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Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day

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Students throughout the Smithtown Central School District have been learning about the importance and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

At Mills Pond Elementary, Kimberly Passamonte’s second graders combined social studies, art and ELA to complete projects. They read and discussed the Scholastic News article, “The Story of a Speech,” which discussed King’s “I Have a Dream” speech. Students then wrote about his dream and connected it to a dream of their own. Students also received art materials to create his portrait.

 Kindergartners and first graders at Mt. Pleasant Elementary learned about the activist’s legacy by sharing what their dream for the world is and how they can be peacemakers.

At Smithtown Elementary, kindergarten students also discussed what their dreams would be, which included more family time and sharing. 

Finally, Nesaquake Middle School sixth grader Ava Rekus designed an MLK book recommendation bulletin board for the NMS Book Club this month.

Members of Bethel AME Church were welcomed at a special service honoring the life and legacy of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Pictured front row, third from left is Rev. Lisa Williams; back row, third from right is Rabbi Joshua Gray. Photo by Lloyd Newman

By Donna Newman 

A Friday night service at Temple Isaiah in Stony Brook honored the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in advance of the official Monday holiday. The congregants of the Bethel AME Church of Setauket, led by Reverend Lisa Williams were invited to join the celebration.

The Church members got to experience a complete Reform Jewish Friday night service in which Rev. Williams participated with two readings from the prayerbook “Mishkan Tefilah” and delivered a powerful sermon that combined the philosophy of MLK and references to the week’s portion of the Torah that Rabbi Gray read, “Parsha Va’Era.” (Exodus 6:3) Va’Era translates in English to “and I appeared”, the first word God speaks in the parsha.   

The service ended with a powerful rendition of the anthem “Rise Up” by Andra Day sung by Rabbi Gray and cantorial soloist Meghan Gray, accompanied on the piano by Dan Fogel. A fitting and emotive send-off to the “Oneg,” where there are refreshments, and time to meet and mingle.

The post-service refreshments and other aspects of the event were coordinated by Social Action Chair Iris Schiff and her committee.

“The service was so beautiful and poignant,” Schiff said. “It was one of those times you could feel that all who were present had full hearts and were surely enriched by the experience.”

After the service, Temple Board Member Andrea Barbakoff sat in conversation with some of the Bethel guests.

“The members of Bethel AME Church were all very friendly,” Barbakoff said, “and they were eager to learn more about us, about Judaism, and about our traditions.”

One guest was especially interested in Temple Isaiah’s Torahs, according to Barbakoff. It was mentioned that one is a Torah on loan that had been rescued during the Holocaust. Long-time temple member and local historian Mort Rosen was able to relate the scroll’s history and how it came to be at Temple Isaiah.

“Several guests, after asking if they could possibly schedule a time to come back and get a close up look,” said Barbakoff, “were grateful when Rabbi Gray graciously offered to take them back into the sanctuary, where he opened the scroll for them to view. It was definitely a moving experience for us all.”

Rabbi Joshua Gray has made interfaith connections an important part of his rabbinate. The Thanksgiving Interfaith Service was held at Temple Isaiah in November.

“Jewish efforts toward ‘tikkun olam’ (repairing the world) must start with coming together and confirming that we share common values and goals,” said Rabbi Gray, “and that we must work together to create the world we wish to inhabit.” In the immortal words of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.: “We must come to see that the end we seek is a society at peace with itself, a society that can live with its conscience.”

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Few individuals in American history have made an impact as sizable as Martin Luther King, Jr. King wore many hats throughout his tragically short life, from minister to activist to scholar, leaving behind a legacy that is worthy of celebration. Though King was assassinated before he even reached his fortieth birthday, his life was filled with many notable events. Many of those events positively affected, and continue to affect, the lives of millions of others. The Martin Luther King, Jr. Research and Education Institute at Stanford University notes that the following are some of the major events of King’s life.

• January 15, 1929: Now commemorated annually as Martin Luther King, Jr. Day (in 2023, the holiday is observed on Monday, January 16), January 15 marks the day King was born in 1929. King was born in Atlanta, where his father was a pastor at the Ebenezer church.

• September 20, 1944: Despite being only 15 years old, King begins his freshman year at Morehouse College. King was only a high school junior in 1944, but he was admitted to Morehouse, where his father studied for his ministerial degree, after passing the school’s entrance exam.

• August 6, 1946: King’s letter to the editor of The Atlanta Constitution is published. The letter reflects King’s belief that Black Americans are entitled to the same rights and opportunities as White Americans. King’s father later admitted this letter was the first time he and his wife recognized their son’s “developing greatness.”

• February 25, 1948: Following in his father’s footsteps, King is ordained and appointed assistant pastor at Ebenezer Baptist Church in his hometown of Atlanta.

• June 8, 1948: King earns his bachelor of arts degree in sociology from Morehouse College.

• May 6-8, 1951: King graduates from Crozer Theological Seminary in Chester, Pennsylvania. He delivers the valedictory address during the graduation ceremony.

• June 18, 1953: King marries Coretta Scott near the bride’s family home in Marion, Alabama. Coretta Scott King would also become a vocal activist, advocating for peace and gay rights and expressing her opposition to apartheid in the 1980s. She would not remarry after her husband’s assassination.

• June 5, 1955: King ears his doctorate in systematic theology from Boston University.

• December 5, 1955: King becomes president of the Montgomery Improvement Association after the organization is formed at the Holt Street Baptist Church. MIA is formed in response to the arrest of Rosa Parks five days earlier after she refused to vacate her seat for a white passenger.

• January 27, 1956: A threatening phone call late in the evening inspires King to carry on with his activism.

• January 30, 1956: King’s home is bombed while he is elsewhere delivering a speech. His wife and daughter are not injured in the blast.

• January 10-11, 1957: King is named chairman of what becomes the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), which was an organization of southern black ministers working together to combat segregation.

• June 23, 1958: King and other leaders meet with U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower in Washington, D.C.

• September 17, 1958: Stride Toward Freedom: The Montgomery Story is published. It is King’s first book.

• September 20, 1958: King survives a stabbing during a book signing in Harlem, New York. During a surgery after the stabbing, doctors remove a seven-inch letter opener from King’s chest.

• April 16, 1963: King writes his “Letter from Birmingham Jail” in response to criticisms of the Birmingham Campaign, a collective effort on the part of the SCLC and the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights (ACMHR) to combat segregation in the Alabama city. The letter becomes one of King’s most famous writings.

• August 28, 1963: King delivers his “I Have a Dream” speech during the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.

• January 3, 1964: King is named “Man of the Year” by Time magazine.

December 10, 1964: King receives the Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo, Norway.

• March 17-25, 1965: King helps to lead civil rights marchers from Selma to Montgomery.

• June 7, 1966: King and other leaders resume James Meredith’s “March Against Fear” from Memphis to Jackson, Mississippi. Meredith was unable to continue after he was shot and wounded.

• April 3, 1968: King delivers his final speech, “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop,” as he returns to Memphis to lead a peaceful march of striking sanitation workers.

• April 4, 1968: King is shot and killed on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis. He is buried in Atlanta five days later.