Central Los Angeles : Speakers Launch King Observance

Hundreds of Los Angeles residents representing a wide range of races and religions gathered Wednesday for an interfaith prayer breakfast to kick off a weeklong celebration of Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday.

The breakfast was at Holman United Methodist Church in the West Adams district, whose pastor, Rev. James Lawson, was a close friend of King.

The event, sponsored by the National Conference and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, featured speeches, songs and prayers from religious leaders, including Israeli Counsel General Yoram Ben-Zeev.

Ben-Zeev drew parallels between King's 1968 assassination and that of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, murdered last year.

"King and Rabin were slain because they had a dream," Ben-Zeev said. "You can kill the body, but you cannot kill the dream."

Ben-Zeev added that children in Israel will be studying the teachings of King on Monday, the date of his birth. "King does not belong just to you. He belongs to humanity. King is also a Jewish hero and an Israeli hero."

Lawson talked to the crowd about his belief that James Earl Ray, who was convicted of assassinating King, did not kill the minister. He cited a recently published book titled "Orders to Kill: The Truth Behind the Murder of Martin Luther King Jr." by William Pepper.

In an interview, Lawson said he likes to remember King "for his tremendous humanity, good cheer and good humor, his gentle strength and his intelligent ability."

Other speakers included Samir El Kobaitery, a member of the Islamic Center of Southern California, Rabbi Jane Litman of Congregation Kol Simcha and Rev. Jong Mae Park of the Bokwahng Temples International.

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