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Dr. Martin Luther King. Jr.

At a news conference on May 15, 1967, King publicly announced his plan for the pilgrimage to Israel, to take place in November. However, the Six-Day War scuttled his plans, and his untimely death the following year meant he would never realize his dream for what would surely have been a momentous trip to Israel.

The campaign for a federal holiday in King’s honor began soon after his assassination. President Reagan signed the holiday into law on November 2, 1983, and it was first generally observed in January 1986. It was officially observed in all fifty states for the first time in 2000, after South Carolina became the last state to recognize the holiday.


In 1984, during a visit to Israel by the U.S. Sixth Fleet, Navy chaplain Rabbi Arnold Resnicoff conducted the first Israeli presidential ceremony in commemoration of Martin Luther King Day, held at the president’s residence in Jerusalem. Resnicoff had served in Vietnam and Europe; had been a chaplain for almost 25 years; was active in promoting the creation of the Vietnam Veterans’ Memorial (at which he delivered the closing prayer at its 1982 dedication); and worked as national director of interreligious affairs for the American Jewish Committee.

At the ceremony, Aura Herzog, wife of Israel’s then-President Chaim Herzog, noted that she was particularly proud to host this special event because Israel had a national forest in honor of King and because Israel and King shared the idea of “dreams.”

Picking up on that theme, Resnicoff quoted the famous verses from Genesis 37:19-20 spoken by Joseph’s brothers as they saw him approach in Dothan: “Behold, here comes the Master of Dreams. Let us kill him and throw him into the pit, and see what becomes of his dreams.” He noted that in every age throughout the course of human history there have been individuals who believed they could kill the dream by eliminating the dreamer but, as King’s life demonstrates, such people are invariably proven wrong.

* * * * *

Finally, in celebration of Martin Luther King Day this coming Monday, I would like to share a particularly warm and meaningful personal reminiscence.

I am sitting in a stifling hot Brooklyn College classroom on a miserable July afternoon in 1972. The windows are open but there is not even the hint of a breeze wafting in. Perhaps the worst part is that I have no one but myself to blame. Having had a grand old time during the academic year, I had to make up some credits and, to graduate on time, I had registered for summer school, including Introduction to Music, a basic three-credit course.

The first class begins as an experience in misery, and not merely because of the oppressive stagnation of the air in the room. The instructor, with a voice like death warmed over, turns to the class and asks: “Who can define ‘music?’ ” A near-audible groan escapes my agonized lips. “He’s going to start with melody, and move on to beat,” I think, already bored senseless.

Getting no response whatsoever from a group of students who clearly did not want to be there, he says, “Okay, then, I’ll help us get started. What is the difference between rhythm, tempo, and beat?” This time, the response was a clearly noticeable moan from the back of the classroom.

And he went through it all. For forty-five minutes he droned on about the fundamentals of music; about melody and rhythm and beat; about harmony and harmonic function; about structure, form, and texture; about pitch, timber, and tone; about dissonance and atonality. I had been playing piano since I was eight, none of this was new to me, and no one else in the room seemed to care. I don’t think he got a single volunteer to answer a question that day.


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Saul Jay Singer serves as senior legal ethics counsel with the District of Columbia Bar and is a collector of extraordinary original Judaica documents and letters. He welcomes comments at at [email protected].