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MLK Unity Service Remarks (2011) - Joe FinkelsteinPosted by: Joseph Finkelstein on: 01/17/2011 Display from: 01/17/2011
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MLK UNITY SERVICE REMARKS
January 16, 2011
By Joseph S. Finkelstein, President
Congregation Beth Am Israel, Penn Valley, PA
Good Morning. Boker Tov.
Thank you, Reverend Pollard, and Zion Baptist Church, for the opportunity for Beth Am Israel to join with you, and Main Line Reform Temple, at this annual Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Unity Service.
For the past several weeks, Jews have been reading Torah portions in synagogue about the years of oppression, heavy burdens and slavery the Jewish people endured in Egypt; Pharaoh’s hard-hearted refusal to release them, and their extraordinary deliverance and Exodus from Egypt. Yesterday, we read that their liberation from slavery was not the end of the story, as Pharaoh, after letting the Jewish people go, decided to pursue them and reassert his dominance over them, and to deny them freedom and justice.
This is a story that is understood by those here at today’s Unity Service. There are many direct parallels between Moses’s assertion of rights for the Israelites and Dr. King’s assertion of rights for African Americans. The common elements of enslavement and liberation, and then continuing dominance and oppression by the powerful, are a shared story. “Jim Crow” laws, segregation, voter disenfranchisement, discrimination and prejudice, deprived African Americans of basic human rights and justice, and Dr. King stood bravely against this.
Years ago, I had a conversation with my father about the Civil Rights movement. I asked him how black people were treated when he was growing up, and about the relationship between whites and blacks, in his hometown. My father grew up in Poland. He lived through WW II, and the Holocaust, being only 13 when the Nazi’s entered his hometown. He said, “There were no black people where I grew up. I never met one until the end of the war.”
I thought he meant, not until he came to America in 1948, after the war. But I learned he meant precisely on May 5, 1945, at 2:00 in the afternoon, when he was liberated from Mauthausen concentration camp in Austria.
At this moment of liberation, he saw three American tanks with white stars. A small platoon of the U.S. 11th Armored Brigade of Patton’s Third Army had entered the camp and my father was free. The commanding sergeant was being tossed in the air by the jubilant inmates. One of the soldiers, the first black person my father ever saw, was shouting “Hitler Kaput,” and gesturing to the survivors that it was safe to come out. This young man was not much older than my 19 year old father.
So, his first encounter with an African American, with any black person, was this young man who was his liberator. This African American young man, along with the rest of the platoon of young Americans, was sent by God to save my father and restore him to life.
My father added that when he came to America in 1948, he was greatly surprised and troubled about how black people were treated in this country, after only a few years earlier having seen a much different face of America, blacks and whites arriving together, united in the fight against Nazi evil, as his liberators at Mauthausen.
My father’s only crime was that he was a Jewish boy, and evil people hated him for that. He survived the Holocaust, at the end, because good Americans, a platoon of African American and European American young men, came together and saved him.
How is evil allowed to be perpetrated and to go so far? Let me quote Dr. King: “He who passively accepts evil is as much involved in it as he who helps perpetrate it. He who accepts evil without protesting against it is really cooperating with it.”
It is a blessing to sit together at this Unity Service to honor Dr. King. We come from different places; yet, we have shared stories and shared values. Again to quote Dr. King, “We may have come on different ships, but we are all in the same boat now.”
How lovely it is to sit together as brothers and sisters. Henei Matov U-Manayim…