Andover Townsman, Andover, MA

Opinion

March 27, 2014

'Voices of Freedom' a celebration of shared heritage

This spring marks the 50th anniversary of the martyrdom of three victims in the fight for racial justice — Michael Schwerner and Andrew Goodman, both Jewish, and James Chaney, an African-American. They are remembered for their courage and conviction.

Throughout our nation’s history, Jews and African-Americans have been inextricably linked. From the anti-slavery movement to the more recent drive for civil rights, Jews and blacks have walked side by side in their pursuit of freedom and equality.

For African-American slaves, images from the Book of Exodus in the Hebrew Bible were invoked to describe their bondage at the hands of their masters. They identified with the oppression of the ancient Israelites and they compared their cruel slave masters to the wicked Pharaoh of old. As they prayed for their own freedom, they were inspired by the story of the Israelites’ redemption from Egyptian bondage with cries of “Let my people go,” the same words spoken by Moses to Pharaoh.

In the 1960s, Jews stood with American blacks in their quest for equality. Pictures of the late revered scholar and Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, his yarmulke precariously perched on his head, arm in arm with Rev. Martin Luther King, have become iconic symbols of the long road to freedom blacks and Jews walked together, which Rabbi Heschel referred to as “praying with his feet.”

That struggle, at times violent, has become part of the common heritage of American Jews and blacks. In more recent years, this history has found its way into the contemporary Passover seder, when Jews retell the story of their own redemption from slavery and oppression. Today, in many Jewish homes, Negro spirituals, which invoke images of the Jewish and African-American experience, are sung at the seder table.

In celebration of that shared legacy, in anticipation of the upcoming observance of Passover and to honor the memories of the three martyrs of the civil rights movement, Schwerner, Chaney and Goodman, the Andover Baptist Church Choir will join with members of Temple Emanuel in a celebration of the “Voices of Freedom.” The program featuring music from both the African-American and Jewish traditions will be held Friday, March 28, at 7 p.m. at Temple Emanuel, 7 Haggetts Pond Road, Andover.

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