Dr. Martin Luther King’s Sermon, Temple Israel of Hollywood – February 26, 1965
Dr. Martin Luther King spoke from the bimah of Temple Israel of Hollywood in Los Angeles on Shabbat evening, February 26, 1965, five days after the assassination of Malcolm X. Security was tight around the synagogue on that evening. Sharpshooters were placed on the apartment building across the street on Hollywood Boulevard. The Sanctuary was filled to capacity with 1400+ congregants.
Rabbi Max Nussbaum (1908-1974) was the Senior Rabbi of Temple Israel of Hollywood from 1942 to his death in 1974. He was born in Romania, graduated with a doctoral degree from the University of Wurzburg, and was ordained by the liberal German rabbinic seminary in Breslau, Germany (on the Polish border east of Berlin) in 1936. He served as a community rabbi in Berlin until 1940 under Rabbi Leo Baeck, the titular leader of German Jewry before World War II.
Rabbi Nussbaum and his wife Ruth, were married in Berlin in 1938 by Rabbi Baeck under the watchful eye of the Gestapo. They remained in Berlin in order to give comfort and solace to the Berlin Jewish community as the Nazis escalated their persecution of the Jewish people. When Max and Ruth learned that the Gestapo was planning to arrest him, they fled to Amsterdam in the middle of the night, then to Portugal, bought passage on a ship, and finally arrived in the United States. They met with The New York Times to describe the dire situation of German Jewry and then with the German Jewish Secretary of the Treasury Henry Morgenthau in Washington, D.C. Rabbi Stephen S. Wise, a leading American Zionist and Max’s mentor and friend, had arranged for him to enter the United States with the promise of a rabbinic position serving a small congregation in Muskogee, Oklahoma in 1940 where Max learned English (Ruth was already a fluent English speaker). In 1942, he was elected Senior Rabbi of Temple Israel of Hollywood in Los Angeles.
Max was a strong labor Zionist and an articulate liberal social justice activist, and it was as a consequence of his national and international prominence that he met and befriended Dr. King leading to the invitation of Dr. King to speak at Temple Israel in February of 1965.
Rabbi Nussbaum reminded the congregation that evening that since it was Shabbat, following custom and consistent with Rabbi Nussbaum’s German Jewish respect for decorum that applause following Dr. King’s remarks would be inappropriate. In his introduction of Dr. King, Rabbi Nussbaum instructed the filled sanctuary: “You will wish to applaud, and you will not do so!”
The existence of Dr. King’s recorded speech, a part of the Temple Israel of Hollywood archives, was discovered by the wider Los Angeles Jewish community in 2006. The Los Angeles Jewish Journal contacted me, as the then Senior Rabbi of the congregation (1988-2019), before the Martin Luther King Holiday weekend to request permission to write a story about it. National Public Radio learned of the speech’s recording from the LAJJ article and requested permission to air it nationally. I happily agreed and the speech was broadcast on the MLK holiday weekend in both 2007 and 2008. The recording is now part of Temple Israel’s annual Martin Luther King Holiday celebration.
The sound quality of the recording is exceptionally clear. The speech borrows from many addresses that Dr. King delivered over the course of his career. He was only 35 years old when he spoke that night in February 1965.
You can listen to and read a transcript of his remarks here – http://www.americanrhetoric.com/speeches/mlktempleisraelhollywood.htm