Every year, Americans gather on this date to pray and show their gratitude to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. We trot out familiar quotes and photos and some even do volunteer work in his name.
In the Jewish community, we love to remember that Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel marched with Dr. King, and that afterwards said he felt as if he was praying with his feet.
This may sound curmudgeonly, but I’m not a fan of one-off exercises like the MLK Day holiday. For white America, observing the day gives us an opportunity to feel good about ourselves, and then to go on as before until the next time it rolls around. (I feel the same about the annual Mitzvah Days that many synagogues sponsor.)
I would rather see us remember Dr. King, Rabbi Heschel, Rep. John Lewis, and all of the others who worked alongside them, all year long, every day. Is that too much? Then how about once a week? If you’re Jewish, Friday is a perfect day for this, as you prepare for Shabbat.
Given the fact that we’re still living in the midst of a pandemic, we can’t pray with our feet, as Rabbi Heschel did.
But we can pray with our eyes by reading books and articles that teach us about other communities with whom we share this nation. We can pray with our hands by writing to our local and federal government representatives about important issues. We can pray with our fingers by calling others. Thanks to Zoom, we can pray with our computers by visiting churches and synagogues that we’ve never been to before. And we can pray with our wallets by giving to charitable groups that need our support.
Dr. King’s message was too important to relegate to a single day. His words are as relevant today as when he first shared them. May we be blessed to remember them and him all the days of our lives.