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Rabbi Lyon's Blog - 01_24_2014
01/24/2014 07:00 AM Posted by:

From the Desk of Rabbi David Lyon
January 24, 2014

 

This past week I was in Memphis, Tennessee. It was our annual regional conference for Reform rabbis of the southwest region known as SWARR (Southwest Association of Reform Rabbis). Memphis proved to be a poignant place to meet. We gathered just a day after Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. Though we missed the speeches and major gatherings, we didn’t miss the distinction that Memphis has as a place in which civil rights were challenged and defined.

            My colleague, Rabbi Micah Greenstein, was our local host though we stayed and held most of our meetings at The Peabody Hotel. The historic hotel proved to be a magnificent location and a perfect center from which to enjoy Memphis at its best. The March of the Ducks was especially entertaining between study sessions. Imagine the march of reform rabbis to the lobby to watch the historic march of the ducks. With much fanfare the Duck Master explained the history and described what we would see. In red coat and staff in hand, he walked the red carpet to the elevators to retrieve the ducks. We watched as the elevator numbers went up and then down. As the doors opened in the lobby, the ducks marched out onto the red carpet and waddled their way straight to the fountain. They were at home in the fountain water much more than they were on the red carpet. We applauded and enjoyed being part of a small moment in Memphis history.

            At Temple Israel, Rabbi Greenstein and his lay leadership welcomed us into their beautiful synagogue building, led us in evening worship, and invited us to a delicious dinner. We felt as much at home there as we do in our own synagogues. On our last day, Rabbi Greenstein met us at the National Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Hotel, the site where Dr. King was assassinated. Rabbi Greenstein, who has served on their Board for 20 years, introduced the movie “Witness” which we watched in rapt attention. Witnesses to the era and the assassination spoke to us in the movie about those days and what they meant and continue to mean. From there we walked to the museum which is housed in the building from which James Earl Ray fired the fatal shot that would take down the man but not the dream. Finally, we made our way across the street, as if following the trajectory of that shot, to the balcony where Dr. King, himself, stood on that fateful day. We climbed the stairs and looked through the window to view the room where he and his colleagues stayed and talked before they exited the room for the balcony. It was beyond eerie; it was beyond words to describe how it felt to stand there, looking over the balcony just as he did. What could one say? Rabbi Rick Block, President of the CCAR, who joined us for the conference, suggested that we recite Kaddish. Together, Reform rabbis who treasure the legacy of Dr. King and our own colleagues who, in their day, marched with Dr. King and stood for the rights of all men and women, recited Kaddish on the balcony outside Room 306 at the Lorraine Hotel.

            I returned home late Thursday evening. I reflected on the week that passed and the conference I shared with my colleagues. Turning to the Torah this Shabbat, we pick up where we left off in Exodus; such a poignant juxtaposition to the experiences we had in Memphis. The journey from slavery to freedom was captured in King’s final speech called the “Mountain Top Speech”. In it he said, “And, He's allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I've looked over. And I've seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people will get to the promised land.”

On that night, King was prophetic; for it wasn’t long after that he was slain. Let us continue to dream and follow the road that Dr. King paved for us to build a nation and a world where all people can be free, free to build a future of peace between people.

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