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Wayne Rabbi Remembers Martin Luther King Vividly

Wayne Rabbi Israel Dresner, at right, with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Wayne Rabbi Israel Dresner, at right, with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Photo Credit: Temple Beth Tikvah

WAYNE, N.J. — Wayne Rabbi Israel Dresner does not have to remember Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s famous speech from the history books or secondhand accounts: he heard it through his own ears.

The Temple Beth Tikvah rabbi will speak about his experience with King at the temple on Jan. 15, shortly before the national celebration of the iconic activist's birthday.

"I followed him around for four days like a little puppy dog," said Dresner, 86.

"He spoke usually three to four times a day in rural churches, so I got to know him very well at that time. He spoke twice at my congregation in Springfield, New Jersey in 1963 and 1966."

Dresner met King in the 1960s at the height of the civil rights movement.

The rabbi took part in demonstrations with King and spent several nights in jail as a result, he said.

He recalls standing 100 feet away from King during his famous "I Have a Dream" speech in Washington, D.C. in 1963.

The Wayne rabbi took to the same spirit, as he said he fasted while sitting in jail for participating in rallies and civil rights movements.

"We were arrested for nothing, really," he said. "We were arrested for blocking the pavement, refusing the order of a police officer."

Dresner retired from Temple Beth Tikvah in 1998 but said it's still important to speak on special occasions such as for King's remembrance.

Sometimes, the rabbi has survivor's guilt for being alive while King is not, he said.

Remembering the cause is what the rabbi says matters most.

"Like all struggles for justice, the struggle never ends," he said. "There's always those trying to push back."

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