Rabbi David Saperstein will be joining in the celebration of Rabbi Israel “Sy” Dresner’s 84th birthday Friday night.

And he couldn’t be prouder.

Saperstein cites Dresner as part of the generation of civil rights heroes who inspired his own choice to become a rabbi – and as one of the people with whom he has worked most closely over the years.

“He was someone who worked with Dr. Martin Luther King, who was one of that mid-century generation of social justice giants who made a significant contribution in reshaping America to be a more compassionate and just society,” Saperstein said.

Dresner is one of only a dozen lifetime members of the Commission on Social Action of Reform Judaism, which brings together lay and rabbinic leaders to set out the movement’s political positions and direct the work of the Religious Action Center that Saperstein heads.

Saperstein says that Dresner “is not only a social justice institution in his community and the state; he was nationally known for his eloquence and the depth of his knowledge of policy issues. There were few who knew public policy issues as deeply, as richly as Sy Dresner did. People looked to him to bring in expertise for the social justice discussions and policy discussions we were having.

“He has an encyclopedic mind. He absorbed what he read and remembered it. His ability to cite sources and give numbers was really impressive. He has retained his gift. He’s like a walking encyclopedia of social justice battles in America,” Saperstein said.