HAMDEN — Archbishop Leonard P. Blair joined 20 religious leaders and clergy Jan. 13 for the sixth annual interfaith service paying tribute to the legacy of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. at Congregation Mishkan Israel, where the civil rights leader spoke 56 years ago.
“Any occasion that brings people together in mutual dialogue is something we should always support,” said Archbishop Blair, who gave the benediction for the gathering. “It’s a chance for us to come together in a spirit of peace and non-violence.”
He was joined by Auxiliary Bishop Emeritus Peter A. Rosazza, who offered a peace prayer during the opening moments of the service and recalled Dr. King’s dream of bringing people together.
“He knew that each person deserves respect … each life is of inestimable value,” Bishop Rosazza said.
The guest speaker was Stephen B. Bright, professor at the Yale University Law School and president and senior counsel at the Southern Center for Human Rights, who used the occasion to address the political turmoil that has resulted from the presidential campaign and election.
Bright, who praised the legacy of Dr. King, told the standing-room-only gathering, “Now what he fought for is in jeopardy.” He urged the congregation to speak out about such societal problems as a court system in need of reform, restrictive voting rights and bias against refugees.
Noting that “silence always helps the oppressor,” he encouraged his audience to speak out against injustice. “We always need to ask, ‘Could we be doing more?’” he said.
“Let us recommit … to open our eyes, ears and hearts to the needs of others so we can make this a better world,” said Bright.
Rabbi Herbert Brockman, who organized the annual event, event, said, “Our future is unclear,” he said. “There is so much negativity in the way people talk today…so much anger and fear. We need to care for each other and take care of each other.”
The service included hymns from an interfaith choir, a performance by the Davis School Children’s Choir and a performance of “Deep River” by Tiffany Jackson.
Congregation Mishkan Israel also welcomed 10 homeless guests, who were being housed by the Congregation from Jan 9-16 through the Abraham’s Tent program.
Also attending the service from the Archdiocese of Hartford were Father George S. Mukuka, judicial vicar pro tem on the metropolitan tribunal; and Father Timothy Meehan, who resides at St. Bernadette Parish in New Haven.
Father Meehan told the Catholic Transcript magazine that he was just feet away from Dr. King when he delivered his iconic “I Have a Dream” speech at the March on Washington in 1963, and later was part of the Selma to Montgomery March in 1965.
The legacy of Dr. King at Congregation Mishkan Israel dates back to Oct. 21, 1960, when he was invited to dedicate the community’s new synagogue. However, two days before he was to speak, Dr. King was arrested. The following year, the community invited the civil rights leader to be its guest preacher on Oct. 20, 1961.
To preserve his attendance as an historic moment, Congregation Mishkan Israel initiated the annual service following Dr. King’s assassination in 1968. Six years ago, the event became an interfaith service with invitations extended to faith leaders from Jewish, Catholic, Christian, Muslim, Baha'i, Unitarian Universalist, Quaker and other traditions.
A reform synagogue, Congregation Mishkan Israel is the 14th oldest Jewish congregation in the United States, and the oldest continuously operating one in New England.