When Martin Luther King Jr. spoke of a day when "little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers," he may have been picturing a scene similar to one inside Havre de Grace's St. James African Methodist Episcopal Church on Sunday afternoon.
The day before Monday's national observance the late civil rights leader's birthday – which is actually January 15, members of St. James and Temple Adas Shalom joined forces – blacks, whites, Jews, Christians – to take part in a spirit-filled service and work on a mosaic, inspired by King's words, they hope to complete by this time next year.
The event was the brainchild of Adas Shalom's Rabbi Gila Ruskin, who taught at Baltimore's St. Frances Academy, an all-black school.
"While I was there, I realized how important it is for Jewish people and African-American people to dialogue with each other," Ruskin explained. "I made a commitment that no matter where I go in life, I'm going to try to reach out in some way to the African-American community, especially the church community."
Ruskin said she clicked especially well with the Rev. Baron D. Young, pastor of St. James for the past three years. The two have since been studying the Torah, or Old Testament, together. Adas Shalom is up the road from St. James, off Route 155.
"The two of us decided the best way is to bring people together around the arts," she said.
Young said the observance of Dr. King's birthday was a perfect time to do that.
"Part of the motivation for the two of our congregations coming together is to highlight and celebrate Jewish and African-American members and community leaders, citizens, neighbors working together in the work of Dr. King and others in the civil rights movement," Young said.
On Sunday, the congregations launched the creation of the mosaic, designed by Ruskin, who regularly makes mosaics on religious motifs.
The Martin Luther King Jr. mosaic will feature Dr. King's famous quote and verse from the biblical book of Amos: "Let justice roll on like a river and righteousness an everlasting stream."
"We are modifying a design I found online and we're incorporating not only mosaic tiles but also some natural stones," Ruskin said. "On one side of the river we are going to have the challenges we face in society, like poverty, hunger, inequality, things like that, and on the other side, tolerance, cooperation, things like that."
"Hopefully it will come out even better than we imagined," she added.
Before the mosaic, everyone joined for a service that included in singing "America the Beautiful" and "We Shall Overcome," while each congregation also showed off its distinctive contributions.
St. James' Staffon Smith passionately read a sermon delivered by Dr. King after the 1965 march from Selma to Montgomery, Ala. Adas Shalom's Joel Yoffee also read selections from King's "I Have A Dream" speech.
Asia Dennis and Victoria Stanley performed a rousing dance to the song "Rejoice (Clap Your Hands)" and St. James' choir sang "Battle Hymn of the Republic" and "God Bless America."
Sig Gast, of Adas Shalom, led an interactive chanting of the Ten Commandments, while the temple's choir sang "Sing Unto God," "On That Day" and "Od Yavo Shalom Aleinu (May Peace Come)."
At the end of the service, Ruskin and Young told the joint congregation they were glad to have found a friend.
Young said it was especially meaningful on the day when the nation recognizes Dr. King, "who was a victim of domestic terrorism [and] became a modern-day prophet."
Ruskin also said: "There is still injustice, there is still oppression," she added. "We are not going to be complacent, and if anything is the message of Martin Luther King, it is to refuse to be complacent."
"We are forbidden by the Bible to be complacent," she said, drawing murmurs of agreement from the audience. "The book of Leviticus says, do not stand idly by when your neighbor bleeds. We are called, Jews and Christians, to never be complacent."