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KYHS Inspired by Martin Luther King Jr.’s Legacy


In contrast to most schools, students at Katz Yeshiva High School of South Florida (KYHS) filed into the building last Monday, January 16, as if it were any other day. But Monday was Martin Luther King Jr. Day, and school, offices, and government buildings throughout all fifty states were closed in observance of the meaningful national holiday. So why does KYHS choose to hold school on such a monumental day? The answers lie in the school’s philosophy about education––students learn much more in school about the importance of days such as MLK Day than they do at home.

Mrs. Ora Lee Kanner, principal of KYHS, explained, "We believe MLK Day should be a day of praying together to God for peace in this world and the opportunity to further learn about civil rights.  We value MLK Day as an opportunity to dedicate our learning to the values of our Torah such as Tikkun Olam––rather than a day of sleeping late and shopping at the malls.”

On this MLK Day, KYHS invited Rabbi Jack Riemer, a former aide to President Bill Clinton and an active participant in the 1960s Civil Rights Movement, to address the entire student body. Rabbi Riemer began his address by speaking about Moses and how his distinguishing characteristic was his inability to “mind his own business.”  Wherever Moses went he always interjected himself if he witnessed injustice, such as when he killed an Egyptian man for beating an Israelite or defended the daughters of Jethro.

Rabbi Riemer went on to describe how two of the most formative figures in his life––Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.––also shared shared Moses’ inclination to insert himself into other people’s affairs when he deemed it necessary. Rabbi Riemer shared how despite King and Heschel’s starkly different backgrounds, King being the son of pastor from Alabama and Heschel a Jewish immigrant from Poland, they formed an unlikely kinship on the issue of justice. Riemer recounted that despite the tremendous amount of work each man had to do in his own community, both of them always made time to help further each other’s cause. Specifically, Rabbi Heschel joined Dr. King on some of his marches, including the iconic Selma March, and King advocated on behalf of Soviet Jewry. Rabbi Riemer stressed that concern for all people, instead of worrying only about one’s own group, is vital to improving the world.

Rabbi Reimer’s presentation was not the only event KYHS planned in anticipation of MLK Day. The previous week, Rabbi Avi Weiss, the leader of the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale in the Bronx, New York, spoke to the senior Jewish History class about his advocacy for a multitude of Jewish causes. Rabbi Weiss shared stories with us about how he immediately travelled to Buenos Aires, after the 1994 bombing of the city’s Jewish Center, and how he journeyed to Auschwitz to oppose the establishment of covenant on the site of the extermination camp. Weiss explained that the purpose of telling these stories is to demonstrate the importance of activism. He said that while he is too old to run around the world like he used to, he is ready to cede the mantle of justice to a new generation and encouraged the entire class to pursue justice in every realm.

Aaron Senfeld, a senior at KYHS, was particularly moved by Rabbi Weiss’s speech, saying that the speech, “inspired me to pursue social justice in everyday life, and not stand idly by while innocent people are marginalized and oppressed.”

Matthew A. Samilow, also a senior, summed it aptly when he said “days like today remind me of how important the legacy of Dr. King is and how much work we still have in forming a ‘more perfect union’, both as citizens of the human race, the United States and members of the Jewish People.”

Thanks to both of these meaningful presentations, it is safe to say that MLK Day was no ordinary school day at KYHS.

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