Annual Temple Beth Am Service honoring Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

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Temple Beth Am’s annual service honoring Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. will be graced by a special guest, Robert Azriel Devine, on Friday, Jan. 15, at 7:30 p.m. at Temple Beth Am Temple Beth Am, 879 South Beverwyck Rd. in Parsippany. The talk, “Kol Yisrael,” will feature Devine speaking about his unique experience growing up as both a black man and a Jew.

Devine was born and raised in Chicago, Ill, and has practiced Judaism since birth. On Aug. 23, 1969, when Devine celebrated his Bar Mitzvah at the south side’s well-known Congregation Rodfei Zedeck on Hyde Park Avenue, he was the first black child to achieve this milestone in Chicago’s Jewish community.

At the time, the Chicago Tribune headline read “Bar Mitzvah Planned for Negro Boy, 13.” The accompanying article went on to share his path to the bima, which included the same four years of study that every young Jewish child undergoes and was quoted by the paper as “not being a stunt.”

Devine’s spiritual growth was especially nurtured by his father, who was serving as the Rabbi of the House of Israel Hebrew Cultural Center and was also the chairman of the United Leaders’ Council of Hebrew Israelites, an organization of black Rabbis from Chicago, Illinois, and Gary and Indianapolis, Ind.

Devine studied briefly at Ida Crown Academy and is an alumnus of Camp Ramah. He is attending the Academy of Jewish Religion in Yonkers New York. His goal is to become an ordained Rabbi.

“Everyone at Temple Beth Am is honored to have Azriel join us. He will be sharing his personal journey during our annual Shabbat service honoring the late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.,” noted Cantor Inna Serebro-Litvak, who was instrumental in bringing Azriel to the temple. “Over the years, Temple Beth Am has enjoyed a wide range of distinctive speakers who have shared their extraordinary experiences with us during this special Shabbat and we look forward to this year being equally as moving at a time when we could all use some inspiration.”

Azriel will also help attendees understand how black history connects to Judaism, revealing a diversity that is the fabric of modern Israel and Jewry as a whole.