“All life is interrelated. We are all caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied into a single garment of destiny.”
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

On Monday, the Jewish calendar converges with our American calendar to give us a dual holiday: Tu B’Shevat and Martin Luther King Day. At JCDS, we have a tradition of having a “day on” every other year on MLK Day and this year will be even more special with these two important dates coinciding. Tu B’Shevat, the birthday of the trees, is a celebration of nature as well as a chance to think deeply about the challenges that our current world and environment face. On MLK Day, we will spend the morning learning about MLK as a person and as an activist who dedicated his life to civil rights. The afternoon is devoted to service.

At first, it could seem that these two holidays would be difficult to commemorate on the same day. However, we identified multiple opportunities for connection. We took inspiration from Dr. King when thinking about the day. He once said, “All life is interrelated. We are all caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied into a single garment of destiny.” No truer words could be said about our humanity and about our responsibility for and our effect on the natural world.

One of the highlights of having school on Martin Luther King Day has always been our middle school t’fillah (prayer), in which we move through the siddur and morning prayers intertwining quotes by Dr. King (slides of the service are linked here). King, a deeply spiritual individual, becomes another voice in our kahal (congregation). Each year it is moving to hear our students speak his words and shed new light onto the ancient prayers that we recite daily.

This year, in thinking about both holidays, we identified how beautifully the essence of our t’fillah inspires the double-themed day. At the core of our t’fillot is the theme of Creation. From the Torah, we learn two main directives from the story of B’reisheet (Creation): We are all created “B’tzelem Elohim” (in God’s image) and we are responsible for caring for the Earth (L’ovdah u’l’shomra—to work and protect it). In recalling Creation, we recall that our destiny is to preserve human dignity and the natural wonder that is this planet. It seems the connection between these two days is not so distant after all. We have let these themes inspire our prayers for centuries and there is still so much work to do.

We will begin our day ignited and inspired by these themes, and when we get to singing Or Chadash (a prayer about a “new light”), we will sing it to the tune of “This Little Light of Mine.” Then we will let our lights shine together, learning and doing. Preserving and celebrating humanity and working together to perform tikkun olam (repairing the world).

Oren Kaunfer is the madrich ruchani at JCDS.

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