January 10, 2022

Expressing Our Jewish Values on MLK Jr. Day

Sandy Myers Grawert Associate Director, Jewish Community Relations Committee

One of my favorite parts about Judaism is the ability for any member of our community to ask questions, answer them, and make meaning. There are countless opportunities each day to add Judaism to our lives or find ways to apply a Jewish value to a moment. Of course, on days like MLK Day, the stakes feel higher, and as such, the opportunities to make meaning feel elevated.  

Our Federation, and our community, have embarked on the long and challenging work to channel our values of diversity, equity, and inclusion into action. We are grounded and guided by the Jewish value of B’tzelem Elohim – that all humans are created in the image of G-d. By applying this value, we must ask ourselves: How should those who look differently be treated by society and by institutions? How are we approaching our neighbors? How are we engaging in the modern-day movements to support civil rights, address systemic racism, ensure access to affordable housing, food, and employment?  

On a personal level, you may decide to approach MLK Day with the call to action of tzedek tzedek tirdof – justice, justice, you shall pursue. It is said that there are no extra words in the Torah, so surely, we must take notice when a word is repeated twice. How are you working for justice on this day, and all days throughout the year?  

Or you may be guided by tikkun olam, making the world a better place. One way to approach this value is to think of us as G-d’s partners in the world, carrying out mitzvot throughout our day. If this appeals to you, be sure to check out our Center for Volunteerism web page for ways you can help those in need. 

There are many ways you can approach this work, including through the lens of our own community’s connection to Newark, as well as to Dr. King himself and our history of involvement in the civil rights movement. As the Jewish community of Greater MetroWest, we have tens of thousands of neighbors who deserve our partnership and support on such critical issues that impact our community, including access to safe and affordable housing, food, and education, as well as safe streets and communities where everyone can thrive. We hold this vision for the world, but we must start in our own backyard. And to learn more about how our local clergy and community leaders stood shoulder-to-shoulder with King as he made his iconic I Have a Dream speech, check out the Jewish Historical Society’s extensive archives on the subject. 

Whichever value resonates most, I urge you to think about what it means for the issues we devote our lives to, and the causes we elevate around the dining room tables and the board rooms tables and everywhere in between. 

This work may be uncomfortable, and we may be presented with ideas that we aren’t yet ready to lend our full-hearted support to. But, as Pirkei Avot teaches us, we are not obligated to complete the work, but we are not free to desist from it. On this MLK Day, may we as a Federation and a community, seek to continue to learn, understand, and take action.