A Jubilee Weekend: A Celebration of Brotherhood will be observed at The Temple, Congregation Ohabai Shalom, the weekend of January 15, combining the observance of Martin Luther King Day and commemorating social action efforts by some of its members.The event will pay tribute to civil rights activist Rabbi Emeritus Randall M. Falk, marking the 50th anniversary of his service to The Temple and the Nashville community as a voice for the underprivileged and minorities, and to the social realist work of artist Ben Shahn whose artwork is on permanent display at The Temple.
Hazel O’Leary, president of Fisk University, and the Fisk Jubilee Singers will be special guests at The Temple’s Friday night Sabbath evening service at 5:45 p.m. The weekend will include a reading and lecture by author Tim Wise, an anti-racist writer and activist, at 10 a.m., Sunday, January 17.
The Temple’s first major artwork, a mosaic entitled The Call of the Shofar was commissioned and designed by Shahn and erected 50 years ago when city officials were in heated discussions about integration and civil rights.
“The mosaic, unveiled in 1960, still speaks to us today,” says Betty Lee Rosen, chair of The Temple’s Beautification Committee. “The art is a powerful, intellectually and artistically provocative piece. It transmits a message about the people of Nashville and the importance of unity and community.”
The mosaic represents racial equality with an outstretched hand that symbolizes God’s calling to unite mankind into one community of brotherhood, depicted as five different heads as the five races of man.
Shahn, a Lithuanian-born American artist (1898-1969), is well-known for his 1965 portrait of Martin Luther King, Jr. which appeared on the cover of Time as well as for his works on social realism and his series of lectures published as The Shape of Content. Shahn was a commercial artist for CBS, Time, Fortune and Harper’s. The Art Directors Club Hall of Fame recognizes him as “one of the greatest masters of the 20th century.”
“The importance of social action and social justice has long been part of the strong foundation of this congregation, and this artistic creation is an echo of our congregation’s goals and an impressive reminder of what is important in our lives,” says Patty Marks, president of The Temple Congregation Ohabai Sholom.
A high point of the weekend will be recognition of Rabbi Falk who became rabbi of The Temple in 1960 and quickly became one of Nashville’s most active and vocal clergymen, confronting racial segregation by supporting integration at lunch counters. He worked with Rev. Kelly Miller Smith of First Baptist Church, the congregation’s pastor and a civil rights leader, and others, to help prepare African-American students for the violence they would face.
With Rev. Sam Dodson, pastor of Calvary Methodist Church, Falk organized the first march of clergy in the country on May 6, 1964, demanding integration of public accommodations. They led a group of 130 Nashville-area religious leaders of all faiths down West End Avenue to the Metropolitan Courthouse in a dramatic response to former U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnon’s urgent call for moral leadership by the clergy. They submitted a program to former Nashville Mayor Beverly Briley requesting complete integration of all grades in the public schools, a public accommodations ordinance, public desegregated recreation facilities, and desegregation of all metropolitan government agencies. Falk was a founding member, and later chairman, of the Metro Human Relations Commission, created in 1965 to encourage civil rights.
Rabbi Falk’s involvement in the Civil Rights Movement was supported by the efforts of other Temple members. In the midst of 1968 civil unrest and divided citizenry, the late Bernard Werthan Sr., (a past president of The Temple), with other prominent businessmen and community leaders, founded the Nashville Urban League, a chapter of the national league which seeks to eliminate discrimination.
Falk’s commitment to justice and harmony led him to help organize several other community organizations in Nashville, including the Interfaith Association, the Nashville Association of Rabbis, Priests and Ministers, and the Nashville Network. He was also instrumental in bringing the National Conference of Christians and Jews (NCCJ) to Nashville. The NCCJ of Nashville, a human relations organization dedicated to fighting racism, bigotry and bias, left its affiliation in 2007 with the national organization and became CommunityNashville.
His efforts to promote brotherhood have been recognized with numerous awards, including the Sage Award, the Crowing Achievement Award, and the Human Relations Award from the local chapters of the National Conference of Christians and Jews, and the Metropolitan Nashville Human Relations Commission.
Falk explained that his motivation for involvement in the civil rights movement was two-fold. “The prophets,” he said, “challenge us to be concerned with justice for people of all races, nations and creeds because we [Jews] were slaves in Egypt and know the suffering of the oppressed.” The second was the coincidence of his birth in Little Rock and his graduating from the high school in which the Arkansas governor tried to block integration. “I felt personally involved and committed to help change old southern patterns and prejudices,” he said in an interview several years ago.
Rabbi Falk taught at Fisk University during the 1970s and this prompted Temple organizers to invite the Fisk Jubilee Singers to be a part of the celebration weekend. The Jubilee Singers, recipients of the 2008 National Medal of Arts, will perform Old Testament-type spirituals at the kickoff celebration following the service Friday evening.
The National Medal of Arts is the nation’s highest recognition of artists for their historical contribution to American music. Among the more than 200 previous recipients of the medal are writer Ralph Ellison, painter Georgia O’Keeffe, jazz musician Dizzy Gillespie, and illustrator Stan Lee. Along with the Fisk Jubilee Singers, other Tennesseans who have been awarded the medal include Dolly Parton and Johnny Cash.
Another planned event for The Temple’s Jubilee Celebration of Brotherhood will be the book reading and lecture by Tim Wise, prominent anti-racist author and activist. Wise, a former religious school student of The Temple, will discuss his book, White Like Me: Reflections on Race from a Privileged Son. His most recent book, Between Barack and a Hard Place: Race and Whiteness in the Age of Obama, was released last spring.
He is the 2008 Oliver L. Brown Distinguished Visiting Scholar for Diversity Issues at Washburn University, Topeka, Kansas, and has spoken in 48 states and on more than 400 college campuses and community groups.
From 1999 to 2003, Wise was an advisor to the Fisk University Race Relations Institute, and in the early 1990s was associate director of the Louisiana Coalition Against Racism and Nazism, the largest of the many groups organized to defeat neo-Nazi political candidate, David Duke.
Wise has provided anti-racism training to teachers nationwide, and has trained physicians and medical industry professionals on how to combat racial inequities in health care. He has also trained corporate, government, entertainment, military and law enforcement officials on methods for dismantling racism in their institutions.
Founded in 1851, The Temple, Congregation Ohabai Sholom (www.templenashville.org), is Nashville’s oldest and largest Jewish congregation. As a reform congregation, The Temple has over 750 member families and serves the Middle Tennessee region, including Davidson and Williamson counties. For more information about the Jubilee Celebration of Brotherhood, contact Chair Robb McCluskey at 615/568-1786, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
A Jubilee Weekend: A Celebration of Brotherhood will be observed at The Temple, Congregation Ohabai Shalom, the weekend of January 15, combining the observance of Martin Luther King Day and commemorating social action efforts by some of its members.