SPRINGFIELD, NJ – A few days after his 34th birthday, a Baptist minister and the president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) was invited to deliver the Friday night Shabbat sermon to the Jewish congregation of Temple Sha’arey Shalom in Springfield, New Jersey.

The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., a civil rights leader in the 1960’s, was the guest speaker at the regular Shabbat evening service on Friday, Jan. 18, 1963.

Dr. King had lectured in many Jewish Synagogues throughout the country prior to coming to Springfield, but this was the first occasion that he spoke during a regular Jewish worship service. King was on a lecture tour on behalf of the SCLC and his coming to Springfield attracted such a large crowd that the doors had to be closed shortly after 8 p.m. and hundreds of people were turned away on the cool and clear evening. The sanctuary was packed with attendees to the point where they were lined up against the walls inside and the standing room only area in the rear was filled to capacity.

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Rabbi Israel S. Dresner, Temple Sha’arey Shalom’s first full-time Rabbi, officiated the Sabbat service and introduced Dr. King to his congregation following the chanting of the Kiddush, the blessing over the wine, by the temple’s chazzan.

Dr. King finally spoke around 8:45 p.m. on the subject of, “The Religious Roots of the Movement to Win Negro Freedom in America Today.” His message delivered as the sermon for the Friday evening’s services traced the history of segregation and the part being played by the SCLC in the  "attempt to eliminate the evil,'' as King was quoted at the time. Dr. King emphasized the importance of non-violence in achieving results and stated, “…that we will not fight to retaliate. We are against both black or white supremacy.”   

Based upon notes taken at the time on King’s sermon, it appears that much of it is similar to a speech he gave in 1956 titled "The Birth of a New Age." In it, King reflects on the experiences of African Americans in this country from the earliest days of colonial history to present times.

Return of King

Dr. King returned to Springfield in the spring of 1966 to make a second speech at Temple Sha'arey Shalom. Due to the overwhelming response by those who wanted to attend and in order to accommodate the large crowd, the venue was changed from the temple’s sanctuary to the auditorium of the Jonathan Dayton Regional High School. By this time, the famous march in Selma, Alabama had occurred in December of 1964. Earlier, the march on Washington in December of 1963, where King delivered his famous, “I Have a Dream,” speech and in 1964, King was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

The Rabbi

Rabbi Dresner was one of the most active Jewish religious leaders in the country during the 60’s civil rights movement. King spoke to the congregation that day because he was very close friends with Dresner and was one of King's most trusted interfaith advisors. They first met a few years early and became close friends. Dresner once held the auspicious title of as "the most arrested Rabbi in America.”

The children of Rabbi Dresner, Avi and Tamar, are attempting to produce a feature-length documentary film entitled, "The Rabbi and The Reverend,” about their father’s involvement in the civil rights movement and his friendship with Dr. Martin Luther King.

Once known as The Most Arrested Rabbi in America and still The Most Jailed Rabbi in America, their father was a civil rights activist and a personal friend of Reverend Martin Luther King Jr.  Watch a short video of Rabbi Dresner reading a synopsis of the film they want to make.

The projected total cost of the film is $250,000 however, they are currently seeking to raise $75,000 to fund the initial phase of the documentary. All donations are graciously accepted at:

Fund The Rabbi and the Reverend

Observance

The Springfield interfaith Clergy Council held the annual Martin Luther King Day Vigil for Peace and Understanding at Town Hall on January 21, 2019