Don’t have plans for Martin Luther King Jr. Day? We’ve got you covered.
“I have a dream … that everyone will volunteer on Monday and continue the legacy of service that I have left behind.” OK, that might not be the exact quote, but Martin Luther King Jr. Day is always a great way to get involved with the community and find a way to give back.
This year, there are myriad opportunities to get involved with the Jewish community in honor of the Civil Rights hero:
Friday night, Jan. 15:
Start off Shabbat with a healthy dose of tolerance, fellowship and plenty of singing.
Many synagogues in the area have taken the opportunity to partner with other places of worship in the community to offer a unique Shabbat service to welcome the weekend and provide a chance to get to know your neighbors — Jewish and non-Jewish.
Beth Am Israel and Main Line Reform Temple have partnered with Zion Baptist Church in Ardmore for their weekend services, something they have done for the past 25 years.
“It’s really unity not just for music,” said Rabbi Shelly Barnathan of Beth Am Israel, “but unity through our friendship, through our community support. When there’s been stressors in the African-American community or Jewish community, we’re there for each other.”
Friday night services will be held at Main Line Reform Temple at 7:30 p.m., while Sunday morning services will be held at Zion Baptist Church at 10:30 a.m.
Rehearsals for the Unity Choir, made up of 75 members from all three religious institutions plus a band to accompany them, are leading up to the “pinnacle,” which are the services. The choir sings from both faith traditions, Barnathan said.
“There’s gospel music — their leaders will teach us in their gospel style,” she elaborated. “Main Line Cantor [Marshall] Portnoy has written some pieces, and then I’m teaching the pieces that we’re doing — a peace medley.”
She will teach what the Hebrew means in the songs and correct pronunciation, but she maintains that the messages spread far beyond just learning the words.
“It’s all in the idea of singing,” she said. “But it’s much broader than just the song — it’s the unity that we’re sharing in each other’s houses of worship.”
The services have had a profound effect on the younger members who attend, Barnathan said, recalling how much her own children enjoyed it when they were younger — and still do, even in their 20s and 30s.
The end of the service each year sends home Dr. King’s messages of peace and unity as the choir joins together, hand-in-hand, to sing “We Shall Overcome.”
“Seeing people of different races, religions, backgrounds singing ‘We Shall Overcome’ — it’s super powerful,” Barnathan said.
Saturday, Jan. 16:
Continuing to use Shabbat services as a vehicle to honor Dr. King, Beth Sholom Congregation will present Dr. Beth Wenger, professor of American Jewish History and history department chair at the University of Pennsylvania, who will talk during the service about the Jewish impact during the Civil Rights Movement.
At Mishkan Shalom at 10 a.m., Reverend Mark Tyler, the pastor of Mother Bethel AME in Philadelphia with Rabbi Shawn Zevit of Mishkan Shalom — who serve as co-chairs of the POWER (Philadelphians Organized to Witness Empower & Rebuild) Clergy Caucus — will be speaking about the legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr. and racial justice during a morning service.
Germantown Jewish Centre will hold its 32nd annual Ralph Granger Memorial Shabbat at 1:30 p.m. following services. Granger was a well-loved and respected former custodian at GJC.
According to the synagogue’s website, the program will focus on “how we can best work for and support racial justice in our present moment.” Reverend Robin Hynicka of Arch Street United Methodist Church in Center City and Reverend Gregory Holston of New Vision United Methodist Church in North Philadelphia will speak about both the challenges and “the opportunities we have to pursue racial justice right now” and Reverends Moore and Fernandez will service as the respondents.
Sunday, Jan. 17:
On Sunday, the third annual Teen Peace and Social Justice Summit will take place from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. at Central Bucks High School South.
The event began as a response to a crop of anti-Semitic incidents, including finding swastikas on school buses and that kids wrote “Heil Hitler” at Central Bucks High School East.
“It was astonishing,” said Jerel Wohl, a part-time professor at Delaware Valley University and director of fiscal operations at University of Pennsylvania Law School, who started the event three years ago in response. “What we learned through that, there’s anti-Semitism, there’s racism — all kinds of discrimination that happen.”
The summit was held at Temple Judea for the first two years, where Wohl is a member and past president, but the event has outgrown the venue — this is the first time it will be held at the high school.
This year, the event is sponsored by 12 organizations, including the Bristol Township and Central Bucks school districts, churches, community centers, synagogues and service fraternities. This shows how much the program has grown, Wohl said, adding that that support has been instrumental in increasing the diversity of the event.
Students assemble and listen to clips from some of Dr. King’s famous speeches. Afterward, students can share their own experiences with bias and prejudice. They break out into groups of 12 to 15 and join with student facilitators from Delaware Valley University and Arcadia University — who are trained through the Peace Center in Langhorne — who talk with the students about their experiences.
“Students can talk on a much more intimate level about their own experiences and how they handle it and respond to it,” Wohl said. “That’s probably one of my favorite parts because the students are so supportive of each other and really want to make a difference in terms of equity, not races and religion that kind of thing.”
Opening up the dialogue this way allows others to see how their words have power. People — and not just students — might make discriminatory or insensitive comments without even realizing it, Wohl said.
“Students who make comments to African-American students, they think is a joke,” Wohl said. “It’s not — it’s educational and enlightening for them to understand the repercussions of the words that come out of their mouth and the actions they do.”
He expects about 250 to 300 people at the event, which is free and open to the public.
The goal is to start conversations and understand how to better treat one another.
“I think it’s important that we demonstrate that we live in a very diverse community where Jews and African-Americans and Muslims and Protestants and Christians are all in one community,” Wohl said, “and how we respect each other and treat each other is valuable. We’re all made in the image of God and I think it’s important that we as Jews really ensure that we are good examples in the community, and how we treat people that are different from us.”
Monday, Jan. 18/All weekend:
Taking Monday as more than a day off from school and using the opportunity to give back can be beneficial, according to many who are running events in honor of Dr. King.
Taking tikkun olam quite literally, Repair the World: Philadelphia is holding volunteer events to help out in underserved areas of the city all throughout the weekend.
Rabbi Seth Goren, director of the nonprofit’s Philadelphia chapter, is excited to give others the opportunity to give back.
There are eight Repair the World Fellows, who spend a year doing community programming and service projects with the organization, who will be at different events throughout the weekend and the day on Monday to help out.
They’ll start off on Friday night with a “Turn the Tables” Shabbat dinner, which will include dialogue and discussion about racial disparity and how to — you guessed it — turn the tables on conversations about racial justice. This year, according to their website, the discussions will focus on the educational system, specifically looking at the “school-to-prison” pipeline.
Apart from volunteers who come out during the day on Monday, they’ve also partnered with local organizations who have opportunities available throughout the weekend. This year, they are working with agencies such as Jewish Relief Agency, Challah for Hunger and Jewish Farm School.
“Some of it is, we just reach out to other organizations that we know that have really solid volunteer opportunities where people can make a difference and see that difference in the course of a day,” Goren said.
He said they are anticipating having 500 or more volunteers throughout the weekend to help out with “anything from community gardening to farming, clothes sorting with Our Closet, which provides clothing to people in need, and serving meals through Broad Street Ministry” and many more opportunities.
Goren encourages anyone to volunteer not just because of the Jewish value in giving back but also what it can mean for the city.
“It’s a great way to address some of the challenges that we all face as a community in a hands-on, productive way, and to learn about what those injustices might be,” Goren said.
“More broadly, it’s a wonderful opportunity to get to know other people in your community through volunteering and working side by side with them. That type of community is something we value as an organization, and something we think is of value to the Jewish community in Philadelphia.”
Of the many values Martin Luther King, Jr. shared with the world, Goren identifies most with his vision of “equity.”
“There’s a vision of fairness and justice and kindness and compassionate empathy that we’re capable of bringing about here on Earth,” Goren said.
Various synagogues are holding events on Martin Luther King Jr. Day to provide an opportunity to engage in activities that benefit the larger community.
Beth Am Israel is holding its second annual Day of Service from 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.
Participants can make dog toys for the ASPCA, join in Cook for a Friend, sort clothes for Our Closet, even create bookplates for donated books and make no-sew blankets to distribute to homeless citizens.
“It’s important because we want to show were part of the community and we service the community,” said Sara Chernov, the synagogue’s youth engagement associate. “It’s a great way to give back on a special day. It’s a way for Beth Am to connect to the other people that are here and realize people in our area need help, too.”
The event has brought out people from all over the community, she said. They looked into what needs could be met through these projects and what organizations members have already been involved with that they could help.
“It’s going to be a great morning of getting together and doing service together and feeling good about it,” she said.
A selection of other events going on throughout the weekend and on Monday:
The staff at Congregation Adath Jeshurun is preparing and serving dinner for approximately 80 residents at the Philadelphia Ronald McDonald House on Jan. 18.
The religious school students at Temple Adath Israel are doing many different things on Jan. 17, and there are other projects scheduled for Jan. 18, including CPR training, Red Cross blood drive, art supply collection for the children of “Family Support Services,” cooking meals for the homeless, lunch bags for the homeless, serving the meals at homeless shelter and going on-site to the “Family School SW” of Family Support Services.
From 2 p.m. to 3:30 p.m., Congregation B’nai Jacob will hold its Martin Luther King Day Mitzvah Concert at Frederick Living Center. Samuel Marks and Benjamin Yeiser will do their second annual “Random Acts of Music” for the residents in the Alzheimer’s unit.
Melrose B’nai Israel Emanu- El will have its MLK Jr. Day of Service from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. MBIEE will be collecting new and gently used school supplies for students. Please drop off items in the synagogue lobby or let them know if you’d like to volunteer.
Congregation Ohev Shalom holds its MLK Day for Social Action from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Monday.
In honor of MLK Day of Service, from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m., the Social Action Committee at Beth Israel Congregation will sponsor Hats for Hope (“The Mad Hatters”). Knit or crochet warm hats to be donated to the homeless who run with Back on My Feet (BOMF), for children from birth to 14 years (for Cradles to Crayons), and for other groups in need. Donations of yarn will be appreciated.
Beth Chaim Reform Congregation will do its Martin Luther King Day of Service at the Jewish Relief Agency, leaving the synagogue at 8:30 a.m. until about 2 p.m. There will be a bus for students fifth grade through confirmation and parent chaperones.
On Jan. 17 from 9 a.m. to 2:15 p.m., Shir Ami is hosting a Day of Tikkun Olam, starting with a quick blessing and breakfast at 9 a.m. with projects to follow, including a clothing drive for which you can bring items in plastic bags and activities such as making cards for soldiers, bracelets for birches, making pet toys, library projects and Alex’s Lemonade Stand.
For more information on these events and to see how else you can get involved, check the community calendar and synagogue websites.