Rabbi Moshe Shur was the first one to arrive on Jan. 17 at LaGuardia Airport to wait for his students for a trip he arranged called “In the Footsteps of Dr. King.”
Throughout the five-day trip, Shur’s face beamed every time a staff member in the airport or a tour guide appreciated his work as they saw the name of the program on the business cards he handed out. He then gave them a handshake or hug, and invited them to visit QC.
“I wanted to do something which is what I would call an ‘experiential education,” Shur said. “Going to historical places has a different effect on people than looking at a book.”
Half a century ago, Shur worked with the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. in Atlanta. Half a century later, he started a program that brings students to Georgia and Alabama during the week of Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Every year, they visit major sites of the civil rights movement, talk to civil rights leaders and learn about Dr. King’s deeds.
Rather than acting like a 71-year-old history professor, Shur behaved more similarly to what he was in the 1960’s—a student activist. When he was visiting the museums, he checked every exhibition room carefully as though it was his first time. When he was in the march, he was always in the front of the procession, chanting whatever slogans he came up with, such as “Queens College, freedom for knowledge.”
Shur’s memory about what happened in the South during the 1960’s remains fresh. From 1965 to 1966, through the Summer Community Organization and Political Education Project initiated by Dr. King, he spent two summers in Atlanta as president of all college students who traveled from the North to help African-Americans register to vote.
Shur described Dr. King as a strong, charismatic and inspirational figure. Dr. King inspired Shur to become a college Rabbi, to spread the values he learned to even more people.
“Dr. King has dreamed of social justice and equality for all mankind and I think each generation has to pursue that. If something happens that is not like that, you have to stand up and make it happen,” Shur said.
Shur said that his Jewish identity played a role in his decision to volunteer in the South when he was a college student.
“It’s a part of the Jewish tradition to feel empathy with people who are persecuted because the Jewish people were slaves thousands of years ago in Egypt. I felt empathy with what Dr. King was trying to do in the civil rights movement,” Shur said.
Apart from being an adjunct professor at QC, he is also an emeritus director of Queens College Hillel, an organization for Jewish students.
Uri Cohen has been the executive director of QC Hillel since 2011. He is grateful for Shur’s 33-year leadership at QC Hillel.
“When I got here, I found a huge Jewish population which means that Jewish students have been comfortable being here for a long time, and Rabbi Shur has something to do with that,” Cohen said.
Shur was once asked to speak in front of the New York City Council to suggest how officials could help Jewish students on campus. Instead of thinking only of the Jewish community, Shur addressed a more urgent concern—he suggested building a washing station in the bathrooms for the Muslim students, which is an important part of their rituals.
“It takes a special kind of person to do that,” Cohen said. “He took an opportunity like that and used it in the benefit of the others. It was really typical of Rabbi Shur. ”
Shur has never let go of his passion—music. He has a rock music band with his two sons and shares songs through his YouTube channel, Moshe Shur. He held a concert at LeFrak Hall and sang many songs he wrote, such as “Hafachta.”
Shur was actively involved in starting Tizmoret, a QC Hillel professional Jewish a cappella group, which is already in its 20th year and has produced six CDs.
Shur can take on topics as serious as human rights, but he is also a man with a strong sense of humor, which is what makes him approachable and magnifies his influence on people around him.
During the “In the Footsteps of Dr. King” trip, in a meeting with the first African-American judge in Alabama, U. W. Clemon, Shur asked his students, most of whom were seniors, to introduce themselves. When it was his turn, he said, “Well, I am a real senior,” making everyone, including the judge, laugh.
Siana Stone, QC student life coordinator who planned the trip with Shur, said working with him was always fun.
“My favorite thing is when he says, ‘It’s a Shur thing… get it?” Stone said.