The M.V. Hebrew Center honored Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel with a service on Friday, Jan. 18. Special guest the Rev. Mariama White-Hammond gave a rousing and thoughtful talk. Rabbi Caryn Broitman led the service, which featured Eric Johnson’s fine guitar playing.
Rabbi Heschel was a scholar, philosopher, and a friend of M.L.K. who marched with him in Selma in 1965. Rabbi Broitman reminded us later of one of Rabbi Heschel’s profound statements about Dr. King: “Martin Luther King is a sign that God has not forsaken the United States of America.”
We were welcomed by Rabbi Broitman, who explained that Herb Foster came up with the idea for the service decades ago, and the Hebrew Center’s social action committee carries on the tradition today. Between the singing, the clapping, and the recitation of some excerpts of M.L.K.’s most moving writing, it was a very memorable service. After lighting the Shabbat candles, we sang “This Little Light of Mine,” and later, “Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me Around,” and “We Shall Overcome” at the conclusion of the service. Just singing songs that bring the civil rights era to mind is enough to get me inspired.
In one of the first readings, Michelle Jasny quoted Rabbi Heschel: “The liturgical movement must become a revolutionary movement, seeking to overthrow the forces that continue to destroy the promise, the hope, the vision.” Putting liturgy and revolution in the same sentence doesn’t happen all that often, I thought, but how true that statement sounds.
Oak Bluffs Police Chief Erik Blake, who is also the president of the Martha’s Vineyard branch of the NAACP, read an excerpt from King’s “Remaining Awake Through a Great Revolution.” The first sentence is almost eerie, because it’s as if he were writing for this moment in time as well as for 1968: “Through our scientific and technological genius, we have made of this world a neighborhood and yet … we have not had the ethical commitment to make of it a brotherhood.”
The Rev. Chip Seadale, rector of St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Edgartown, read his excerpt from King written in 1957: “Stand up for justice. Sometimes it gets hard, but it is always difficult to get out of Egypt, for the Red Sea always stands before you with discouraging dimensions.” You could feel the conviction and power of the words come through in Seadale’s voice.
Between the readings and the prayers, Pastor White-Hammond spoke in the nearly filled Hebrew Center. Hammond-White, who has a long history of activism, was ordained an elder in the African Methodist Episcopal Church in 2017, and in the spring of 2018 received an appointment to pastor a new church. She is working with a multiracial, multi-class team of leaders to build a church focused on reaching those who have been alienated by traditional church. You might remember that she was the emcee for both the Boston Women’s March and Boston People’s Climate Mobilization.
Hammond-White opened by explaining that she’s known Rabbi Broitman since she was a little girl; her parents were tutors at Harvard, where Rabbi Broitman studied. She explained that both her parents are preachers, and she had “planned to avoid it,” but her faith grew stronger, even in adversity. She said she practiced “full-bodied spirituality,” and invited everyone to feel free to “act in the moment” while she preached.
She spoke about 1 Kings: Ch. 21 in the Bible, where Ahab, a wealthy king, wants to take possession of Nahab’s vineyard, but Nahab refuses to give him the inheritance of his ancestors, which ultimately results in Nahab being stoned to death. Ahab’s greed and drive for power provide a cautionary tale for us today, Pastor Hammond-White said. She spoke about a “fuzzy line between want and need,” and the “spirit of entitled consumption” that seems to prevail today. She said she’s noticed gentrification in the neighborhoods around Boston, where local pizza shops are replaced by more upscale shops, and that Christmas has become about worshipping goods instead of God. She brought up our fossil fuel addiction, and our indifference about white supremacy until something like Charlottesville happens.
It was preaching that made you think, long after you left the Hebrew Center.
I have an invite to go to St. Augustine’s Church this week, where I’ll watch a documentary film, “Apparition Hill,” about some children in a little village in Yugoslavia — Medjugorje — who claimed to have seen the Virgin Mary. Years ago, I heard one of them speak at church in Fulton, N.Y., and am ashamed to say that I can’t remember what he said, so this will be good for me. Good Shepherd Parish is planning a pilgrimage to Medjugorje, so the film will be a good way to get familiar with story. Because there are claims that the apparitions still happen on a regular basis, the Vatican has begun to study the situation. I never like to weigh in on matters of belief, because you never know in the end, and one of the things I say over and over to myself is, “With God, all things are possible,” so who knows?
The Neighborhood Convention gathers on Tuesday, Feb. 5, at 11 am at the Unitarian Universalist Church in Vineyard Haven. The talk is titled, “Island Grown Initiative: Roots, Shoots, and Fruits,” with presenters Jamie O’Gorman and Marie Ambrose. The presentation is free, and bring a bag lunch; drinks are provided by the host church.
The contemporary Christian rock band Carrollton plays at the Katharine Cornell Theater on Friday, Feb. 1, at 7 pm. Their popular song “Made for This” has played on television during NFL playoff games, so you might recognize them.
Tickets for the Vineyard show are $17 each for general admission online, or $22 at the door on the day of the concert. You can also purchase VIP tickets for a meet and greet with the band at 5:30 pm for $27 each. Tickets are available at thelighthouseevents.com/show/carrollton. For more information, call Lisa at 508-560-3678.