The Power of a Circle: Standing Hand-in-Hand to Overcome Discrimination
Listen to Martin Luther King Jr.’s 1958 speech at my synagogue, and you’ll understand how his words continue to inspire activism
It isn’t too often that we find ourselves standing in a circle with other people. Especially one consisting of black and white, male and female, young and old, Jewish and Baptist. Aren’t we more inclined to just show up and stand, separate from one another, in the back, to observe?
That night at the synagogue, holding hands with Minister Smith and our interfaith community, I finally understood the meaning of we shall overcome. That night had completed the circle in which I stood with my father five decades before, the one where we hoped, prayed, and sang for equality between the races, for a time when we wouldn’t have to protest for integrated housing or education. In that circle, I was witnessing some of those dreams, applied. Seeing it in practice. Jews and Baptists were studying the Old Testament, together. And we weren’t just showing up. We were interacting, like the Jewish and Baptist teens of our congregations who interacted with the civil rights sites that would no longer be mere sentences from the pages of their history texts. Sites that now had context and meaning, like the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, where King was shot; the spot where the teens held onto to one another and cried.
That’s how I felt in that circle with my fellow bibliodramatists. And how I felt 50 years before that, as a protester-in-training, in 1963. Overcome.
In his midrash on Miriam’s circle dance in Exodus, 19th-century Rabbi Kalomous Epstein noted that every part of a circle’s circumference is equidistant from the center. No one person is any more or less significant in a circle. When we are children, circles are a part of our daily life—gather around for story time, children—but as we grow older, we let them go. As adults, we need them even more because a circle’s power lives in its shape; the visual reminder that human beings are created equal.
Like this article? Sign up for our Daily Digest to get Tablet Magazine’s new content in your inbox each morning.
Probing hypothetical, metaphysical problems was the rabbis’ way of defining what matters most in Judaism