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The Rabbi and the Reverend

Dr. King at Temple Israel {format} {format} {format} 7:55 Queena Kim

A lost tape of Dr. King at the Temple.

Broadcast: Jan 21 2008 on HV PODCAST; Jan 15 2007 on NPR Day to Day Subjects: Historical, African American, Religious

A New Addition to Martin Luther King's Legacy

January 15, 2007 from Day to Day

ALEX CHADWICK, host: Today would have been - should have been - the 77th birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr. Back in 1965, a Los Angeles rabbi named Max Nussbaum asked Dr. King to speak to his congregation, Temple Israel of Hollywood. And that speech was recorded on reel-to-reel audio tape.

Then the tape was forgotten. It was in a pile of the rabbi's other tapes and papers. And it wasn't made public until this past weekend.

Ruth Nussbaum, the rabbi's 95-year-old widow, shares the story of her husband, Max, and Martin Luther King, Jr.

Ms. RUTH NUSSBAUM: Many of my husband's sermons were taped. And many years ago, I found the one when Martin Luther King, Jr. was the speaker.

(Soundbite of recording)

Rabbi MAX NUSSBAUM: And I consider it a distinct privilege to give you at this point Dr. Martin Luther King.

Dr. MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR.: Ladies and gentlemen, I need not pause to say how very delighted and honored I am to have the privilege of being here this evening.

Ms. NUSSBAUM: The temple was packed with people. There were quite a few blacks there. It was an interfaith event. I was mesmerized by the amount of security because at that time one wasn't really used to that much security.

There were guards on the roof of the temple with rifles and a security guard on either side of Martin Luther King as he spoke. And I was frozen into observing them rather than listening to the speech.

(Soundbite of recording)

Dr. KING: Our destinies are tied together. For some strange reason I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. And you can never be what you want to be until I am what I ought to be.

John Donne caught it years ago and placed in graphic terms. No man is an island entire of itself. Every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. And he goes on toward the end to say any man's death diminishes me because I am involved in mankind. Therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls. It tolls for thee.

Ms. NUSSBAUM: My husband, Max Nussbaum, was born in Eastern Europe. So there was always persecution of minorities, particularly of Jews. And so he was from early youth aware of the minority status and the problems of minorities in the whole world.

And he made it his philosophy to fight against prejudice.

(Soundbite of recording)

Dr. KING: And I want to express my profound and sincere gratitude to your distinguished rabbi for extending the invitation and...

Ms. NUSSBAUM: He was one of the youngest rabbis in Berlin. That was already the time of Hitler. He was always watched by the Gestapo. And he had to be careful how he said what he wanted to say.

So he usually used allegories to disguise what he really meant to say. But everybody understood. If somebody mentions Pharaoh, that you really mean Hitler.

(Soundbite of recording)

Dr. KING: I would like to take your minds back many, many centuries to a familiar experience so significantly recorded in the sacred scriptures. The children of Israel had been reduced to the bondage of physical slavery. And throughout slavery they were things to be used, not persons to be respected. And they were exploited economically, and dominated politically, and humiliated on every hand. But then God sent Moses to lead the children of Israel to a bright and better day. Moses stood up over and over again in pharaoh's court and cried out let my people go.

Ms. NUSSBAUM: It was an important event in the Temple's history and in our lives to have Martin Luther King, Jr. there. But history hadn't happened yet and I didn't realize how historical it would turn out to be, or I would have paid more attention. So I couldn't tell you details of what he said, or that I was terribly impressed with his speech. I was impressed with the presence of the person.

CHADWICK: Ruth Nussbaum recounting the day in 1965 when Martin Luther King Jr. spoke to Temple Israel of Hollywood. She told her story to producer Queena Kim of And here's more of that speech, courtesy of Temple Israel.

Dr. KING: We shall overcome. We shall overcome. Deep in my heart I do believe we shall overcome. And I believe it because somehow the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice. We shall overcome because Carlisle is right; no lie can live forever. We shall overcome because William Cullen Bryant is right; truth crushed to earth will rise again. We shall overcome because James Russell Lowell is right; truth forever on the scaffold, wrong forever on the throne. Yet that scaffold sways the future and behind the then unknown standard God within the shadow keeping watch above his own.

With this faith, we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith, we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith, we will be able to speed up the day. And in the words of prophecy, every valley shall be exalted. And every mountain and hill shall be made low. The rough places will be made plain and the crooked places straight. And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together.

This will be a great day. This will be a marvelous hour. And at that moment - figuratively speaking in biblical words - the morning stars will sing together and the sons of God will shout for joy.

CHADWICK: Martin Luther King, Jr. speaking at a Los Angeles temple in 1965. A recording of the speech was just made public for the first time, and you can hear the entire speech at our Website,