By Reverend Dr. Terris King and Rabbi Mitchell Wohlberg
Rodney King went into the history books when, during the Los Angeles riots of 1992, he said, “Can’t we all get along?” It sounds so simple, and yet it continues to be so difficult.
Amidst the ongoing conflicts in our country between the alt-right and the radical left, between Republicans and Democrats, recent events in New York and New Jersey have reminded us that divisions remain between blacks and whites, Jews and African Americans.
This week’s Torah portion, Shemot, shows us how quickly allies can become adversaries. When we are told “and a new king arose who knew not Joseph.” Once we do not know each other, anything can happen.
Over the past two years, the members of Pikesville’s Beth Tfiloh Congregation and Ashburton’s Liberty Grace Church, have not just gotten to know each other, but have learned from each other and formed warm friendships along the way. Ashburton and Pikesville are in two different worlds, but the reality is, we are next-door neighbors. There are no barriers separating Baltimore City and Baltimore County; the only barriers are the ones we establish in our hearts. We have discovered that getting to know each other not only brings us closer, but helps us to learn from each other, to better understand each other’s lived experiences, and even to better understand ourselves. This is not about government handouts, political victories, or leaders looking to make a name for themselves. This is about getting to know each other one by one by one. And after a while, it starts to add up.
Whether celebrating the impact Liberty Grace Church’s Safety, Health, and Education (S.H.E.) initiative has had on West Baltimore, thanks to the support of Beth Tfiloh staff and volunteers, or uniting to share Shabbat celebrations at Beth Tfiloh, where members of both congregations discussed working together to improve Baltimore while sharing the foods of both cultures and forging friendships, this partnership continues to bring out the best in each other.
This Shabbat, we will join together once more for our second annual Unity Shabbat. There, we will honor the memory of Martin Luther King, Jr. through inspiring words and uplifting song, while connecting to one another on a personal level. Remembering Martin Luther King, Jr. should remind us of the words he spoke to the American Jewish Committee convention in 1958: My people were brought to America in chains. Your people were driven here to escape the chains fashioned for them in Europe. Our unity is born of our common struggle for centuries, not only to rid ourselves of bondage, but to make oppression of any people by others an impossibility.
Our congregations’ unity endeavors to realize King’s mandate — to make oppression of any people an impossibility. And we believe whole-heartedly that this union can be replicated by other communities of faith. By focusing on the shared values that unite us, rather than falling prey to the fears and misconceptions that threaten to divide us, we are building a stronger, healthier Baltimore for all. We invite the entire community to join us this Shabbat at Beth Tfiloh Congregation in fulfilling this holy mission.
Rev. King is the senior pastor of the Liberty Grace Church of God in Ashburton and founder of the Grace Foundation. Rabbi Wohlberg is the rabbi of the Beth Tfiloh Congregation and Dean of the Beth Tfiloh Dahan Community School in Pikesville.