Israel Honors Martin Luther King (PHOTOS)
“We, all of us… we humanity, are blessed to have Jacques DeGraff with us as a recipient of this Award. He embodies the values of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King. He is my brother – Jacques is Jacob – a plain man, an innocent man, a scholarly man…a dreamer and a doer who has done so much with his life not on behalf of himself, but on behalf of all.” Taking the “bimah” at the New Cannon Baptist Church, Rabbi Michael Miller gave voice to the strong friendship he shares with the Reverend Jacques DeGraff – then added “if my rabbi knew where I was…”
With a rousing “A-men” and “Welcome, Brother,” the Reverend called out to all assembled, especially noting his “new brother in clergy, Michael Miller.”
So began an evening of warmth and good fellowship shared by members of the New York community, some Black, some White, some Christian, some Jewish, all there to celebrate the awarding of the Israeli government’s Martin Luther King Award to Rev. Jacques DeGraff and Dari Alexander, both leaders in their fields, each a mentor to the expansion of the horizons.
The joy of the evening was mirrored in the exuberance of a meticulously trained, gospel-based choir inviting all to “worship the Lord in holiness,” and a trio of Israeli musicians whose spirited renditions got the hundreds gathered singing – if not dancing – in the aisles.
Rabbi Michael Miller called out “how good it is for the brothers – and sisters! – to sit together in peace!” Michael Feinman, speaking on behalf of the Jewish National Fund, the event’s co-sponsor, spoke of the growth of the Martin Luther King Forest from a first planting of 39 trees to 10,000. He announced an additional 10,000 trees planted as the Coretta Scott King Forrest.
Rev. DeGraff was recognized as an advocate for social justice and woman’s rights, a fighter for minority business owners, and a mentor for community teens, a strong advocate for peace and justice with a special “ability to bring people together.” The Reverend has been specifically effective in getting state and city officials to provide a fair share of opportunities for minority and woman owned businesses in Harlem. His support of Israel is “resolute… He has “stood by Israel and set the record straight as an advocate for justice.”
Richard Kahan, Chairman of the Battery Park Authority called DeGraff “a builder of bridges between people, a calm voice; a man who lived his faith and has the belief in the goodness to be found in all people.” “Michael Miller is my rabbi,” said Fox News President Roger Ailes. The executive detailed the year-long mentorship program he has instituted at Fox News. He noted that MLK Honoree, Fox newswoman Dari Alexander, has a strong background in news.
Ailes recalled his first meeting with Dr. King – in the 60’s -at a moment when the civil rights leaders needed a “quiet place to say a prayer.” King, said Alies, “was astounding – humble sincere, constantly working for freedom. He did not believe in violence.” Throughout the program, the warm and binding relationship between Blacks and Jews was noted and the “shared struggles” recalled.
Israel’s Counsel General Ido Aharoni waxed philosophical, telling a midrash about heavenly support in humanity’s most difficult times. The story of Dr. King, said the Consul “not just the one of a great man with a great vision, but of one of the few who has the ability to carry us all on their shoulders… Jews,” said the Consul “know how difficult it is to walk alone in a world of hatred. .. The legacy of Dr. King was to repair the world.”
Aharoni noted that “Israel is the only country outside the United States that officially commemorates Martin Luther King Day – part of a sacred tradition…we always admired Dr. Kings insistence that ultimately the human spirit will overcome hatred.” Rev. DeGraff, said the Consul, was devoted to education about tolerance and hate: “it’s your footsteps that people see in the sand.”
Dari Alexander used her acceptance speech to graciously commend Roger Ailes “a compassionate person; a person who makes a difference – who does it quietly. “The Jewish community was right by the side of Dr. King, whether it meant battling discrimination in the South or at the United Nations. When it comes to the safety of Israel, this support must continue today.” “When something affects one in a major way, we all need to respond in a major way. If one community is not safe, no community is safe.”
Reverend Jacques DeGraff’s words traversed all boundaries. He joined Ido Aharoni in concern about the “issues that are affecting our holy land” and noted the supportive friendship of Michael Miller “a scholar…. there whenever needed.” “We have to remember who we are…we need to remember our humanity – our relationship is anchored in hope …without hope there is devastation. We have to move forward together and keep hope alive.”