Jan. 14, 2008 -- A nationally renowned leader in the world of interfaith relations will deliver the keynote speech Friday at the annual Martin Luther King Jr. Shabbat Service at the St. Thomas Synagogue, where six teens will be honored.
Imam Yahya Hendi, a spiritual leader to the Muslim community in Frederick, Md., and an advisor to presidents, will head the Friday service, where seniors from the six local high schools will receive Martin Luther King Jr. awards for their academic and community-service accomplishments.
"I can't think of a better person to exemplify what we're all about in sending Dr. King's message," said the synagogue's rabbi, Arthur Starr. "First and foremost, he's out there speaking peace, understanding and respect for diversity. He's one of the voices that needs to be heard more from the Islamic community -- someone who condemns violence, no matter where it comes from. He's very vocal, saying the only way to get along is to understand each other, and I think that was Dr. King's message."
This is the second time Starr has invited Hendi to St. Thomas, after the two hit it off during an 8-day seminar in Connecticut on building Abrahamic partnerships. Hendi visited the island in 2005 and spoke to enthusiastic audiences about similarities between Judaism, Christianity and Islam.
Hendi is the first Muslim chaplain at Georgetown University, and perhaps the first in the country, according to Starr. Fluent in Arabic, Hebrew and English, with a doctorate in comparative religion, Hendi is regarded as a bridge builder between faiths. He has been an advisor to Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush.
While the subject of Hendi's speech Friday is not yet known, his talk is in honor of this year's recipients of the synagogue's MLK Jr. Awards: Megan McGrath of Antilles School, Savina Constantin of All Saints School, Odari Thomas of Charlotte Amalie High School, Ella Elizee of Ivanna Eudora Kean High School, Mohammad H. Mustafa of Sts. Peter and Paul School and Aclesia Scotland of the St. Thomas-St. John Seventh-Day Adventist School. The students were selected by their respective schools as seniors who best exemplify the principals of Dr. King's teachings.
Each student will receive a $500 U.S. savings bond and a copy of the book Shared Dreams: Martin Luther King Jr. and the Jewish Community by Rabbi Marc Schneier.
The service begins at 6:30 p.m. at the synagogue, followed by a reception across the street at Lilienfeld House. The public is invited.
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