In a tradition cemented in 1967—the year that Martin Luther King Jr. spoke at Temple Beth-El in Great Neck, N.Y.—the Reform synagogue will host its annual MLK Erev Shabbat service this Friday, with headliner New York Gov. Kathy Hochul (D).
The synagogue has turned that speech, delivered more than 55 years ago and which denounced violence, into an annual interfaith convening of the local Jewish and black communities, who honor the Civil Rights leader’s legacy together.
Past speakers have included Hillary Clinton, the former U.S. secretary of state; Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), who is Jewish; and Civil Rights activist and former congressman John Lewis.
“The purpose of the service is to celebrate the legacy of Dr. King and the Jewish tradition and commitment to tikkun olam and to the values and vision that Dr. King embodied for American society,” according to Brian Stoller, Temple Beth-El’s sixth senior rabbi since its 1928 founding.
“The service will feature an interfaith black-Jewish choir performing liturgical pieces from the Jewish and Christian traditions,” Rabbi Stoller told JNS.
Nigel Gretton, a musician, composer and director of performing arts at St. John’s University in Queens, N.Y., and the Shir Appeal, a mixed-gender, Jewish a capella group from Tufts University in Medford, Mass., will also perform with the choir.
The service is slated to include readings from some of King’s speeches and remarks from Great Neck communal leaders. The congregation will also honor members Nina Koppelman and Ellen Meyerson for their work combating antisemitism and educating the community about Jew-hatred—a theme Hochul is expected to address.
With Jew-hatred soaring, the community appreciates Koppelman’s and Meyerson’s leadership greatly, Stoller said.
“Gov. Hochul has been a leader in speaking out against antisemitism and standing strongly with the state of Israel since Oct. 7, and we very much appreciate her efforts,” he added. “We expect that the governor will speak about antisemitism during her address.”
Stoller expects about 500 people to attend the service, which is planned for 7 to 9 p.m. on Friday.
JNS sought comment from Hochul’s Jewish affairs representatives, who directed questions to her press office. The latter didn’t respond by publication time.