Rabbi Steven B. Jacobs, the founder of the Progressive Faith Foundation, tells two stories from his youth that helped mold his life. The first occurred when he was just 8 years old and witnessed the race-based harassment of a young Black boy. The second happened when he was just 13 and held a drowning victim, a boy of just 9, in his arms as he died. Both events aroused a passion for justice in his heart, and taught him that his life’s work would be as a rabbi. A few years later, as a young rabbi from the Miami area, his passion for justice sent Rabbi Steven Jacobs to Washington, D.C., where he marched shoulder to shoulder with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., in protest against the Vietnam Wwar.
Every year in mid-January, Americans pause to reflect on the life, the tumultuous times, and the tragic death of Dr. King. Born on January 15, 1929, he would have turned 85 in 2014, but an assassin’s bullet cut him down in 1968. In the years since Dr. King’s death, the nation has acknowledged the importance of his life by declaring his birthday a national holiday, celebrated on the third Monday in January.
Although he stepped onto the national stage as a civil rights leader, Dr. King was so much more. When he took Rabbi Jacobs’ hand that day in Washington, D.C., he was marching not for the rights of “minorities” to be free of the ravages of racial prejudice, but for the rights of all people to be freed of the ravages of war. When he was killed in Memphis, Tennessee, he was there to support the rights of striking sanitation workers to be treated with dignity and respect.
Dr. King asked that his eulogy make no mention of the honors and awards he had been given in life; instead, he asked to be remembered for trying to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and visit those in prison. He wanted to be remembered for being againstright about war, and for trying to love and serve humanity.