Thoughts on MLK Day from a recent volunteer, Chaplain Matthew Shulman:
Though I can picture you all sitting around your tables at home enjoying Shabbat dinner and conversation, here it’s still several hours before candle-lighting.
Though I have written to some of you, there are others to whom I’ve not yet communicated my thanks and appreciation for the hospitality and support you shared in so many ways. Pleased be assured that if I’ve not yet written that I will; I’m still adjusting and things take time.
When asked to describe the impact of our long walk and the three months in Tzfat, I find myself hesitating. I do not lack the words to describe the “things” I saw nor the people’s generosity of spirit throughout the 7+ months of the trip. But there is something ephemeral (though no less real) also going on. I simply do not yet (if I ever will) precisely know how each of you contributed to the changes that I feel. So… while it may take me a while to find the words to write, please be assured how much I value even that which I cannot measure or describe.
Monday will be Martin Luther King’s birthday — a very important day in America’s national life ~~ an advancement of justice that would not have been possible to accomplish without the heritage of Torah that guided him. I had the privilege of meeting him once. He’d never have remembered me; I was just one of tens of thousands of young folks motivated to make the tiniest of contributions. But I remember him.
When he entered the polling place where several of us poll-watchers had noticed irregularities (isn’t that a sweet word for seeing folks come in to vote multiple times), I hardly recognized him. I’d always seen photos of an imposing personality, but here was this short, slightly-overweight unimpressive looking man in a rumpled dark suit. Unimpressive, that is, until he began to circle the room and quietly greet the very election workers who had tolerated the ballot-box stuffing. No recriminations. No charges. No threats. A smile, a handshake, and a quiet word thanking each poll official for supporting the values of fairness and justice at the polls. And then he was gone…… And the school basement polling station was silent and in awe.
That was a transformational moment in my understanding how to conduct oneself. And while I can’t point to a single moment along the walk or in Tzfat that individually energized my spirit in such a way, in aggregate each of your interactions with me contributed to what I hope will be a continuing transformation to ends I can’t yet anticipate.
So, attached is my little word of Torah for MLK’s coming birthday celebration written for an interfaith audience. And may the justice and kindnesses of those who came before us help us, for the sake of heaven, achieve our potential is this world.
With respect and thanks,