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On MLK Day, Rep. Torres says ‘words cannot express outrage at barbarism of Oct. 7’

The New York congressman juxtaposed the words of Martin Luther King Jr. with Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel to condemn “the appalling silence of good people.”

Black-and-white picture of a Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. memorial quote in Washington, D.C. Credit: John S. Quinn/Shutterstock.
Black-and-white picture of a Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. memorial quote in Washington, D.C. Credit: John S. Quinn/Shutterstock.

Rep. Ritchie Torres (D-N.Y.) gave the annual Martin Luther King Jr. sermon at Central Synagogue in Manhattan, lashing out at American indifference or even enthusiasm in response to the brutality of the Oct. 7 terrorist attacks by Hamas in Israel.

Calling it “the moral crisis that we’re facing in a post-Oct. 7 world,” Torres said on Jan. 12 that he was “profoundly shaken not only by Oct. 7 but by the aftermath. I found it utterly horrifying to see fellow Americans openly cheering and celebrating the deadliest massacre of Jews since the Holocaust.”

Torres described how “for me, the aftermath of Oct. 7 revealed the barbarity of the human heart that reminded me of an earlier and darker time in our nation’s history. A time when the public mobs of Jim Crow would openly celebrate the lynching of African-Americans or the lynching of a Jewish American like Leo Frank.”

Central Synagogue in New York City
Central Synagogue in Midtown Manhattan, Dec. 8, 2023. Credit: Kenneth C. Zirkel via Wikimedia Commons.

Torres said that words “cannot express the overwhelming outrage that I felt at the barbaric reaction to the barbarism of Oct. 7.”

He noted that he is often asked why he cares so deeply about antisemitism. He said he responds: “You are asking the wrong question. The question is not why I have chosen to be outspoken. The question is why have others chosen to be silent amid the deadliest day for Jews since the Holocaust?’” Those in the synagogue burst into applause.

The congressman then juxtaposed the words of King with Holocaust survivor and Nobel Prize laureate Elie Wiesel to condemn “the appalling silence of good people” and to emphasize that the opposite of love is not hate “but indifference.”

If Americans cannot condemn the killing of innocents, Torres pushed back, “what are we becoming as a society? What does that reveal about the depth of antisemitism in the American soul?”

Torres asked what kind of society America wanted—one that justified atrocities or honored the nonviolent legacy of King. He referenced his attendance at the Nov. 14 “March for Israel” in Washington, pointing out that it coincided with the 75th anniversary of Israel’s birth and the 60th anniversary of King’s “I Have a Dream” speech.

“Israel itself is the realization of a dream that is both ancient and modern,” Torres said. “And that realized dream, despite the tragedy and trauma of Oct. 7, will live on for the next 75 years and beyond.” The audience again broke out in applause.

Torres then recounted the origins of “Am Yisrael Chai” that a rabbi had shared with him during a Shabbat ceremony following the liberation of a concentration camp, as well as the singing of Israel’s national anthem, “Hatikvah” (“The Hope”).

He concluded: “Hope is the anthem of the Jewish people. And hope was the animating principle of America’s greatest dreamer, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. God bless you all.” The attendees then offered a final applause.

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