(Article changed on November 23, 2013 at 09:23)
(Article changed on November 22, 2013 at 21:27)
Tonight, according to the Jewish calendar, it is the yahrzeit (anniversary) of my father's death in 1990. He was only 64 years old. His yahrzeit does not usually coincide with the anniversary of the death of JFK; only in this, the year of " Thanksgivukkah ." But the coincidence makes this a doubly sad day.
I remember when JFK was shot, even though I was only six years old. The grief was palpable. I had almost had the chance to see him in person about a year earlier, as his motorcade had breezed past our Brooklyn neighborhood. A friend and I were with our mothers - not accustomed to raising us up on their shoulders as my father often did - and just before he drove up, our view was blocked, and we cried. So when he was killed, I was even more aware of what it meant.
My parents were liberals in the great Jewish tradition of a people living on the margins in whatever country would take us. Later that same year - 1963 - they would attend a landmark concert by Pete Seeger in Carnegie hall, full of calls for civil rights and peace. The album from that concert is one of my favorite momentos.
Another coincidence: in my temple choir, we're beginning to rehearse for our service in celebration of the life of Rev., Dr., Martin Luther King, Jr. The night he was killed, I was doing homework in my father's lab. Someone came running in with the news. I remember my father saying "it's going to being a rough summer,"
My father had actually risked his life fighting for civil rights in the 1950's South. His efforts to register blacks to vote led to a chase from an ice pick wielding segregationist, from which he thankfully escaped.
I've always been proud that the celebration of the life and work of MLK has made its way into reform Jewish life. In fact, the Civil Rights Act and Voting Rights Act were drafted in the conference room of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism. It is perhaps, in part, in honor of JFK's memory, that they were passed when they were. As a religious school music teacher, I always looked for relevant songs around MLK day.
Every year around MLK day, our cantor brings in gospel and childrens' choir from nearby black churches to join us in the service. I'm grateful to her for that. Every year, as I sing those services, I'm often brought to tears, thinking about MLK, and his cause my parents shared.
So for me, this day is about the loss of not only a president and a father - touching upon the memory of another great leader. It is also about an idea and an era, and about an example I got to see first hand, at a young age. Fifty years later, it may be tempting to think of ourselves as being past these struggles. But in this age of the Supreme Court striking down the key provision of the Voting Rights Act, and the rolling back of women's rights and workers' rights, nothing could be further from the truth. I cry for the loss of all three men, and what they stood for.