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11 Jewish Ways to Honor Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Yes, we may be a couple weeks into 2021, but the deep divides and need for change in the United States remains abundantly clear. That’s especially true since white supremacy reared its ugly head at the Capitol last week, making the fight for racial justice all the more urgent.

Monday, Jan. 18 is Martin Luther King Jr. Day, a holiday that celebrates the remarkable life and legacy of the Black civil rights leader. Schools are closed and many of us have the day off, too, so this annual day is a unique opportunity for American Jews to reflect on how we can help honor King’s legacy. From volunteer projects, to attending interfaith services, to honoring Black works of art and culture, there are so many actions that Jewish families can take to celebrate King — even during a pandemic. Here are 11 ways to honor Martin Luther King Jr. with your family this weekend, and beyond.

1. Listen to and honor MLK’s words

An important way to honor Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is to listen to his words firsthand. Our partner site, My Jewish Learning, is hosting an event in which Jewish leaders from across the country will read aloud King’s “Letter From a Birmingham Jail.” This free and educational event is at 1 p.m. on Monday. Learn more here.

2.  Look to Black Jewish creators

In the continued fight for racial justice, many of us have learned the importance of listening to and learning from Black creators. Within the Jewish community, there are so many Black Jewish creators on social media whose content and voices will enrich your feeds and your perspective. This is especially true for white Jewish allies: We must remember not to rely on our Black Jewish friends to educate us, but to listen to them, support them, and include them wholly in our Jewish communities. For some suggestions of Jews of Color to follow on social media, check out our article here.

3. Call Congress

Honoring King’s legacy involves the understanding that systemic racism continues to plague our country today. Take this day to remember your commitment to social justice and call your congressional representatives to advocate for policing reforms, reparations proposals, and the restoration of voting rights. To learn about the Jewish connection to these issues, and what to say when you call, visit the Religious Action Center’s page here.

4.  Attend an interfaith service with your family

Attending an interfaith service is a meaningful and moving way to honor MLK together, and for your kids to learn more about what this day looks like in a Black church community. There are many such events happening this weekend across the country, and the magic of Zoom means it’s possible to attend one that takes place just about anywhere! For example, on Saturday, January 16, you can virtually attend an MLK Havdalah at Detroit’s Downtown Synagogue with Pastor Aramis Hinds from Breakers Covenant Church International, in partnership with Detroit Moishe House. You can find a host of virtual opportunities with South Florida synagogues here, and the Conservative Adas Israel Congregation in Washington, D.C. is offering three days of programming, including an evening and morning service with the Peoples Church.

5. Volunteer as part of MLK Day of Service

King challenged us to imagine a better world and to work to heal the injustices we see in our own communities — in other words, to engage in the Jewish value of tikkun olam (repairing the world). Taking the day to do a pandemic-friendly service project in your own community is a tangible way to start modeling this value for your kids. The AmeriCorps website has made it easy to find a service opportunity near you. If you’re looking for a New York area opportunity, check out the MLK Day of Service hosted by Commonpoint Queens, including service projects from donating blood to delivering meals to the homebound elderly.

6. Empower your teens to use their voices

As so many of us have learned this year, our teens have powerful voices, and social media helps amplify them. J-Teen — a UJA-Federation program for high schoolers that I was once a part of — reminds teens they don’t have to wait until they are adults to start enacting change in their communities. Attend J-Teen’s virtual leadership panel, moderated by Rabbi Isaiah Rothstein, on Monday at 1 p.m., to discuss the fight for racial justice and how teens can take action.

7. Celebrate Black and Jewish culture

One way to fight for a more just world is to celebrate marginalized cultures with pride. “Soul to Soul,” a virtual musical performance on Sunday at 6 p.m. EST, is designed to “bring African American, Jewish, and Yiddish musical traditions to life at a time in our history when unity and purpose is more important than ever,” according to the National Yiddish Theater Folksbiene. In a moment in which our communities are hurting, our joy is radical and worth amplifying.

8. Talk honestly with your kids about what’s going on 

It’s a scary time to be Black and/or Jewish in this country. We owe it to our kids to be honest about what happened at the Capitol and the threat of white supremacy. It doesn’t have to be a perfect convo — this is an emotional subject for all of us and it’s OK for our kids to see that. One way to keep your conversation from becoming a total downer is to center the strength of our communities to overcome hatred. This remarkable article from the Washington Post, about how historically Black colleges helped Jewish refugees, is a great place to start.

9. Donate to Black organizations

Tzedakah, or giving charitably, is another core value of Judaism, and an apt way to honor King’s legacy. Organizations like The Bail Project, therapy funds like the Loveland Foundation, local community centers, and more need monetary support to keep helping Black constituents stay strong and supported in the fight for racial justice.

10. Read these diverse Jewish books

Reading books with your kids that include diverse characters is a wonderful way to celebrate difference and promote anti-racism. Here is a great list of books for kids of all ages that are perfect for MLK Day, and every day! From books for young children like Always an Olivia to young adult books like Black, White & Jewish, this list has something for everyone. In addition, check out our anti-racist reading list for children of all ages here.

11. Watch these diverse Jewish shows

Your kids absorb so much when they watch TV and movies. Like reading diverse books, kids will learn to celebrate difference if what they watch includes diverse and lovable characters. In honor of MLK Day — and moving forward, just regular days —  include some of these shows in your kids’ quarantine repertoire.

Header image by Stephen F. Somerstein/Getty Images

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