The Prophetic MLK & the Prophetic Festivals of Spring

The deepest roots of The Shalom Center’s work to revitalize the deep connection between the Spirit and social justice were my weaving in 1968 and ’69 a new kind of Passover Seder –- the Freedom Seder. My sense of the need to create the Freedom Seder grew from the deep crisis of American democracy in those years.

For me, one crucial aspect of that crisis was the murder of Dr. Martin Luther King on April 4, 1968. An act of violence ending the life and disrupting the work of our foremost teacher of nonviolence.

And the whole year followed in that bloody vein.

Today we are facing an even deeper crisis -- a threat from our own government to the flesh and bones of American democracy.  It is time for a new Freedom Seder -- one that looks forward, not backward, by drawing on the most prophetic teachings of the Prophet Martin. You can access the new Seder at


AND --  The Shalom Center has worked to sow the seeds of Seders that speak not only to the past but to the future. Those seeds are sprouting once again. In several different cities already, with more perhaps to come, we are seeing them flower. We welcome you, our members and friends, to  join in the events we are reporting below and to make your own new Seders happen. Todaay -- these reports. Later -- I will share with you the underlying thought that has stirred our work. 

The first of a series of connections will come on March 25,  at 6 pm in New York City. The Center for Jewish History (15 West 16th Street) will hold a symposium, “The Freedom Seder: 49 Years Later, with Arthur Waskow.”  Details are at <>. Scroll down the page of Center programs to March 25.

I will speak.  Then there will be a panel of historians to discuss the meaning and future of the Freedom Seder. (I will be speaking much more about the future than the past.) The panel will include:

Anthea Butler, Professor of Religious and Africana Studies at University of Pennsylvania;  

Hasia Diner, Paul and Sylvia Steinberg Professor of American Jewish History at New York University and Director of the Goldstein-Goren Center;

Susannah Heschel, Eli Black Professor of Jewish Studies at Dartmouth University;

Shaul Magid, NEH Senior Scholar at the Center for Jewish History and Jay and Jeanie Schottenstein Chair in Jewish Studies at Indiana University.

At noon the next day, in Boston on March 26, a muitireligious / interfaith group inspired by the work of The Shalom Center will draw on the symbols of Holy Week and Passover to confront the Governor of Massachusetts. Their action is called "LET MY PEOPLE GO!  -- Exodus from Fossil Fuels: An Interfaith Witness for Climate Action."

It will begin at 12:00 noon at the State House in downtown Boston with a procession to the Back Bay. This "Exodus" intends to halt an invasion of poisonous oil/ gas pipelines the Carbon Pharaohs are trying to emplace, endangering the nearby neighborhoods and the planet at the same time.For details, see


In Philadelphia that night, Monday, March 26, 2018, at 6:30 pm, the National Museum of American Jewish History (101 South Independence Mall East) will hold its sixth annual “Freedom Seder Revisited” on the theme, “What Freedom Means to Me.” I will speak about the “MLK+50 Interfaith Freedom Seder.”  The Museum creates this event in partnership with First Person Arts and the African American Museum in Philadelphia.

Over the previous five years, these events at the Museum have been wonderful in atmosphere, in song led by the “Freedom Seder Ensemble,” and in conversation. Each year the space has been full, and it is necessary to register ahead of time.

For details on attending, click to <>

On the evening of April 3 in the Washington DC suburbs, I will help lead a multiracial, multireligious “Mountaintop Seder“ at Silver Spring United Methodist Church, marking the night when Dr. King gave his last speech: “I have been to the mountaintop. ... And I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But we, as a people, will get to the promised land!” That Seder will be based on the “MLK+50 Interfaith Freedom Seder.” It will begin at 7:30 pm at the church at 900 Georgia Ave., Silver Spring, MD 20910.

The next morning, on April 4, I will be the final speaker and prayer leader at an interfaith prayer service sponsored by the National Council of Churches on the National Mall in Washington, initiating a major campaign for “Truth and Racial Justice.”  The prayer service will begin at 8 a.m, and at about 9:30 will morph into a rally. The NCC expects hundreds of thousands of people.

Meanwhile, we worked with Cantor Abbe Lyons of Congregation Tikkun v'Or (Ithaca Reform Temple) in Ithaca, NY, when she decided to  shape a new Haftarah –- the Prophetic passage chanted on Shabbat – from passages of Dr. King’s prophetic “Beyond Vietnam” speech at Riverside Church in New York City on April 4,  1967 – exactly one year before he was killed.

She has set his English words to the traditional Haftarah melodies. This new Haftarah takes seven minutes to chant. You can access Cantor Lyons' chant at --


and her Text for the Haftarah, with the musical trope marks,  at --


 As we consider how to use this new Haftarah, we might recall the words of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel. On March 25, 1968, he introduced Dr. King to speak to the Rabbinical Assembly. Rabbi Heschel said,

“Where in America do we hear a voice like the voice of the prophets of Israel? Martin Luther King is a sign that God has not forsaken the United States of America. …The whole future of America will depend upon the impact and influence of Dr. King.”

Ten days later, Dr. King was killed — giving a deeply ironic cast to the last sentence in Rabbi Heschel’s introduction. Fifty years later, we could turn that history in a new direction.

We invite you to choose a Shabbat close to April 4 to introduce this new Haftarah into your sacred service.

We hope that many members and friends of The Shalom Center will draw on the new “MLK+50 Interfaith Freedom Seder” for your home Seders or to create multireligious community Seders.  Again, you can access the new Seder at


We look forward to hearing from you how you plan to use the Seder and these ideas in or near your sacred festivals, these coming weeks. 

 With blessings of truth, justice, peace, and healing!


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