African-Americans and Jewish people are two groups that have experienced enslavement and abuse and have continued to be the targets of violent crimes. Both have also seen generations scattered throughout the world far from their ancestral homes.
As we approach a national holiday on Monday to honor the American Civil Rights leader whose dream set out to stop such injustices and heal a nation, the two groups came together Friday night at in Middletown for a special service to celebrate freedom and the life and vision of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Also remembered was Debbie Friedman who passed away last Saturday in California. She was a well-known and gifted singer/songwriter of contemporary Jewish music. Most of the songs sung throughout the evening were those she had written and composed.
This was the second year that a Friday evening prayer service honoring Dr. King was hosted by Temple Shalom.
Joyce Williams, President of the NAACP of Newport County said, “With what both our people have gone through we still have a long way to go.”
Williams went on to explain that her husband, the late Rev. Robert L. Williams and Rabbi Marc S. Jagolinzer were good friends. She also said her husband and the rabbi started joint services on the Wednesday night before Thanksgiving more than 35 years ago. These services always encompass seven or eight denominations and faiths, she noted.
“Rabbi Jagolinzer reaches out to all. He has always been a strong supporter of the NAACP. When he suggested last year we could celebrate Dr. King’s birthday here at the Temple it was a natural thing to do,” she said.
During the prayer service, Rabbi Jagolinzer spoke of Dr. King as a man who dreamed of "unity in diversity” and “people of different faiths coming together.”
The rabbi continued, "We are the ones who can turn his dream into reality, so the land that we love may be a better place.”
He also prayed for the victims both living and dead of last weekend’s Tucson tragedy, in which Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords of Arizona was shot in the head when a guman opened fire outside a grocery store as she met with constituents, resulting in six deaths and 13 others wounded.
Ron Newman a member of Temple Shalom said, “Dr. King tried to accomplish his goals through equality and peace. I would have really loved to meet the man. We lost him too soon.”
Joycelyn Mulligan of Newport spoke about the joy of a weekend of honoring Dr. King.
“This kicks it all off for me. I’m planning on attending all of the weekend’s events. I’m looking forward to the luncheon Monday at the,” said Mulligan with a big smile.
It was the first time for Fred Nalle, an African-American, to visit Temple Shalom.
He summed up the feelings of the night when both Jews and African-Americans came together to celebrate and remember. This was a night when the thought of violence and intolerance still has hope to be stopped, he said.
“We are all one family,” said Nalle.
Special events and Martin Luther King Day observances are taking place throughout Aquidneck Island over the weekend. Click here for a complete list.