Tree of Life celebrates MLK with Ebenezer Baptist Church
Unity WeekendJan. 13 and 14

Tree of Life celebrates MLK with Ebenezer Baptist Church

Ebenezer Baptist Church's Rev. Dr. Vincent K. Campbell will help guide biblical study during a Tree of Life Shabbat service. Myers will sing with the church's choir on Sunday.

Rabbi Jeffrey Myers Photo by Abigail Hakas
Rabbi Jeffrey Myers Photo by Abigail Hakas

Rabbi Hazzan Jeffrey Myers is used to chanting the haftarah during weekly Shabbat services for Tree of Life Congregation. This weekend, though, he’ll put a modern spin on his haftarah, reading one composed of texts written by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

“Since we’re celebrating Dr. King’s words, I can think of no better way to honor him than with this,” Myers told the Chronicle. “It really is the ultimate compliment … to the words of Dr. King.”

Tree of Life will mark its fourth annual Unity Weekend on Jan. 13 and 14 with interfaith partner Ebenezer Baptist Church. Rev. Dr. Vincent K. Campbell, the Hill District church’s spiritual leader, will help guide biblical study during a Tree of Life Shabbat service on Saturday morning, while Myers will sing with Ebenezer Baptist Church’s choir at a church service on Sunday.

Both services will be steeped in the legacy of King, the iconic 20th-century civil rights leader whose birth Americans will celebrate with a federal holiday on Monday, Jan. 15.

Myers said the haftarah, which traditionally is composed from the Torah texts of Prophets, is appropriate. He said King is one in a long line of leaders he called “biblical prophets.”

“Biblical prophets spoke up for the wrongs they saw in society,” Myers said. “And that’s certainly what Dr. King did.”

The King haftarah was composed by a colleague of Myers’ several years ago, the rabbi said. And it does follow the haftarah trope, or musical system used to chant the text.

Myers admits it will be a unique experience for regular synagogue attendees to hear a haftarah based on English — not Hebrew — texts.

“It demands the listener pay close attention to what’s being said,” said Myers, who previously has read the King haftarah. “I’ve gotten very positive feedback to it. That’s one of the reasons I’m doing it again.”

Myers also said he’s greatly looking forward to the Baptist service. He doesn’t think he’ll feel out of place; his musical command as a cantor “is not nearly only what I sing in synagogue.”

“Just because you’re a cantor doesn’t mean you don’t know non-synagogue music — classical or opera or music of other faiths,” he said.

Myers said he has sung — and enjoyed singing — Christian hymns and prayers.

“Particularly when I have a chance to sing with them,” he laughed.

Myers, who met Campbell when receiving an Urban League award in 2019, said regular shul attendees will get a kick out of taking part in Ebenezer Baptist Church’s lively service.

“You can’t just sit still,” Myers said. “You’ve got to clap your hands! It’s exciting to take part in their service.”

Saturday’s service starts at Rodef Shalom Congregation on Jan. 13 at 9:45 a.m. The Sunday service at the Wylie Avenue church will start at 11 a.m. PJC

Justin Vellucci is a freelance writer living in Pittsburgh.

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