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JCC+MKE 3 min read

Praying with Their Feet

By JCC Milwaukee February 15, 2019

Susannah Heschel and Bernice King were children in 1965 when their fathers, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., marched from Selma to Montgomery, campaigning for voting rights. When Rabbi Heschel returned from the march, he referred to the experience as “praying with my feet.”

More than 50 years later, following in their fathers’ footsteps, the two daughters of the civil rights movement shared the stage for the first time at a free community program at the Pabst Theater on March 4th, 2018. Hosted by the Harry & Rose Samson Family JCC and the Milwaukee Urban League, and moderated by WUWM’s Bonnie North, “Praying with Their Feet” was a conversation to invigorate a new generation on civil rights and examine the current state of Jewish/African-American interaction. More than 300 people, members from both communities, attended.

Bernice King spoke about the common ground between the Jewish and African-American communities, as acts of hatred and discrimination continue to surface across the country. She advocated for renewing the two communities’ connection, saying, “The history of oppression for both is where the connection is, and we need to keep that alive in each generation.”

Susannah Heschel encouraged American Jews to recognize how deeply engrained discrimination is for African-Americans. “What is it like to be black in this country? When the police stop my car, I don’t fear for my life. That’s a big issue, a big difference.”

“For decades the Jewish community has actively involved itself in the civil rights movement as a reflection of the value of Tikkun Olam, repairing the world,” according to Jody Hirsh, JCC Judaic Education Director. “We conceived ‘Praying with Their Feet’ and additional programming to foster dialogue between the Jewish and African-American communities.”

“It was a great privilege to bring these accomplished, exceptional women to Milwaukee and to learn from their experiences, perspectives, and memories,” said JCC President & Chief Executive Officer Mark Shapiro. “Never has it been clearer that we have a responsibility to learn from our shared pasts, to understand the importance of partnership between our communities, and to open the lines of dialogue and confront the challenges Milwaukee faces. This event was a perfect representation of the role the JCC serves in our community–Jewishly and beyond.”

“Praying with Their Feet” was sponsored in part by Herb Kohl Philanthropies. It was part of the JCC Tapestry: Arts & Ideas series, “200 Days that Changed Milwaukee” programming to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of Milwaukee’s Fair Housing Marches. Programming included a photography exhibit at the JCC entitled, “Black. Leadership. Milwaukee.” by local photographer James Seder

For more stories of impact read our complete 2018 Community Impact Report.