Creating a Just World

Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein  |  January 17, 2019

Photo of Martin Luther King from behind giving his famous I Have A Dream speech
Martin Luther King from behind giving his famous I Have A Dream speech

Dear Friend of Israel,

In his 1963 address to the National Conference of Christians and Jews, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., issued a clear challenge to people of faith:

We must affirm that every human life is a reflex of divinity, and every act of injustice mars and defaces the image of God in man. The undergirding philosophy of segregation is diametrically opposed to the undergirding philosophy of our Judeo-Christian heritage, and all the dialectics of the logicians cannot make them lie down together.

Note that Dr. King was addressing Christians and Jews, who he saw as natural allies. United by “the undergirding philosophy of our Judeo-Christian heritage,” members of both faiths were duty-bound to join together in the fight against the evil of racial segregation.

At the same conference, for the first time Dr. King met Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, one of the leading Jewish thinkers of the 20th century and a mentor and inspiration to me personally. Rabbi Heschel shared Dr. King’s conviction that securing equal rights for African Americans was a moral imperative. This led him to march with Dr. King and other civil rights leaders to protest institutionalized discrimination in American society – and it led Dr. King and Rabbi Heschel to become friends.

Just as Rabbi Heschel fully supported the cause of freedom for African Americans, Dr. King was a staunch friend of the Jewish people. He understood deeply not just their historic struggles chronicled in the Bible and the pages of history, but their modern search for freedom as a newly-established nation: the modern state of Israel. And he saw the Jewish state for what it is, a modern, vibrant, democratic state seeking to live in peace among nations that deny its very existence.

Dr. King and Rabbi Heschel’s personal friendship was built on a spiritual foundation – as was their pubic struggle for justice for African Americans. As the U.S. observes Martin Luther King Day this coming Monday, let us remember that, as Jews and Christians, we must reject racial prejudice and hatred wherever we see it, speak out against injustice, and remember that we are united not just by common interests, but by shared tenets of our respective faiths.

May we follow the example of Dr. King and Rabbi Heschel as we move forward, always seeking God’s blessing as we work together to create a more just world.

Download Rabbi Eckstein’s free booklet, Frontlines of Faith, and explore the historical and spiritual bonds between African-Americans and Jews