A group of teenagers who were graduates of the progressive, secular Sholem Sunday School in Los Angeles occupied a building belonging to the South African consulate on this date in 1987 — Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, twenty-five years ago. They were acting in solidarity with sit-ins taking place around the world in the struggle against apartheid, and several were arrested during their overnight occupation. Attorney Art Goldberg, a parent of two of the protesters and a veteran of the Berkeley Free Speech Movement, arranged for the group’s release. The Sholem group then organized the Los Angeles Student Coalition in their high schools, together with Children of War, whose members included refugees from South Africa. This led to much larger demonstrations on the MLK holiday in the following two years, with over a thousand participating in 1989; the consulate, which had moved to more secure and costly quarters on Wilshire Boulevard, although not wanting to honor the King holiday, nevertheless had to lock its doors as the young demonstrators approached. The demonstrations ended after the 1989 release of Nelson Mandela from Robbin Island and the subsequent collapse of apartheid.
“We learned about social activism from our families, of course. But it was at Sholem that we found the strength of a community and learned that our Jewish heritage — from our grandparents’ picket lines to the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising — could be expressed by fighting for justice. We found that it is important to learn history — but that we could also make history.” — Sonia and Susan, who led the sit-ins in their mid-teens; now mothers, they recalled their experiences last Sunday as The Sholem Community marked MLK Day and honored them and their friends. (Our thanks to Hershl Hartman for sparking this JEWDAYO.)