaming option with Lost Tribe Esports to explore the lessons and values of MLK’s legacy and create a community around online gaming.
- At the YM&YWHA of Washington Heights & Inwood in New York, New York, “Bringing Light to Darkness” is the theme of the day of volunteering to honor the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. Families with children five and older can help prepare food packages for City Meals on Wheels, while younger children and their families with children under the age of 5 can make cards for seniors together on Zoom and learn about the importance of easing social isolation for seniors from the Y’s Center for Adults Living Well.
- Jewish Harrisburg, in Pennsylvania, will mark MLK Day with an in-person, safely distanced day of service for children from kindergarten through 5th grade. With a theme of kindness to others, the day will include reading PJ Library stories, learning about Dr. King and his work, playing friendship games, decorating kindness rocks and, and creating artwork for the residents of the Jewish home. Later in January, Jewish Harrisburg will launch its 2021 virtual film series with a free streaming of “Shared Legacies,” which tells the story of friendship between the Jewish and African American communities during the civil rights era, from January 24 to 26. On January 25, an online panel discussion about the film will feature Dr. Susannah Heschel and local leaders Rabbi Arian Capptauber and Rev Earl Harris.
- In partnership with the National Yiddish Theatre Folksbiene and JCC Association of North America, more than two dozen JCCs will offer “Soul to Soul: African American and Jewish Music Meet in Celebration of Two Cultures,” a livestream concert that depicts the historical journeys and shared cultural legacy of the African American and American Jewish communities. The music reflects the two groups’ common struggle against oppression and discrimination and ongoing strivings for equal rights and social justice. Among the JCCs providing access to the concert are: Mayerson JCC of Cincinnati, Ohio; The Gordon Center for Performing Arts at the JCC of Greater Baltimore, Maryland; JCC Indianapolis, Indiana; JCC of Greater Kansas City, Kansas; JCC of Greater Ann Arbor, Michigan; Oshman Family JCC in Palo Alto, California; Peninsula JCC in Foster City, California; Levine JCC in Charlotte, North Carolina; Shimon and Sara Birnbaum JCC in Bridgewater, New Jersey; and Edlavitch JCC in Washington, D.C., as part of the JxJ multidisciplinary arts project in partnership with Pozez JCC of Northern Virginiain Fairfax, Virginia, andBender JCC of Greater Washingtonin Rockville, Maryland.
Much work remains undone in this country to ensure racial and social justice for all. As we honor Martin Luther King Jr. today, may we be reminded that it is the responsibility of all of us to continue his work, and in so doing, may we carry his principles, ideals, and sensibilities into the world in all our endeavors.
Jane E. Herman is the senior writer at JCC Association of North America.