April 16, 2014 · 16 Nisan

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Black-Jewish Relations

Martin Luther King Jr. Day

For more than ten years, Temple B’nai Israel in Oklahoma City has hosted a commemorative service on the Sunday before Martin Luther King Jr. Day, along with the local NAACP.  Every year the arrangements committee, which is led by the Rabbi and the President of the NAACP, selects a church choir, local musical group or soloist to perform at the Temple along with a speaker.  The speaker is someone who has had a positive impact upon the African American community or on Black/Jewish relations.  Past speakers have ranged from a 1960’s local integration activist to a historian discussing the Tulsa Greenwood riots in the 1920’s.  Following the main program, the entire group breaks into smaller groups to discuss the speech’s themes.  This year, the Temple hosted a light supper before the speaker as an opportunity for further socializing.  This program, made possible by the Claire Levinson Fund, serves as an important annual tribute to the memory of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.   

 

Martin Luther King Jr. Day

Larchmont Temple's (Larchmont, NY) relationship with Strait Gate Church stems from Rabbi Jeffrey Sirkman’s friendship with Bishop Wayne Powell.  The synagogue has celebrated Martin Luther King Jr. Day with Powell’s church for the past 8 years.  This year, Rabbi Sirkman and Bishop Powell led services together on Friday night and Sunday morning.  At these services congregational members of all ages played an active role in commemorating the holiday.  For example, each congregation has a youth dance group, which performed as a part of the “faith celebration.”  Strait Gate’s Judah Chorale sang, as did the Temple’s Shir Ami choir and the Temple Youth Choir.  The youth from both congregations also wrote creative prayer offerings to share with the community.  In addition to this annual service, these congregations enjoy  other outings, including trips to historical sites around the city, which further strengthens this relationship.  

 

Sing Out for Freedom...Pray for Peace 
On Jan. 19, 2003 Congregation Beth Ahabah of Richmond, VA held their interfaith concert entitled: "Sing Out for Freedom...Pray for Peace."  Cantor Fran Goldman initiated this concert last year primarily as a response to 9/11, but also as an opportunity for a diverse group to come together and celebrate choral music.  Cantor Goldman, who has been involved in planning a number of Shabbat services focused on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, collaborated with a local committee to put on this special concert.   The group chose Beth Ahabah, with its domed Sanctuary and three balconies, to host this concert.  Ten choirs, with a total of 300 performers, sang pieces focusing on universal themes, followed by a potluck dessert reception.  Cantor Goldman called this well-attended musical and cultural event “quite inspiring,” and we applaud her efforts. 

Black/Jewish Dialogue
Sinai Temple (Springfield, MA) has created a series of study circles with a neighboring Black Baptist church in an effort to facilitate dialogue between the Black Christian community and the Jewish community. Members of the dialogue circle learn about each other's history, culture, liturgy, and social concerns. A good place to start planning your own dialogue group, and gain a better understanding of how best to explore the differences between the Black and Jewish communities, would be the National Coalition Building Institute which runs diversity workshops. Contact the national office of the National Coalition Building Institute at 202/785-9400 for the phone number of the local chapter nearest your synagogue.

HEART Program - Help Educate and Renew Trust
A remarkable partnership was formed between Temple Sinai (Worcester, MA) and the Emmanuel Baptist Church, an African American congregation in the most economically depressed area of thecity. These two communities of faith united to create an after-school academic enrichment program for minority children that brings together volunteers from widely different backgrounds in a common cause: helping to "level the playing field" and providing hope for the future of these children. The program's benefits, however, go far beyond the individual children; volunteers from the Jewish community, ranging from teenagers to senior citizens, have offered their time and expertise to this effort.

The children were provided with individual tutoring and homework assistance; activities in language and literature, the arts, mathematics, and science; computer training (using six complete systems pieced together from donations); and field trips for the enjoyment of nature,art, science and just plain fun. Donations and grants of funds for salaries and materials, as well asin-kind contributions of supplies and equipment, were forthcoming from individuals and organizations representing Jewish, African American, and general community interests.

Last year, a joint service was held at Temple Sinai, with excellent attendance by members of both congregations. A volunteer recognition celebration was held at the end of the school year at the Emmanuel Baptist Church, again, well-attended and uplifting in spirit and substance.

*Recipient of the Irving J. Fain Social Action Award

Breaking the Circle of Hate
This program started at Temple Har Zion (Thornhill, Ontario) as a one-day event designed to sensitize the congregation's youth to anti-semitism and racism. The success of the program, in which over 120 people participated, was due in large part to the creation of severalage-appropriate workshops. The senior youth group heard a lecture entitled "Anti-Semitism on Campus," the congregation's younger children learned to express their concerns artistically in a class called "Racism," and adult workshops focused on strategies to confront racism, neo-Nazism,and Holocaust revisionism. Dr. Karen Mock, the National Director of the League for Human Rights for B'nai B'rith Canada, delivered the keynote address. The congregation held ongoing, follow-up programs for all age groups, exploring the history of the Holocaust and methods for confronting racism in daily life.

Temple Har Zion reached out into the community for additional educational resources, as well. In May 1994, representatives of the J'Affari Islamic Center and the Canadian Black Teachers Alliance were invited to the congregation for a multicultural dialogue program. In November 1994, young adults from the congregation, St. Gabriel's Church, and the mosque located next door to the synagogue, took part in a similar exchange program. On November 12, 1995, Har Zion, J'Affari Islamic Center, St. Gabriel's Church, and several Black churches sent representatives on a retreat to extend these dialogue programs.

*Recipient of the Irving J. Fain Social Action Award

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