The thoughts and vision of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. were the topic of the annual Abraham Lunch held at the Caldwell United Methodist Church Tuesday. The event united Jews, Christians and Muslims to exchange ideas over a shared meal.
More than 100 people attended the free lunch to hear the words of three spiritual leaders—the Rev. Jeff Markay of Caldwell United Methodist Church, Rabbi Alan Silverstein of Congregation Agudath Israel of West Essex in Caldwell and Sam Tunagur of Newark-based Peace Islands Institute.
Markay quoted Jesus in his welcoming remarks. “My father’s house shall be a house of prayer for all people,” he said.
For his presentation, Rabbi Silverstein spoke about Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, who is synonymous with Jewish-Black relations. Heschel, Silverstein said, met Dr. King at the 1963 National Conference on Race and Religion in Chicago, where the men were the two keynote speakers.
In their addresses, Heschel and King individually came to the same theme of social justice. The kindred spirits are pictured marching arm-in-arm from Selma to Montgomery, Ala. with other Civil Rights activists in early 1965.
Heschel later wrote, "When I marched in Selma, my legs were praying."
At Heschel's 60th birthday party, conservative rabbis welcomed King singing “God Shall Overcome” in Hebrew, Silverstein said. Heschel told those gathered that God sent King and that his mission was sacred.
Ten days later, King would be assassinated and Heschel was asked to speak at his funeral.
When his followers asked him, what do we do now?, Silverstein said Heschel instructed them to “teach the children” so that they may “remake God’s world.”
Rev. Markay also used the theme of social justice in his presentation.
Markay said compassion is rescuing a person drowning in a river. But social justice, he said, is going up the river and finding out why people are ending up in it in the first place.
Markay explained that King, as a prophet, got “under your skin” and made you feel uneasy.
“Dr. King was willing to make the church and the nation uncomfortable, because he knew we could do better,” he said.
The Methodist pastor closed by saying King is so much more than his “I have a dream” speech. His wisdom continues to be relevant, vital and beneficial, he said.
Tunagar, of the Peace Islands Institute, which provided the Turkish meal of the day, agreed with Markay. He said too often a child's knowledge of Dr. King is limited to a few lines from the “Dream” speech.
He called this a “severe injustice of what [King] stood for and a limited understanding of his legacy.”
Tunagar said the Koran teaches Muslims not to swerve from justice.
“Believers, be the supporters of justice and the testify to what you may have witnessed, for the sake of God, even against yourselves, parents, and relatives; whether it be against the rich or the poor,” reads the Koran. “Let not your desires cause you to commit injustice. If you deviate from the truth in your testimony, or decline to give your testimony at all, know that God is Well Aware of what you do.”
Dr. King, Tunagar said, was “extremely critical of what just didn’t sit right.”
He said King was less popular in his final years when he took on injustices greater than racial inequality, including economic injustice and extreme militarism.
He said fewer people were willing to align themselves with King when it came to protesting poverty, a plight that reached beyond people of color, and the war in Vietnam.
Tunagar concluded by saying King was a leader in a movement that had many people who also should not be forgotten.
King was known for saying, “I am not alone, I follow you."