A recent “06880” story on the 70th anniversary of Temple Israel sent many longtime and former congregants — here and across the country — on trips down memory lane.
It stirred Carol-Anne Hughes Hossler too.
Now retired after a long career as an elementary school teacher, principal, Indiana University faculty member and coordinator of multicultural education for teachers, she is not a former Westporter. She’s not even Jewish.
Carol-Anne spent 5 years in Weston, before her family moved to California. They attended St. Michael’s Episcopal church in Wilton.
But it was the 1960s — the height of the civil rights movement — and at 13 years old, she was starting to pay attention to the world around her.
In October of 1963, the 5th and 6th grade wing of Weston’s elementary school burned down. Rabbi Byron T. Rubenstein offered the use of Temple Israel. Carol-Anne and her sister were among the students who went to school there.
When she learned that Martin Luther King would speak at Temple Israel’s 5th anniversary celebration, she told her parents she wanted to go. They said no; it was wrong to take the seat of a member of that congregation.
“That was the first time I went against my parents,” Carol-Anne recalls. She wrote a script for what she wanted to say, called the temple, and talked to the secretary.
Rabbi Rubenstein called right back. He asked why this was important to her. She told him how the leader of her church youth group had gone to the August March on Washington, and that they’d recently asked some girls from New York City to a youth group party.
He invited her to King’s speech. And — in the parking lot before the service — he met her, and introduced her to King himself.
Carol-Anne still remembers exactly where she and her mother sat in the sanctuary.
For 20 years she considered writing a children’s book about that night, and the events that led up to it.
She thought she remembered what King had said. But she wanted her book to be true. As she researched his speeches, she realized that her recollection of King’s talk was accurate.
She began writing the book a decade ago. Her book is about how a black man and a Christian girl sat in a Jewish synagogue together, as brother and sister. “Why can’t it be like that everywhere?” she wonders.
There’s a subplot about white privilege. In September 1963, a bomb at a Baptist church in Birmingham, Alabama killed 4 little girls.
“I looked at my white arm,” Carol-Anne says. “I was aware of my privilege as a white person even then.”
“Dr. King, The Rabbi and Me” has not yet been published. But — with a renewed focus on white privilege and black-white relations, and a target audience of upper elementary school students — Carol-Anne says the timing is right.
She hopes for a January launch. That’s the month in which Dr. Martin Luther King — who was just 35 years old when he visited Westport — was born.
This coming Martin Luther King Day, he would have been 91.
BONUS FACT: Dr. King was not the only prominent black American to speak at Temple Israel in that era. Andrew Lopez discovered a talk by author James Baldwin in April, 1961. His topic — “The Negro Mood” — was also the subject of a piece he’d written recently for the New York Times Magazine.