Jewish Inspiration Found at 2024 MLK Interfaith Celebration

The MLK Interfaith Worship service on January 14, 2024 marked the 37th year for the event.

January 22, 2024

On January 14, the City of San Antonio’s MLK Commission hosted its 37th Annual Interfaith Worship Service at St. Paul’s United Methodist Church. Along with speakers and prayers performed by Sikh, Muslim, Hindu, Christian, Baha’i, and Buddhist participants, the celebration was punctuated by the participation of several Jewish community members.

Max Himmelstein delighted the audience with his shofar-blowing skills. Max is a sophomore at Ronald Reagan High School and is a member of Congregation Agudas Achim. He credits his shofar-blowing skills to his experience as a trumpet player in the Reagan high school marching band. In fact, Max’s tekiyah gedolah was an amazing 25 seconds long. Max also had the honor of carrying in the Jewish banner during the processional before the service.

Kevin Epstein, also a member of Congregation Agudas Achim, blew the shofar alongside Max at the service. “Max’s tekiyah gedolah was outstanding!” said Epstein, who blows the shofar regularly for the High Holidays at Agudas. Epstein explained to the audience the meanings behind the sounds of the shofar.

Another highlight of the event was singer Vicki Adelstein singing Mi Shebeirach by Debbie Friedman. Adelstein currently works as a commercial real estate agent and is a classically trained professional singer with several years of New York City experience off-Broadway and in various bands. “What an honor it was to play a role in this meaningful event… I was brought to tears several times throughout the event. Each religion expressed something special, but above all a love and respect for each other,” said Adelstein.

Rabbi Jonathan Hodson, of Congregation Agudas Achim, had the honor of speaking during the service. Rabbi Hodson shared the history of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, who was a friend of Martin Luther King Jr’s and marched arm-in-arm with King for equal rights of Black Americans. Heschel fled Europe before the Nazis obliterated the Jewish population, “therefore,” Hodson said, “he understood what hate can do in the hearts of evil men.”  Heschel and King became good friends, and King shared Passover seders and Shabbat dinners with Heschel’s family. Hodson said “these two holy men knew what we know now that all human beings are created b’tselem Elohim, in the image of Gd.” Hodson went on to say that at this event he felt that like Heschel, he was “praying with my feet.”

JCRC Director and MLK Interfaith Service Committee Member Lisa Epstein explained the importance of the event to her, “This event highlights the diversity of religious beliefs in our city. We all may worship differently but coming together to share our traditions in the memory of the work of Martin Luther King Jr., is vital to continuing his legacy. This event establishes bonds of friendship and understanding within our community.” Epstein said the singing of the hymn We Shall Overcome is always a highlight. “When the congregation joins in full voice with the choir, many swaying with their arms around each other singing, I really feel that we all can overcome our differences and live in peace someday.”

Although this event has been taking place for 37 years, this year’s seemed especially important. As Adelstein put it, “This year more than ever, finding solidarity with others in our community is a necessity.”