Interfaith service honors King’s message
Joy, love and the music of the Afro-Semitic Experience filled the sanctuary of Congregation Mishkan Israel Friday night, but with significant reminders of the people, especially immigrants, who have suffered in the past year.
The service honoring the life and work of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was interfaith for the seventh year, but the synagogue has kept his spirit alive since the civil rights leader — assassinated 50 years ago this April — spoke there on Oct. 20, 1961, when the congregation was led by Rabbi Robert Goldburg.
“It’s a spectacular
tradition that’s been going for 65 years,” said Jim Serling of Hamden.
“The dream, though unrealized, still lives as he lived,” said Rabbi Herbert Brockman, who will retire in June. “We enter here to reaffirm the world in all its intended goodness. We celebrate simply being together and our love for one another.”
The Afro-Semitic Experience began 20 years ago at the same service, said Brockman, and the group, along with Cantor Arthur Giglio, had the congregation singing and clapping, in between readings and prayers offered by those who follow the Muslim, Jewish, Christian, Baha’i, Quaker and Unitarian faiths.
Imam Abdul-Majid Karim Hasan of Hamden opened with a Muslim prayer: “I witness that there is no God but one. .... And I bear witness that Muhammad and the other prophets were the messengers of God. ... Come to prayer. ... God is the greatest. ... There is no God but the one God.”
“We connect on a lot of bases, peace and trying to give them an understanding of what love and respect is,” said Yahya Abdul-Shakoor of North Branford.
Marge Schneider of Branford said the service’s meaning lies “not only [in] the magnificent music that brings us together in community, but it’s joining together with all religions, ethnicities. ... It’s the bringing together with peace and justice ... the light that moves us forward. Our prayer is for peace in the world. That’s our prayer.”
Brockman added to the list of people offered up for prayer that of Ravi Ragbir, executive director of the New Sanctuary Coalition in New York City, who was arrested and taken away to an unknown location when he went to Immigration and Customs Enforcement for his annual check-in. Ragbir, who immigrated from Trinidad in 1991, according to the blog “Justice for Ravi,” is a legal permanent resident.
Brockman said his family members have no idea where he is. “They simply know that they called an ambulance and he was taken away.” He prayed “that we not become a country of the disappeared.”
The guest speaker, Yale Law School professor Michael Wishnie, who heads the Jerome N. Frank Legal Services Organization at the school, spoke about the harrowing hours after President Donald Trump signed his first executive order, commonly called the “Muslim ban,” which was overturned by the courts, in no small part because of the rapid legal steps taken by Wishnie and his law students — “energetic, fearless young people who don’t know any better,” Wishnie joked.
Wishnie said he and his wife, Cathy Edwards, had participated in the Women’s March “and left with energy and purpose and invigorated by all the people who were there” and then, realizing Trump’s intentions to ban refugees and immigrants from seven mostly Muslim countries, “I had such a feeling of dread and powerlessness and almost hopelessness. It was a terrible feeling,” he said.
He and Edwards went to a Boston Celtics game and Wishnie told how, from a Cambridge, Massachusetts, hotel room, he led an effort to file a writ of habeas corpus and to find a federal judge in Brooklyn, New York, who would rule that Trump’s executive order, signed while a plane was in the air, bound for John F. Kennedy International Airport, was illegal.
The students had been warned against filing a class-action lawsuit because they are not looked on well by many judges. “The students said, ‘But if not us, who’s going to do it? No one else is working at 2 a.m.,’” Wishnie said.
By midnight that Friday, 20 students were helping to draft the legal papers, realizing that the next flight out of JFK wasn’t until 6 a.m. However, the court was closed on Saturday and a “duty judge” had to be identified and called.
Meanwhile, “the images of tens, then hundreds, then thousands of people” who rushed to the airports to protest the ban and to find relatives were broadcast nationwide. “The story has sometimes been reported as this spontaneous outpouring of people,” Wishnie said, but the action had been anticipated by “organizers and community groups in New York ... They mobilized their networks and they sent people to the airport and then others followed. It was planned in advance.”
The legal efforts ultimately were successful and images of the judge’s order, signed about 9 p.m. Saturday, were transmitted across the country via smartphone photos.
There were hitches during the chaotic hours, Wishnie said. One Iranian woman was put on a plane out of the country, but a first-year law student found the phone number of the airport’s control tower and called the air-traffic controllers. “They brought it back and they let the Iranian woman off the plane,” Wishnie said. “It’s not about constitutional arguments, it’s who can find the phone number,” he joked.
Ultimately, 2,000 people who had arrived in the United States just after the executive order was signed were let in, Wishnie said.