WASHINGTON (Jan. 16)
The close ties between Jews and the late Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. were stressed yesterday before a packed standing-room audience as the Israel Embassy marked the 57th birthday of the slain civil rights leader.
"From the moment of his appearance on the public scene, Jews felt — and we continue to feel — a unique affinity, a special identification, and a powerful affection for him," Israeli Ambassador Meir Rosenne said.
Rosenne noted that King’s "identification with Moses, the liberator of the Jewish people, was bred in him, and he reached out to the Jews in Kinship — and Jews understood that and responded to it."
This was the second consecutive year that the Israel Embassy has marked King’s birthday in association with the Jewish National Fund which has a 10,000-tree forest in Israel in memory of King. Asher Naim, the Embassy’s Minister of Information, said that in addition, a cherry blossom tree had been planted at the Embassy yesterday in King’s memory.
Monday, January 20 will be the first time that there will be an official national commemoration of King’s birthday and the day is also being observed in Israel with special programs. District of Columbia Mayor Marion Barry expressed his thanks for this and for the naming of a major street in Jerusalem after King.
Other sponsors of the Embassy event were the America-Israel Friendship League, the International Association of Official Human Rights Agencies, and the Martin Luther King, Jr. Federal Holiday Commission.
BASIS OF JEWISH AFFINITY FOR KING
The theme of Jewish ties to King was stressed by the speakers yesterday and by an exhibit, "Hand in Hand for Justice: Jewish Americans and Martin Luther King, Jr.," created by the America-Israel Committee to Commemorate Dr. King of the National Committee for Labor Israel.
Rosenne said Jews were drawn to King partly out of "the age-old Jewish passion for justice and freedom." But he noted that in addition, Jews sensed that King "instinctively understood all that had to be known about the Jewish people — our history our faith and our hope."
Rosenne stressed that King was "repelled by any form of anti-Semitism," and articulated emphatically and unambiguously Israel’s rights as a Jewish State."
King was also one of the first to speak out for Soviet Jewry, Rosenne said. He noted that 21 years ago, when he was an Israeli Consul in New York, he asked King to raise his voice for Soviet Jewry and he responded in a letter to The New York Times calling on the Soviet government to "end all discriminatory measures against its Jewish community."
Barry, who described his participation as a student activist inspired by King, said that "the history of the civil rights movement and this (Jewish) community go back a great deal. In 1964, when we were in Mississippi battling to get Blacks registered to vote, some of our strongest allies were members of the Jewish community."
Isaiah Robinson, vice president of the America-Israel Friendship League, said that when he was the first Black president of the New York City Board of Education, he made his first trip to Israel and came back inspired and changed by what he saw there. He felt students, too, could be changed by a visit and learn that there are things "higher than basketball or drugs."
Robinson said he started the first student exchange program with Israel and the program has grown nationwide, with some 700 American students having visited Israel so far.
Rabbi Joseph Sternstein, president of the JNF of America, said the thousands of trees planted in the King Forest embody both the spirit of Israel and of the slain civil rights leader. Calling King one of the 36 righteous, Sternstein said King revered the State of Israel and appreciated what Zionism meant to the Jewish people.
Sternstein said all peoples, not just Blacks, have learned from King. "The Jewish people will stand together, as always, with the Black people, shoulder to shoulder," to carry on his teachings, he said.
Also participating in the program was King’s oldest daughter, Yolanda, who choreographed a dance on the theme of her father’s "I Have a Dream" speech.