Following the killing of George Floyd, 2020-2021 LEAP Fellow Rabbi Nate Crane of Beth Hillel Bnai Emunah, Wilmette, Illinois, joined a National Partnership of seven synagogues from around the country to come together for an interfaith program of healing and consolation.
For the 2021 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day interfaith program, Rabbi Crane reached out to his partners and proposed that the program focus on the texts that inspired Dr. King and the words that move us all.
“The focus of the national program was on how our shared textual traditions move us to action. Importantly, recognizing how our diverse backgrounds, communities, and missions can align to further equity and justice. This year’s LEAP theme, America’s Jewish Questions, heavily influenced our approach to exploring and embracing our personal and communal American religious experiences,” stated Rabbi Crane. LEAP, which stands for Leverage, Expand, And Popularize, is a Clal fellowship held in conjunction with The Herbert D. Katz Center for Advanced Judaic Studies at the University of Pennsylvania.
Rabbi Crane said that “Our LEAP Fellowship conversations, connections, and learning provided a valuable framework to explore these concepts throughout the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day program.”
Meeting Rabbi Debra Bowen, also a LEAP 2020-2021 fellow, enlarged the potential for the program. Rabbi Crane invited her to be a keynote speaker at the program, as well as present a video performance of the Temple’s choir. The rabbi of Congregation Temple Beth’El, she leads a majority African American synagogue in Philadelphia, PA.
“The goal was unity, coming together for a common cause. Dr. King was a man of peace,” Rabbi Bowen said. “This year’s LEAP theme, America’s Jewish Questions, includes ideas and teachings that would have amplified the effect Dr. King had, not only on Jews but all peoples; and Jews of color have a unique perspective on the American Jewish experience. Who knows what would have happened between Dr. King and the Jewish community had he not been assassinated?”
The program was attended virtually by well over 200 households. In her D’var Torah, Rabbi Bowen spoke, “Today as we assess the current unrest in our country, the civil disobedience, the obvious total disregard for the tenets of our constitution, the open threats to our democracy, perhaps we should stop and ask ourselves, ‘What would Martin Luther King do?'”
In Rabbi Bowen’s 6:00 am prayer group the following morning, where people from around the world attend, the program was the topic of discussion. Participants said they were pulled together in thought and belief for the need for peace during this time of dissension and that Dr. King personified this.
“The LEAP fellowship truly led to the success of this program. This national evening of partnership and memory is but one example of the great possibilities the LEAP Fellowship experience provides,” said Rabbi Crane.
Rabbi Bowen said, “This year because the cohort is meeting virtually, we miss the ability to establish rapport by meeting face to face, yet meeting virtually allows us to establish a rapport in a different way, including learning together with and from other fellows in beit midrash sessions. Rabbi Crane and I spent several hours speaking during the planning stages for this program.”
Rabbi Crane said that coming together for this program further motivated him and his community in Chicago to continue connecting with diverse communities from across the nation. “We gained a new perspective on the American Jewish experience, including how each unique community, clergy member, and leader form the beautiful fabric of our American Jewish tapestry. Additionally, I’m blessed to have a colleague and friend in Rabbi Bowen, with whom I look forward to partnering again in the future. I also look forward to partnering with our other wonderful colleagues from the LEAP Fellowship.”
Rabbi Bowen stated that “As Jews, we are encouraged to ask questions; we spend our lives asking questions.”
Janet R. Kirchheimer is the author of “How to Spot One of Us,” poems about her family and the Shoah. Her work has appeared in a wide range of journals and on line. Mostly recently, work appears in the anthology “The Poets Quest for God.” She is currently producing “AFTER,” a cinematic documentary exploring poetry written about the Holocaust then and now. A Teaching Fellow at Clal, Janet speaks on a wide range of subjects including early American Jewish History.