Martin Luther King: Never more Us and Them

We, members of Clergy and Laymen Concerned about Vietnam, rallied around Martin Luther King at the Military Cemetery of Arlington. A court decision issued at the last minute prevented us from uttering prayers, or giving sermons.

Martin Luther King opened the long deafening silence with the simple words “Let us pray”, and Rabbi Abraham Heschel concluded with “Ameen”. Christians holding crosses, and Jews carrying a Tora stood side by side in this impressive wordless protest against the bombings.

Earlier that day, the sixth of February 1968, King spoke at the Presbyterian Church. His theme was taken from the prophet Amos, Ch. 5:14 – “Justice shall stream as a mighty river”.
His concluding words - which I quote from memory - haunt me today:

“People try to push me into a corner by saying that my concern is only with the blacks, but my concern is also with the whites.
By saying that my concern is only with the weak and powerless, but my concern is also with the strong who struggle with their power.
People are trying to push me in one isolated corner so that they can kill me.”

My admiration and compassion for this modern prophet was diverted when I suddenly realized that I lost a small book of poems. This anthology, containing pleas for peace expressed by soldiers who had fought in the trenches of the First World War, was very precious to me: a child survivor of the Shoa, whose life had been preserved by pious, courageous Christians, now a recently ordained Rabbi, postgraduate at the Reform Rabbinic Seminary in Cincinnati. 
Their appeal was a continuous call to fight indifference.

I opened at random a door of a large public room in search of my book. My attention was drawn by a bookcase at the left corner. I kneeled down to rummage among the books and papers.
Suddenly the door opened at my side, and Dr Martin Luther King entered. Looking at me he remarked “Young man, you must have lost something”. “Yes, I lost a book of poems”. “Let me try to help you find it”.
He went on his knees next to me, looking through the piles for a thin blue book. We searched in silence for a while. He then rose up, and took his leave. “I am so sorry that we were unable to find it.” I uttered stunned words of thanks.

Two months later he was killed.

At the time of the inauguration of Barack Obama I had the feeling that I had found my book. Today, on Martin Luther King Memorial Day, I reflect upon King who has given us all a place in his dream. 
And so has Obama. During his years as president we, representatives of all nations, have written a courageous book* of commitments:

"To make an end to poverty and misery by the year 2030, and to protect the earth and the whole community of life."

"To break down, according to the vision of Martin Luther King, divisions between Us and Them."

We have to form a new coalition of clergy and lay women and men concerned about the future generations, to make sure that this book will never be lost.


Awraham Soetendorp
16 January 2017

UN Sustainable Development Goals

The Soetendorp Institute


Jacob Soetendorp Institute for Human Values
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