One important but lesser known aspect of a synagogue president’s role is maintaining relationships with other houses of worship. Thanks to Hollie Jaffe, our synagogue’s long-time representative on the Oneonta interfaith committee, we have been well represented in the community. When I became president, one of the first calls I made was to Rabbi Meir of Oneonta Chabad. As the leader of the Jewish college community, I wanted to know him so Temple Beth El would have a connection with Oneonta’s only other Jewish institution. Since then, he and I have stayed in touch and occasionally meet for coffee. I consider Rabbi Meir not only my friend, but a friend of Temple Beth El. In the past few years, I have become better acquainted with a number of local clergy. From the Islamberg community to a Tibetan Buddhist monastery to local churches, I now can reach out to congregations that I consider true friends of Temple Beth El. I have also been making an effort to visit churches on Sundays to attend their services. This past Sunday I was greeted at St. Mary’s by an older parishioner who recognized me and expressed sadness about the anti-Semitism in America and deep concern for the Jewish community in Oneonta. During Mass, Father David delivered a homily about unity that specifically addressed anti-Semitism and Islamophobia. On another Sunday at First United Methodist Church, I heard prayers, readings, and a moving sermon from Pastor Teressa about compassion and rejecting the hatred that fuels ant-Semitism, Islamophobia, and xenophobia. Each visit I make to another house of worship is eye-opening, educational, interesting, and in some way, inspiring.
Our Christian neighbors are responding within their own houses of worship to hostilities toward immigrants, Muslims, and Jews, and like us are lamenting the degradation of democratic values and the rise of nationalist fervor in America since the election of President Trump. The near daily reports of anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, and religious intolerance occurring across the United States and within New York takes a toll on all of us. As a synagogue leader, the dramatic increase in anti-Semitic acts (swastikas, cemetery desecrations, incidents on college campuses, and a bullet fired into an Indiana synagogue) is cause for concern. And as the only synagogue in Oneonta, I feel it is appropriate for us to take the lead in addressing this issue.
Through careful planning with Rabbi Karp, we will be hosting an interfaith event for the community where we will name the problem of religious intolerance, but more importantly, honor America’s principles of democracy and religious inclusion. The program, titled “With Malice Toward None,” will be held in our sanctuary on April 22 at 3:00. The program includes speakers and clergy representing the five major religions (Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam), City of Oneonta Mayor Gary Herzig, the NAACP, and music by Robin Seletsky and Stan Fox. A press release with a list of all speakers and participants will be published in early April. Until then, please save the date and plan on showing support for this event by attending. Since this topic is on the minds of many Oneontans, I am expecting a large turn out. If you would like to help at this event, please let me know (firstname.lastname@example.org). We will need ushers, people to distribute posters around town, assistance setting up the sanctuary and social hall, someone to keep traffic moving through our driveway (no parking permitted), help with a coffee hour following the event, a floral centerpiece for the bimah, and at least two 9 volt batteries (for the wireless microphones which burn through them very, very quickly). Anything you can do to help is appreciated. Please let me know.
I am glad the Oneonta community is eager to gather, and proud that Temple Beth El is hosting the event. Every speaker has expressed gratitude for the invitation and a sense of urgency to participate. I hope this event will remind all of us that even in this time of stress, we are surrounded by kind, caring neighbors who value peace and love.