Rabbi Dresner, Civil Rights Champion and King’s Ally, Dies at 92

Israel S. Dresner, a New Jersey rabbi who ventured into the Deep South in the 1960s to fight for civil rights, befriends Father Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and jailed multiple times for protesting against racism, died on Jan. 13. in Wayne, NJ He is 92 years old.

His son Avi, said his death at a senior living center was from colon cancer.

By the time Dresner joined the civil rights movement, he was already a veteran of political protests, arrested in 1947 outside the British Empire Building at Rockefeller Center in Manhattan during a protest British refusal to give Exodus, a ship. filled with Holocaust survivors, landed in British-controlled Palestine, an event that inspired Leon Uris’ 1958 novel of the same name and a follow-up film.

In 1961, as part of the first show Ride freely between clerics between sects In the South, Rabbi Dresner and nine others, known as “Tallahassee Ten,” were charged with unlawful assembly in an attempt to integrate an airport restaurant in Tallahassee, Fla.

They were released upon conviction and, with Clergy Dresner as the lead plaintiff, pursued appeals to the US Supreme Court, which retrial. case to the Florida courts. He and the others later returned to Florida to serve a short prison sentence.

In 1962, in Albany, Ga., he was enrolled in what has been described as the nation’s largest mass arrest of religious leaders, in a march for seclusion. It was there that he first met Dr. King, shaking hands through the bars of a cell in which Dr. King had also been jailed along with hundreds of other protesters.

In 1964, Rabbi Dresner led 16 rabbis, including other rabbis, in a protest outside an isolated motel in St. Augustine, Fla.

“We come as Jews who remember the millions of faceless people who stood quietly watching the smoke rise from Hitler’s crematorium,” the rabbis said after their arrest. “We came because we know that, second only to silence, the greatest danger to man is the loss of faith in his ability to act.”

Dr. King wrote to Rabbi Dresner that year, saying: “It was your act of bravery that touched the consciences of Americans of good will. Your example is a statement and an inspiration to each of us”.

In 1965, at the behest of Dr. King, Rabbi Dresner prayed in Selma, Ala., two days after marchers were brutally attacked by law enforcement agencies during what became known as Soaking Sunday blood as protesters tried to cross the Edmund Pettus Bridge on their way to Montgomery, the state capital, to demand the right to vote.

Dr. King responded by preaching twice at the synagogue, Sha’arey Shalom Temple, in Springfield, NJ.

Credit…Courtesy of the Dresner . family

All told, Rabbi Dresner has been convicted in three civil rights cases, his son said. His last arrest took place in 1980 outside the South African consulate in New York City during an anti-apartheid protest.

In 2015, he told Saint Augustine’s Record that Jewish doctrine convinced him to follow his conscience to act for civil rights with the conviction “that racism and slavery in America are wrong, and racism in America is wrong.”

After receiving a diagnosis of colon cancer, Mr tell NPR at the end of last year, “I feel a little guilty leaving the current world, where the forces of hatred and discrimination are on the rise and democracy seems to be in jeopardy.”

At least he was able to complete his personal program, his son said. He visited the graves of his parents and grandparents with his children, went to a Broadway show (“Book of Mormon”), attended services at Central Synagogue in Manhattan, and ate rye pasta in Katz’s delicacies on the Lower East Side.

Israel Seymour Dresner (known as Sy, or Si) born April 22, 1929, in the Lower East Side of Manhattan, is an immigrant from Eastern Europe. The family moved to Borough Park in Brooklyn, where his father, Abe, owned a gourmet restaurant not far from Ebbets Field. His mother, Rose (Sternchos) Dresner, is a homemaker.

After attending Orthodox Jewish schools and graduating from New Utrecht High School in Brooklyn, he went to Brooklyn College, attending Habonim Academy to become an organizer for the Labor Youth Movement and earned a master’s degree in international relations from the University of Chicago in 1950.

He was hitchhiking across Europe and was working on a kibbutz in the Negev desert when he learned in a telegram from his mother that he had been drafted into the army. He served in the Army from 1952 to 1954 in Indiana, where he became a chaplain’s assistant.

Rabbi Dresner was in his 20s when, in 1954, he enrolled at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Religious Institute, Reformed clerical seminary in Manhattan. He ordained in 1961.

Avi Dresner said of his father: “I thought being a rabbi was a way to combine my Orthodox upbringing and background with Jewish political activism and a passion for public affairs. by society.

Israel Dresner served as a student rabbi for a congregation in Danbury, Conn., and then to the Temple Sha’arey Shalom Reform congregation in Springfield from 1958 to 1960, after which he became a Jewish rabbi. The first full-time Thai church.

His marriage to Toby Silverman ended in divorce in 1991. In addition to his son, he is survived by their daughter, Tamar; his sisters, Phyllis Meiner and Eileen Dresner; and two grandchildren.

His son served in the Israel Defense Forces, and his daughter volunteered on a kibbutz in Israel. They are producing a documentary called “Clergy and Pastor,” about their father’s role in the civil rights movement and his relationship with Dr. King.

Rabbi Dresner was an early supporter of Soviet Judaism, opposed the war in Vietnam and supported the rights of the poor, women, immigrants, religious and ethnic minorities, the disabled, gay men and lesbians. He was president of the Israel Foundation for Education for Civil Rights and Peace (now Partnership for Progressive Israel) and advocated for a two-state solution to the Palestinian conflict.

He was honored by President Barack Obama at the White House on the eve of the 50th anniversary of March 1963 in Washington, which he attended. While he remains an optimist about race relations, say NPR, “We have a long way to go.”

He retired as a rabbi in 1996 but never gave up being a citizen of the state. His last public rally, in Trenton, NJ, was on January 20, 2017, the day President Donald J. Trump took office. Rabbi Dresner was 87 years old at the time.

Avi Dresner says: “A few years ago, when I called my dad to talk on the phone twice a week, I asked him how he was and he said, “Well, I haven’t lost consciousness at all. his integrity. indignant, so I guess I’m doing fine. ‘

“I think that tells you everything you need to know about him,” his son added.

Last month, in an interview with WCBS-TV in New York, Rabbi Dresner said, “I want to be remembered as someone who not only tried to keep the Jewish faith but also invoked Jewish doctrine from the Talmud, known as ‘tikkun olam’ – edit heal the world – and I hope that I have made a small contribution to making the world a little bit better. “ Rabbi Dresner, Civil Rights Champion and King’s Ally, Dies at 92

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