Guess What’s Being Taught in my Sunday School Class?

A few weeks ago, on the Sunday before Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, I posed a question to the students in my class on “Jews and the Civil Rights Movement”: “If you could plan a Jewish commemoration for Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, what would it be? Who would be the audience? What would you do? Why should Jews, as Jews and in Jewish communities, commemorate this holiday?”

The class came toward the end of a semester that I had spent teaching—and learning from—JWA’s Living the Legacy curriculum on Jews and the Civil Rights Movement with six devoted teenagers. We had by now spent hours talking about the different motivations Jews had for participating in the movement, the variety of ways that Jews were involved, the complicated relationship that Jews, and Jewish women in particular, had to powerful people in the movement, and the difference between acts of personal and collective resistance. We had listened to the music of the Civil Rights Movement and discussed what it would feel like as a Jew to be part of a communal experience of church-inspired music. We had read and debated Justice Justine Wise Polier’s ruling that experienced teachers should not be allowed to choose white classrooms thereby creating de facto educational inequality. We had discussed whether a student’s participation in Freedom Summer was any less noble if it was motivated primarily by a sense of adventure rather than by a commitment to social justice.


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