MLK’s Jewish Connection

Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s legacy of change through nonviolence and civil disobedience is well known. You might be surprised to know that he was deeply connected to the Jewish community. There were Jewish leaders like Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel and Rabbi Joachim Prinz who stood by MLK’s side in his fight for civil rights. How are these relationships still relevant today? After watching the video, use the prompts below to learn more and get your students thinking.

  • Review
  • Discussion
  • Activities
  • Reflection
  • Further Learning
  1. In Dr. King’s Letter from a Birmingham jail, he wrote:
    • White moderates prefer a negative peace
    • White moderates prefer a positive peace
    • It’s time to violently protest
    • None of the above are true
  2. Which concept in the Mishna did Dr. King reference in this letter?
    • Mo’ed
    • Tikkun Olam
    • Rodef shalom
    • Tosefta
  3. Why was Rabbi Joachim Prinz so sensitive to prejudice and hate?
    • Because of his close ties to Dr. King
    • Because he had African American parents
    • He fought in World War 1
    • He lived through Nazi Germany
  4. How did Rabbi Heschel once refer to Dr. King?
    • The potential Messiah
    • The voice of God in our time
    • King of Israel
    • An angel from above
  5. Which of the following facts are true about Dr. King’s Jewish connection?
    • He fought against antisemitism
    • He supported Israel
    • The Jewish community heavily mourned his death
    • All of the above
  1. Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel was close friends with Martin Luther King Jr and an advocate of the American civil rights movement of the 1960’s. Rabbi Heschel famously said “when I marched with Martin Luther King in Selma, I felt my legs were praying.” Reflect on this quote from Rabbi Heschel. Have you ever experienced a situation in which you felt your legs were praying? When has doing an action taken on spiritual significance for you?
  2. In Dr. King’s final speech before he was assassinated, he made multiple biblical references to Moses and the Jewish peoples’ journey through the desert on the way to the Land of Israel. He said “I’ve been to the mountaintop, I’ve seen the promised land and I may not get there with you.” How does the story of the Jewish people and African Americans relate? How can these two communities work together to fight for tolerance, equality and human rights? Additionally, what are some ways we can amplify and listen to Jews of color and other diverse voices in our communities?
  3. In MLK’s famous “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”, the reverend writes that it is not the Ku Klux Klanner that is the greatest stumbling block to freedom but the white moderate. MLK writes that the white moderate is “more devoted to order than to justice, who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice.” Holocaust survivor and writer Elie Wiesel similarly wrote “what hurts the victim most is not the cruelty of the oppressor, but the silence of the bystander.” In the context of the American Civil Rights movement and the Holocaust, what is the main idea both of these men are trying to get across? How does this message relate to injustices taking place around the world today?
  4. Watch Dr. King’s friend Rabbi Joachim Prinz’s speech from the March on Washington in 1963. Does this speech sound like it’s from another era and no longer relevant or do you think the same speech would be applicable today?
  1. Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy of equality, justice and human rights is one that fits easily into the modern concept of Tikkun Olam. Watch our video about Tikkun Olam and utilize the accompanying educational resources.
  2. Paste some of these famous Martin Luther King Jr. quotes around the room and ask your students to walk around reading each of the quotes to themselves in silence. In a virtual setting, add each of the following quotes to a slide show and click through the slides with dramatic music in the background instead of having students walk around. Afterwards, ask each student to present which quote was most meaningful to them and why.
    • Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.
    • Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.
    • The time is always right to do what is right.
    • A riot is the language of the unheard.
    • In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.
    • Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.
    • Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?
    • We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools.
    • The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.
  3. Give your students our Kahoot on MLK’s Jewish Connection!

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