This Monday, we celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day across the country. While nearly every aspect of the great man’s life has been analyzed from every angle, including his relationship with Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel and the Jewish community, there are still little-known gems in the archives.
One of those is a speech Dr. King wrote on behalf of Soviet Jews. In December 1966, on Hanukkah, the American Jewish Conference on Soviet Jewry was having a nation-wide organizing conference call, and invited Dr. King to speak over the phone, an offer he gladly accepted. What followed was a rousing address on behalf of what he called a “withered and restricted Jewish community.”
“Individual Jews,” Dr. King said in his comments, “may in the main be physically and economically secure in Russia, but the absence of opportunity to associate as Jews in the enjoyment of Jewish culture and religious experience becomes a severe limitation upon an individual.”