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Editor’s note: The St. Helena Star is a sister paper to The Weekly Calistogan.

On Monday a few hundred people spent Martin Luther King Day carrying on his legacy by participating in 25 community service projects around the Napa Valley. But so what?

The answer, as King would have agreed, is that it makes all the difference in the world.

My Facebook friend just shared a video of my political opponents getting eviscerated in a cable news debate, so why should I study a letter some guy wrote in jail before I was even born? I’ve seen the consequences of terrorism, so why should I spend an hour and a half learning about Islam? This last election left our country irredeemably messed up, so what difference does it make if I clean up a park or take an elderly person out to lunch?

Last week Rabbi Lee Bycel of Congregation Beth Shalom explained to us the purpose of the Interfaith Community Council’s MLK Monday: A Day of Action and Compassion. He said it’s not just about doing good things for a day; it’s about building community.

Bycel hoped the day’s activities would inspire people to set aside the divisions that seem to mean so much these days – political, racial, sexual – and work together for the common good. To replace indifference with understanding, and apathy with empathy. To find something you’re passionate about and use that energy to produce something positive.

Bycel believes most people are basically good, that beneath the artificial barriers that divide us lies a shared need for dignity, food, water, shelter and peace. As King said, “We may have all come on different ships, but we’re in the same boat now.”

Idealism is easy to sustain for one day. The real challenge is to maintain it for the other 364 days, amidst the social isolation, mindless pleasures and high-tech distractions of modern life.

Call us dreamers, but we agree with Bycel that positive action is an antidote to indifference. We believe that spending one day writing letters to soldiers deployed overseas or planting trees at the Vine Trail can be enough to ignite a spark in someone – a spark that could cause that person to volunteer for a charity, start a literacy project, or simply resolve to treat others with more respect and compassion.

Wednesday’s Volunteer Rally at Clif Family was a manifestation of that same spirit. So is the online calendar at CVNL.org that offers ideas on when and where to volunteer.

Liberal or conservative, white or Latino, male or female, religious or secular, we’re all members of one interconnected community. That’s why acts as simple as cleaning up a park, treating a senior to lunch, and reaching out to people who are different from us can be so powerful.

King said it best in his eloquent “Letter from Birmingham Jail:”

“I am cognizant of the interrelatedness of all communities and states. I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny.”

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