Sing for King

Annual concert evokes civil rights struggle


As a gospel concert celebrating Martin Luther King, Jr. Day wound down and energy climbed at the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale’s (HIR) synagogue on Monday night, dozens of audience members got to their feet and did a circle dance to Rev. Roger Hambrick’s impassioned performance of the Jewish folk song “Ki Va Moed,” or, “The Time Has Come.” 

Congregants from HIR and the reverend’s own Green Pastures Baptist Church in the south Bronx leaped and laughed together while Rev. Hambrick employed both his powerful tenor and his best Hebrew pronunciation.

“I hope that when you leave here today, if you listen in, it can do something miraculous for you as it does for us,” Rev. Hambrick told the audience mostly consisting of HIR regulars.

Monday night marked the 13th time Rev. Hambrick and his choir have performed at HIR for Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. The collaboration began after Rev. Hambrick and HIR’s Rabbi Avi Weiss met at a meeting of Bronx religious leaders discussing the aftermath of Amadou Diallo’s murder in 1999.

When not on their feet, audience members clapped and sang along while Rev. Hambrick and his choir played both gospel and Hebrew songs with saxophone, keyboard and drum accompaniment.

After a bit of cajoling, Rabbi Weiss joined Rev. Hambrick in the synagogue’s central platform, known as the bimah, for a performance of the lullaby “B’shem Hashem,” or, “The Name of God.”

A welcoming statement by HIR’s Rabba Sara Hurwitz and a prayer by Rabbi Avi Hart touched on post-civil rights era instances of intolerance today, pointing to swastika vandalism at Seton Park in December.

But a celebratory mood pervaded the evening, which started with a performance by the Kinneret Day School Choir.

Rabbi Weiss described the concert as one of the highlights of the year for him.

“There’s a sense of universal consciousness which transcends words and transcends the moment,” he said. “For me, it’s a glimpse of the ultimate redemptive moment when all people, all nations will come together to Jerusalem.”

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