Issuing a fervent plea to “hear the rousing call to action to do more” to complete the unfinished task of securing universal freedom, Rabbi Capers Funnye paid tribute to and invoked the message of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. at an interfaith gathering Jan. 16 at Congregation Ahavas Sholom in Newark.
Funnye was the keynote speaker at “Dr. Martin Luther King and Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel: Awakening New Dreamers — On Race, Religion, and the Renewal of King’s Dream for the 21st Century,” held at Newark’s oldest continuously operating synagogue.
Funnye is the leader of the Beth Shalom B’nai Zaken Ethiopian Hebrew Congregation in Chicago — and is a cousin of Michelle Obama. He sits on the Chicago Board of Rabbis and has spent years involved in efforts to bridge the racial and ethnic divides both within Judaism and between Jews and other communities.
Funnye spoke about the historic relationship between King and Heschel, the Warsaw-born rabbi and leading Jewish theologian and philosopher. In referring to the iconic photo of the rabbi marching with King in the 1965 Selma Civil Rights March, Funnye reminded the gathering that Heschel later wrote, “When I marched in Selma, my feet were praying.”
Claiming that “the task is not complete” in the struggle for freedom in today’s United States, Funnye told listeners to respond, “Here I am; send me” on the path to becoming “new dreamers in the pursuit of justice and full inclusion.”
Supported by dozens of community partners, the Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebration also featured singer Doris Kemp and the Robert Treat Academy Choir. Ahavas Sholom’s religious leader, Rabbi Simon Rosenbach, and president, Eric Freedman, took part, along with Rabbi Zechariah Lewi and the Rev. Reginald T. Jackson.
Special guests included Newark City Council president Donald M. Payne Jr.; the “Ambassador of Service Award” was given to community activist Junius W. Williams.
A panel discussion, “Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community,” featured, along with Funnye, Clement Price, professor of history and director of the Institute on Ethnicity, Culture, and the Modern Experience at Rutgers University-Newark; Cornell William Brooks, executive director of the NJ Institute for Social Justice; and moderator Max Herman, assistant professor of sociology at NJ City University and president of the board of the Jewish Museum of New Jersey, which is housed in Ahavas Sholom.