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January 16, 2012 7:06 pm

Martin Luther King, the Mensch (VIDEO)

avatar by Oliver Benjamin Karp


Martin Luther King Jr. is correctly remembered as a great American who helped his country live up to its unique promise (and promises).

This week, which starts with his official day of celebration, we will see on media and through social networks, images of King as a prophet and video of him giving his most memorable speeches.

But I like to think of a different side of the same Martin Luther King: The man as a man, not as a demi-god speaking from metaphorical mountaintops.

King was not an average person, but he was no more than a human being, and that is why we all have access to the simple thoughts and choices that became his enormous deeds and legacy.

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I love to hear King telling a joke as in this interview from the Tonight Show (guest hosted by Harry Belefonte that night) filmed just months before his brutal assassination:

I love to see King shooting pool. Even better, sporting a shot from behind the back.

Martin Luther King playing pool.

His technique reminds me that today’s easy things; enrolling in school, eating with friends of all backgrounds at a restaurant, and most importantly voting in an election, were trick shots for some people just a few decades ago, if not impossible goals.

Yet King lived and taught the lesson of the Breslover Rebbe that life presents a narrow path that must be trod carefully and without fear.

And, considering Martin Luther King Jr. in Jewish terms, it happens that adoring great people who are nonetheless just human is a hallmark of our religious and cultural heritage. All of our prophets are flawed characters, and indeed,the greatest thing a Jew can aspire to be called by his or her fellows is “mensch,”Yiddish for “man,” that is to say a complete human being.

King was indeed a great man of history, and should be cherished as such, but more importantly to everyday inspiration, Martin Luther King was a mensch.

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