Russell F. Robinson

The Super Bowl, MLK, and the Jews

Imagine this. After following your struggling NFL team for decades, they finally make it to the Super Bowl. Guess what? You also have tickets to see them play. Now imagine you’re at the game and things are going great. However, every time the supporters of the other team jeer and boo at your players, you stop cheering and quietly take your seat. I have to tell you that if my Dallas Cowboys made the Super Bowl, a feat we last achieved in 1996, there is nothing on this earth known to man that would stop me from cheering them on at the top of my lungs. So, why is it that when a celebrity like Kanye spews hatred against our People, or when organizations on college campuses delegitimize Israel, some feel we should sit down, be quiet, or worse, disassociate ourselves and our connection to Israel – our ancestral soil.

People often ask me, “Russell, why are you always trying to give us pep talks?” And I respond by saying, “watch any football match and you’ll see the coach give pep talks to their team before, during, and after every single game. Even players being paid millions of dollars a year need ongoing positive reinforcement and encouragement. And for us, it’s no different. We need to do a better job at celebrating our People’s wins – our successes and our positive impact on the world – not just focusing on setbacks. No matter what, we have to dust ourselves off and get back in the game, just as we have for 4,000 years.”

At Jewish National Fund-USA’s 2022 National Conference, it was Christian pro-Israel activist Olga Meshoe Washington, the CEO of DEISI International and board member of the Institute for Black Solidarity with Israel who said to our over 1,400 attendees: “if we’re going to have your backs, you need to have your own backs.” These words struck a chord with everyone in the room because what Olga said was so simple yet powerful. How can we expect others to cheer for us if we don’t? Sometimes we forget we do have supporters all around the world rooting for us.

One person who never backed down from what he believed in, nor stopped cheering for his movement, and for us was Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. He became a symbol of what it meant to be proud of one’s identity and beliefs, and so many Jewish people stood by his side. On MLK Day, we acknowledge everything King achieved. While he is most often remembered for his work in the civil rights movement, he also had a deep relationship with the Jewish community and the land and people of Israel.

King was a strident supporter of Israel and spoke out in favor of our Jewish homeland on many occasions. He believed that Israel was a symbol of freedom and democracy in the Middle East and that its existence was necessary for the security and survival of the Jewish people.

In a 1957 speech at a synagogue in New York City, King said, “Israel is one of the great outposts of democracy in the world, and a marvelous example of what can be done, [and] how desert land can be transformed into an oasis of brotherhood and democracy.”

King also recognized that the Jewish People had faced centuries of persecution and discrimination. He saw one of the greatest miracles in our People’s history with the re-establishment of the state of Israel in 1948 and believed this was an essential step towards rectifying this injustice.

Here was a man who faced insurmountable challenges of his own trying to progress the rights of his own people, yet he also felt the moral imperative to stand with us, the Jewish people, as an ally and friend.

To honor his legacy, friendship, and partnership, in 1976, Jewish National Fund and KKL created the Martin Luther King Jr. Forest in Israel to commemorate his impact on the civil rights movement and show our appreciation for his support. In 2007, we also established the Coretta Scott King Forest to honor her efforts in the civil rights movement and to express our gratitude for her friendship.

Until this day, Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. continues to serve as an inspirational figure for people everywhere. He never wavered from his Dream nor retreated from his core convictions. As Americans, we continue to learn from the example he set. As Jews, we must take note of how he always cheered for his movement, no matter what, and celebrated everything he achieved and would achieve for the future – for his people and for ours.

Russell F. Robinson is CEO of Jewish National Fund-USA.

About the Author
Russell F. Robinson is JNF’s chief executive officer. Under his leadership, JNF has developed successful far-reaching programs that play a significant role in the quality of life for all Israelis, such as community development, environmental work, sustainable development of the Negev, and solutions for Israel’s water crisis.