“MLK: Letter from a Birmingham City Jail” Beit Midrash

Regrettably I did not have time to correctly identify the images I used in this PowToon.

The following “text sheet” contains more expanded versions of some of the quotes/commentaries from the PowToon. I am grateful to Rabbi Peter Berg, Rabbi Brad Levenberg, Rabbi Jan Katzew, and Rabbi Michael Shire for their contributions. Rabbi Katzew and Rabbi Shire’s quotes aren’t in the PowToon because they were a bit beyond what I thought our Middle School students could tackle in the short time we had for this lesson!

I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.

–      Martin Luther King Jr. Letter from a Birmingham Jail

Rabbi Peter Berg from The Temple in Atlanta writes:

Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere…The Torah teaches lo tuchal l’hitaleim – you shall not remain indifferent.  Literally translated it means do not hide yourself.  Our Jewish values teach us to face the world head on, to engage in study and moral debate, to raise questions about the world and about ourselves, to enhance life, and to struggle to repair that which is broken an incomplete.


Rabbi Levenberg from Temple Sinai in Atlanta writes:

Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere… Jewish tradition compels us to protect the poorest, weakest and most vulnerable among us.  Among us… among us.  That’s the challenge, is it not?  There are those who firmly believe that we must care for the Jews first and, if we have time and resources, to care for others.  I disagree.  As long as anyone is homeless, we can be homeless.  As long as anyone is hungry, we can go hungry.  And as long as anyone is subject to another’s ill treatment, we need only look at our tragic history to realize that, in fact, Jewish tradition compels us to protect the poor, the weak and the vulnerable.  Everywhere.

Rabbi Michael Shire from Hebrew College writes:

I just watched the movie ‘Mandela; Long Walk to Freedom’ and was struck that Nelson Mandela was in prison throughout the time that Martin Luther King was also fighting for civil rights. I don’t know if they corresponded or knew about each other but how fascinating to compare the situations of the two men. One, starting an epic struggle of a black majority violently fighting against an apartheid Government and military that was increasingly vulnerable to world wide condemnation. The other, bringing to an end 100 years of a process of Black emancipation in a society built on the values of equality and universal suffrage. It is definitely the case that there was ‘a network of mutuality’ where the nature of just being of a black colour demanded a new perception by others and by blacks. People of colour had been considered inferior, infantile, slovenly, ignorant and lazy. In South Africa, it took the nobility of men like Nelson Mandela and Steve Biko (murdered in prison) to demonstrate that blackness was nothing to do with character. In fact they had also to prove it to their own people that had so long been downtrodden. Steve Biko’s work on ‘black consciousness’ echoed a similar attempt by Theodore Herzl to do the same thing for the Jewish People. In his writings about early Zionism, Herzl declared that the Jews were proper and fit to have their own land like any other people. At the time, this was considered inconceivable by most people including Jews themselves. Jews were  considered inferior, miserly, dirty and shifty. What does it take for a people to learn not only that they can be free but that all deserve to be free? At Pesach we say, if not all are free, then none are free’. Do we have responsibility for the freedom of other peoples? And for their self-worth as well?

Rabbi Jan Katzew from Hebrew Union College- Jewish Institute of Religion writes:

“I cannot sit idly by” – ‘לא תעמוד על דם רעיך אני ה
– Leviticus 19:16 – You shall not stand by the blood of your neighbor; I am Adonai. Martin Luther King’s words echoed a מצוה, and not just any מצוה, but one embedded in the very heart of Torah, the Holiness Code. Standing idly by would be a sin, and not just in the eyes of Martin, but also in the eyes of God. Elie Wiesel noted that rather than use the word אחיך – your brothers, Torah teaches רעיך – your neighbors, thereby making the מצוה apply to humanity as
a whole rather than to a particular family or people. Finally, the words אני ה – make it clear that this מצוה to confront the oppression of any person or people not only involves human dignity and compassion but also divine dignity and compassion.

Rabbi Micah Lapidus from The Davis Academy writes:”It’s not enough for a Jewish person to be smart. It’s not enough to be talented or successful. It’s not enough to be HAPPY. A Jew needs to be righteous. We need to do the RIGHT thing, the HARD thing, the JUST thing.”

Drew Frank from The Davis Academy shared the following quote from Haim Ginott: “I am a survivor of a concentration camp. My eyes saw what no person should witness. Gas chambers built by learned engineers. Children poisoned by educated physicians. Infants killed by trained nurses. Women and babies shot and burned by high school and college graduates.

So I am suspicious of education. My request is: help your students become more human. Your efforts must never produce learned monsters, skilled psychopaths, or educated Eichmanns. Reading, writing, and arithmetic are important only if they serve to make our children more human.”

Giving Thanks for Jewish Education


As Thanksgiving approaches our calendars give us all an additional cause to pause and reflect on life’s blessings. One blessing, for which I feel truly fortunate, is that my life’s work is Jewish education. Not only do I feel blessed to be a Jewish educator, but I feel exceptionally blessed to be a Jewish educator at The Davis Academy. In the months that follow I hope to carve out time to reflect on the overwhelming abundance of blessings I encounter on a daily and weekly basis here at Davis. In the meantime I’ll focus on three—the first three that come to mind.



A learning community. There may be no greater blessing than to be a part of a learning community. Every constituency at Davis is committed to learning. We see the transformative impact of learning not only in our children, but in our families, and our faculty as well. The power of a learning community is that each person is granted the permission to be honest and vulnerable. While we may have great expertise, insight, and wisdom, we can say with honesty and integrity that we are not fully formed and that our own learning journeys are far from over. Instead of creating a dichotomy that places teachers and learners on opposite sides of the table, the Davis Academy creates an environment where everyone is simultaneously a teacher and a learner. At Davis, teachers, administrators, and parents share the responsibility for modeling a commitment to lifelong learning so that our children understand the true and enduring nature of education.


Some of our youngest learners welcoming guests to their “cereal box” Sukkah.


Tradition and innovation. Here at Davis we have a dual obligation when it comes to Judaism. On the one hand we are responsible for bringing the richness of Jewish tradition to our children and families. We greet this obligation with joy and enthusiasm every day. The second obligation we feel here at Davis is the obligation to bring new voices to Judaism, to help author the next chapter of Jewish life. We greet this obligation with a sense of possibility and excitement as well as with a commitment to innovation. One concrete example is the soon to be released Davis Academy CD: “Be a Blessing.” This album will feature 14 original Jewish songs as well as more than 20 pieces of original Jewish art. It’s a community undertaking that reflects our dual obligation to not only pass on the richness of Jewish tradition, but to author the next chapter. I am personally very excited about this CD because I have been blessed with the opportunity to write and compose the music.


Be A Blessing: We turned Davis into a recording studio. Here are some of our recording artists and album producer.


A sense of something greater. There is an ongoing conversation here at Davis about the obligation of a school to the broader community. Our tzedakah program is a source of great pride for our school as we continue to celebrate our partnerships with the Humane Society, The Bremen Jewish Home, The Atlanta Community Food Bank, The Community Action Center, Camp Twin Lakes, Camp Jenny, and numerous other local, national, and Israel based organizations. One of the many metrics we use to assess the immeasurable value of The Davis Academy is the extent to which our presence plays a vital and positive role for our neighbors, our city, our Jewish community, and our world. In addition to the tzedakah program we celebrate the blessing of our partnership with Camp Coleman, as expressed in the Nadiv Educator Grant that we share, as well as our connection with Atlanta synagogues and Jewish organizations. The blessing of being connected with a greater purpose is something that animates our work here, and something that vitalizes our entire community.


Davis Academy 8th Graders on the 2012 Israel trip. Israel is definitely part of the “something greater.”

As we all sit down to our Thanksgiving tables I hope we can each take a moment to reflect on the blessings that come to us in our professional lives. For those who are a part of our Davis family, I hope you’ll take a moment to think of a blessing you have received and a blessing you have given to Davis.

Honoring our Veterans

Is it just me or has Veteran’s Day become increasingly significant since 9/11? Maybe I just don’t recall any meaningful acknowledgment of the day when I was a child, but then again I don’t remember seeing active service men and women in every airport across the country every time I travel. The fact is that with Iraq and Afghanistan, the central role that our US Armed Forces plays in the life of our nation cannot and should not be ignored.

Two years ago we realized that we had an obligation to recognize the heroism of veterans and active service men and women at The Davis Academy. We sent an invitation to our school family inviting veterans to join us at our weekly Kabbalat Shabbat closest to Veteran’s Day so that we could honor them and offer a blessing on their behalf.

We did so again this year.

During the ceremony we asked our veterans to share a few words. One of our veterans took a moment to remind our children how meaningful the simple act of thanking the men and women in uniform they’ll be seeing as they travel for Thanksgiving.

After the ceremony, which had many people in tears, I reflected on how natural and authentic it feels to honor these heroic men and women. Our veterans and active service men and women risk all for the sake of securing our freedom, comfort, and way of life. Kids of all ages totally understand this and have complete respect for veterans and active service men and women.

As part of our ceremony today we used a beautiful blessing written by Rabbi Yonina Creditor.

At our middle school this year we reflected on Veterans Day by using a four corners activity during tefila. We asked students to rate their level of agreement with the following statements:

1. War is never justified.

2. We can never repay the debt we owe to our veterans.

3. Peace cannot be achieved through war.

Hearing their thoughtful remarks and watching them take a stand on these complicated topics reminded the adults in attendance that peace and war are complicated topics. With age comes nuance, inquiry, and deep reflection.

However, when standing in the presence of those who have served our country with the utmost courage and integrity, there is no doubt that we can never repay the debt we owe to our veterans.