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Civil Rights Leaders Honored by Jewish Community at Martin Luther King Tribute at Israeli Embassy

Martin Luther King, III, Joins in Honoring Henderson, Schneier

WASHINGTON, January 28, 1999--Prominent civil rights leaders Wade Henderson and Rabbi Marc Schneier received the Religious Action Center Civil Rights Leadership Award Tuesday afternoon at the Israeli Embassy.

Henderson, executive director of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, and Schneier, president of the New York Board of Rabbis and president of the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding, were honored for their tireless efforts to ensure racial justice in American society and strengthen intergroup relations at the thirteenth annual tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Two hundred people from the African American, Jewish, and civil rights communities attended the program sponsored by the Israeli government and the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism (RAC), the Washington office of the national Reform Jewish movement.

"We are particularly pleased that this year's honorees represent a new generation coming together in a struggle to build 'the beloved community' to which Dr. King frequently referred," said RAC Director Rabbi David Saperstein.

Henderson, who prior to his current position with the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights directed the Washington office of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, was recognized for his leadership in the fight to strengthen laws punishing hate crimes and for a career dedicated to ensuring civil rights and civil liberties for all Americans.

Marcia D. Greenberger, co-president of the National Women's Law Center, in presenting Henderson with his award, declared that she did so "on behalf of the millions of Americans whose cause you champion.

"In accepting his award, Henderson poignantly drew lessons from Dr. King's legacy. "His commitment to principle was unyielding, even in the face of adversity," Henderson said. "He understood all too clearly that none are free, unless all are free."

Hendersonrecalled the powerful words spoken by Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel as he introduced, his friend, Dr. King to address the Conservative movement's Rabbinical Assembly days before King's assassination: "Where in America today do we hear a voice like the voice of the prophets of Israel? Martin Luther King is a sign that God has sent him to us. His presence is the hope of America."

The event took on special meaning with the participation of Dr. King's son, Martin Luther King, III, who presented the civil rights award to the second of the day's two honorees, Rabbi Marc Schneier.

King's son, who in 1997 was elected president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, an organization that was co-founded by his late father, praised Schneier for achieving "the standard that my father set for all" people. This standard, he said quoting Dr. King, is the capacity to take a moral stand that is "neither safe, nor politic, nor popular."

Widely considered a leading voice for Black-Jewish relations, Rabbi Schneier was bestowed this latest honor for his efforts to promote civil rights and intergroup relations. He has played a critical role at the local level in New York City, and at the national level, where he recently participated in the inaugural White House Conference on Race Relations.

"Time and time again African Americans and Jews have been able to look beyond the needs of their respective communities," Rabbi Schneier said as he accepted his honor. "In this spirit," Schneier added, "Dr. King was a great champion and supporter of the State of Israel."

Schneier also praised Rabbi Saperstein and the Reform movement for their "courageous" decision to honor him, an Orthodox rabbi, despite existing tensions between the movements. (Recent efforts by Israel's Orthodox political establishment to deny Israel's Reform and Conservative Jews full recognition have had a detrimental impact on relations between the Orthodox and the more liberal Reform and Conservative movements in the United States.)

Singers and dancers from the Metropolitan A.M.E. Zion Church and the Mount Rona Baptist Church drew upon the gospel music tradition as they performed musical interludes during the ceremony.

The annual tribute to Dr. King was established in 1988. Past recipients of the Civil Rights Leadership Award have included former Rep. Kweisi Mfume, Peter Edelman, Dr. Benjamin Hooks, Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, Albert Vorspan, Dr. Dorothy Height, Judith Lichtman and Hyman Bookbinder.


The Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism is the Washington office of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations and the Central Conference of American Rabbis, representing 1.5 million Reform Jews and 1,800 Reform rabbis in 875 congregations throughout North America.

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