On February 11, 2018, Temple Beth-El’s Social Action Committee and the Dona Ana County Branch of the NAACP co-sponsored the presentation of a recording of a speech delivered by The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on March 12, 1961 at Temple Emanuel in Worcester, Massachusetts.
Rabbi Joseph Klein was serving that congregation at that time (as he did for nearly 30 years). He had kept a tape recording of the speech, which he brought with him when he served as rabbi of Temple Beth-El in Las Cruces beginning in 1977. Before he left Las Cruces, when his time here concluded, he presented congregant Frances Williams with a copy of the recording.
What those gathered at Temple on February 11 heard was an enhanced version of the recording, with images added by Dr. Bobbie Green of New Mexico State University. The event included songs performed by the NMSU Gospel Choir and a panel discussion.
Hearing Dr. King’s words in his own voice strongly resonated with us, with many of his statements offering a commentary on the issues of his time that could be applied to our time in 2018.
One paragraph of his speech touched us all, as we, all too often, fail to engage in respectful conversation and communal connection: “For too often in the South, we find ourselves seeking to live in monologue rather than dialogue. No greater tragedy can befall a community than this tragedy of seeking to live in monologue. Men hate each other often because they fear each other. They fear each other because they don’t know each other and they don’t know each other because they can’t communicate with each other. They can’t communicate with each other because they are separated from each other.”
As we have just marked 50 years since the assassination of Dr.King, his sentiments come down to us as a challenge to talk, to listen, to interact, and to get to know one another.
We can, and do, create programs and events that enable us to learn about each other’s background and culture or to gather for common celebrations in which we all can share.
Temple Beth-El’s Jewish Food and Folk Festival on April 15, now in its fifth year,
provides one such opportunity to gain new knowledge and to enjoy the tastes, sights and sounds that are the hallmark of one of the groups in Las Cruces.
There are many other events that take place in our city and county that can bring us closer. Music, musical theater, drama, dance, lectures, and a variety of themed festivals offer us more than entertainment and edification. They give us a chance to be in the same place for the same purpose.
That is the beginning to what Dr. King urged us to do: to make connections with each other that will lead to thoughtful conversation, dialogue and, hopefully, a newfound mutual understanding.
May we continue to make that happen in Las Cruces and beyond.