It’s no secret that we live in a world with deep and wide divides. In matters of politics, race, and religion, we’re surrounded by chasms that many of us wish weren’t there and that many of us yearn to shrink. Fortunately, amidst the omnipresent tensions are lots of inspiring, earnest efforts to reach across the aisle and join forces in an effort to narrow that which separates us. And we have just such an effort unfolding in our own backyard, as we hear from Cantor Brian Mayer. 

Cantor Brian Mayer has been a member of the clergy of Temple Emanu-El in Providence since 1989.

“I felt my legs were praying,” said Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel. In 1965, after he marched alongside the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Rabbi Heschel wrote:

“For many of us the march from Selma to Montgomery was about protest and prayer. Legs are not lips and walking is not kneeling. And yet our legs uttered songs. Even without words, our march was worship. I felt my legs were praying.”

Dr. King and Rabbi Heschel were close friends. They shared the dream that our nation should be “a place where civil and human rights would be inalienable rights, a country where acceptance, tolerance and caring would permeate our culture.”

I believe that, 55 years after the March from Selma, our community needs to readdress the persistent and troubling inequality in American society. Yes, legions of Americans participated in that protest, put themselves in harm’s way for the cause of social justice. But 55 years later, is it okay for us to be content with the status quo? Is it okay that the top 1% of the U.S. population owns about 40% of the nation’s wealth? Is it okay that the typical white family has nearly 10 times the wealth of the typical black family and about 7.5 times the wealth of the typical Hispanic family?

I believe that each January, when we remember the legacy of Dr. King, we need to do more than enjoy a 3-day weekend in his honor.  And a group in southeastern New England is doing just that. Temple Emanu-El and the Central Congregational Church in Providence are joining forces for the annual SINGING THE DREAM CONCERT. Each year, these two congregations form a uniquely ecumenical choir, multi-faith and multi-racial. They study texts and make music, raising their voices to raise awareness about how Dr. King’s dream remains unfulfilled.

This year, the featured guests will be Prof. Susannah Heschel, Rabbi Heschel’s daughter, and Vy Higgensen’s “Sing Harlem Choir,” the teen gospel chorus from New York City that has performed on nationwide television. The two choirs will join in singing “LIFT EVERY VOICE,” and “WE ARE THE WORLD.” And, they will present a new piece by Gerald Cohen called “I FELT MY LEGS WERE PRAYING.” 

I believe Dr. King and Rabbi Heschel were modern day prophets, whose friendship should serve as a model for our time. Their dreams of social justice for all Americans should inspire us to promote racial harmony, to insist on the leveling of income inequality, and to walk like our feet are praying.

The event will take place Sunday, January 26, 2020, a day on which there are no football games. Come to Temple Emanu-El, 99 Taft Avenue, Providence at 3:00 PM. Tickets are available on EventBrite.