NEWARK — Inside one of the city’s oldest synagogues, a young generation of Jews and African-Americans sang together.
Their parents and grandparents ate cookies, admired a famed muralist’s artwork and listened to excerpts from the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s speeches.
And as dozens joined Sunday to remember the slain civil rights leader, the multi-generational crowd agreed that if King were alive today, the diversity inside Congregation Ahavas Sholom would be just what he would have wanted.“This is the type of event which Martin Luther King strove for,” said Brian Johnson, a board member of the Newark Boys Chorus School, which yesterday belted out songs at the Martin Luther King Jr. Community Memorial Program, a free community event organized by the congregation, the African-American Jewish Coalition, First Tabernacle of Newark and The Jewish Museum of New Jersey.
Organizers telecast the program in real time to the Akoma Ntoso Cultural Center in Cape Coast, Ghana — hopeful of reaching people across the globe. There is a sister center in Newark.
The second-story museum displayed paintings by Michael Lenson, who died in 1971 and is known for his works of public art.
“This is a collaboration and communal enjoyment where everyone can come together under one roof and reflect upon the past,” Johnson said.
As sunlight shone through the sanctuary’s Tiffany stained glass, visitors and congregants asked questions about injustices that still exist.
“Blacks and Jews share a common history of torture and oppression,” said Robert Curvin, a distinguished senior policy fellow at the Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy at Rutgers University and civil rights activist during the 1967 Newark riots.
He recalled sitting in the back of buses, and a time when he could count only five black attorneys in Essex County, most of whom didn’t touch civil rights issues.
He noted current problems, including high unemployment among African-American men.
“There is still so much to be done,” he said.
In Newark, little remains of what was once a vibrant Jewish community.
After World War II and later the riots, large numbers of Jews moved to the suburbs, said Max Herman, president of the Jewish Museum of New Jersey.
Today, Congregation Ahavas Sholom serves about 200 members — a mix of Eastern European, African-American, Brazilian and Peruvian Jews — who live in Montclair, Livingston and the Oranges. But just about 30 members regularly attend Saturday services, Herman said.
“They have a connection to this place because their parents or grandparents came here,” he said.
Nine-year-old Claryn Troup said she left yesterday’s program feeling inspired.
“It doesn’t matter what color people are,” she said. “What matters is that everyone should get along together.”