Hochul calls for allyship with Jews at Temple Beth-El MLK service

Hochul calls for allyship with Jews at Temple Beth-El MLK service
Gov. Kathy Hochul gives the keynote address at Temple Beth-El of Great Neck's annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day Shabbat service Friday. (Photo by Cameryn Oakes)

Fifty-seven years after Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s speech at Temple Beth-El of Great Neck, congregants gathered once again for the annual Shabbat service honoring his legacy and calling for the continued alliance with Jewish people amid antisemitism.

“I want people to stand together as one people as Dr. King would have expected to call out antisemitism,” said Gov. Kathy Hochul, who provided the keynote address during the service Friday night. “It is not that difficult. And as Dr. King said, ‘It is the right thing to do.’”

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. spoke at Temple Beth-El of Great Neck in 1967, which launched an annual tradition to dedicate the temple’s Shabbat service to the civil rights leader before every Jan. 14 holiday honoring his legacy.

“This event commemorates Dr. King’s historic 1967 speech here at Temple Beth-El and throughout the Black-Jewish dialogues that our communities have created decades ago to develop an understanding and to find common ground,” said Gary Slobin, temple president. “We quickly discovered that we have much more in common than we thought.”

Commonalities Slobin pointed out between the two groups are the importance of religion, God and family as well as their pursuit of social justice.

He called for the continued uniting of the Jewish people and people of color in order to prevent them from being “dragged backward into darker times.”

“Sadly there are forces in our society which strive to rip us apart,” Slobin said. “They do this because they know together we are strong, we are powerful and we can accomplish great things.”

Hochul said King’s speech at the temple 57 years ago is a “point of pride.” His speech topic that day is something that the governor said is still with the American people to this day.

King spoke of two Americas: one where people have the milk of prosperity and the honey of quality, and another facing despair and injustice.

She said this can be true of today, with seemingly two Americas and sometimes even two New Yorks. But with this disparity, the governor said she has focused on uplifting the oppressed communities to unite the two Americas into one.

“We are all called to talk about that, put a spotlight on that,” Hochul said. “But more than just talk, we can do something about it.”

The governor said she was raised in a Catholic family that supported social justice and the words of King and the Civil Rights Movement were an ever-present aspect of her childhood. She recounted the day she learned of his assassination, with tears in the eyes of her parents as they discussed how such an atrocity could occur.

“We prayed for our country,” Hochul said about her family upon learning the news of King’s death.

She said there was so much division and despair in the country at that time.

“A lot of people said ‘Our country, how can it possibly heal? We are so divided,’” Hochul said about the national mood in 1968. “So I think about today.”

Slobin called the recent rises in antisemitism an “unprecedented wave” and something that everyone needs to band together to combat.

Roger Tilles, the former temple president and current member of the New York State Education Department Board of Regents, applauded the governor for her support of the Jewish community in the wake of the Oct. 7 Hamas attacks, saying he was disappointed by the lack of support by fellow educators.

“We thank her for all the help that she is to Long Island,” Tilles said. “And we welcome her here on Long Island.”

The governor criticized the lack of support the Jewish community has received in the wake of the war in Israel.

“Where are the allies today who should be standing side by side with the Jewish people against antisemitism?” Hochul asked. “Where are they today?”

She said the Jewish people have been supportive of other notable social causes, including their role as prominent allies in the Civil Rights Movement.  She called for allies to stand alongside Jews today.

Hochul said the events of Oct. 7 in Israel had left her heart torn apart. She called for the release of the hostages after 100 days in captivity, including Long Island-born Omer Neutra.

“Where’s the moral outrage about this?” Hochul asked.

Yet despite the divisions she sees in the country today, the governor said she finds hope in the words of King that she quoted Friday night.

“The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice,” King once said.

But while it does bend towards justice, Hochul said it doesn’t do so on its own.

“It takes some people united together to bend it, to bend it and be united in that cause,” Hochul said. “And then we can band together during difficult times and come out even stronger, which I know we can do…then we will be worthy of the name the United States of America because that’s what Dr. King would have expected.”

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