Reflection by Sara Wasserman, member since Summer 2015One of the aspects that drew our family to Temple Emanu-El last summer was Rabbi Litcofsky's strong vision of Judaism enacted through social justice. More than just practicing religion at home and inside the temple walls, Temple Emanu-El is outward looking, with Rabbi Litcofsky emphasizing that everyone can and should be a driving force toward changing the world for the better. Putting words to action, Rabbi Litcofsky has worked with Reverend Dana Owens of the Messiah Baptist Church in East Orange to join our congregations in a relationship of inclusion and joint learning.Timed to coincide with Martin Luther King, Jr. weekend, Reverend Owens and many members of his church attended Friday night services at Temple Emanu-El. Reverend Owens delivered the sermon, speaking powerfully about change, and the story of Exodus, the Pharaoh and the Jewish people. Unlike our typical focus on the plight of the Jewish people, Revered Owens focused on the Egyptians, stressing that the Egyptians, afraid of losing their place in the established order, did not use their positions of power and privilege to speak up for the enslaved Jews. No one wanted to take on Pharoah. Ultimately, Moses arose to do so. Reverend Owens spoke about Martin Luther King, and other times in history when oppression forced strength. I was reminded of other people in Jewish history who, like Dr. King, rose up in strength and leadership to fight for themselves and others against hate, to stand strong against oppressors. Reverend Owens helped me see that, even in times of hate and oppression, racism and discrimination, there will always be a Moses, a Dr. King, honorable people who will be moved to rise up and lead. As a part of the “home and home experience,” my congregation was invited to Sunday's service at the Messiah Baptist Church. I arrived early for bible study and, although the text was unfamiliar, the message rang true for me. Mrs. Shalonda Owens (Reverend Owen’s wife) led the group in a discussion about becoming complacent and taking all of our blessings for granted. She spoke about forgiveness and how we have the opportunity to forgive others. I found myself not only nodding along as she spoke, but recalling examples from my own life that echoed her words.From the moment I walked in, people introduced themselves, welcomed me, and thanked me for coming. During the service, which was packed with church and temple members, I sat with my new friends from Friday night. Rabbi Litcofsky gave the sermon. He echoed Reverend Owen’s sentiments, emphasizing that we all have the power to be a part of change. When Rabbi Litcofsky spoke about us all coming together as a people, worshipping our god differently, but having faith, I knew what he meant. I saw it this weekend. I saw something radically different from the privilege and segregation that I have lived. I saw hope.Something big began for me on Friday night and I hope many others who were there with Reverend Owens, the members of Messiah Baptist Church, and the family of Temple Emanu-El. I am proud to be a part of a welcoming, engaging, active, and determined congregation that cares about who we are as Jews in the world and not just in temple. It is exactly where I want to be as we work toward a different, more inclusive future.Our communities set off on something big Friday night. And it all started with a phone call from a rabbi to a reverend. “Wanna get coffee?”Reflection by Suzanne Klar, Temple Emanu-El Social Action Committee ChairFriday night’s Social Action Service dedicated to Temple Emanu-El’s long-standing commitment to Social Action and Social Justice marked a milestone occasion for both the Temple and for Messiah Baptist Church of East Orange. It was a moving and inspiring experience for all who participated.At this Shabbat service, Reverend Dana Owens of Messiah Baptist and many congregants from his church joined and were warmly welcomed by congregants of Temple Emanu-El. Members of Temple Emanu-El’s Social Action Committee read passionate excerpts from speeches by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and others who have raised their voices to combat hatred and intolerance. The beautiful voices of Shir Libenu led by Cantor Finkel sang the song of inclusion “Draw the Circle Wide”. Reverend Owens delivered a sermon that encouraged us all to be a part of making a difference. He pointed out that “the human race is interconnected regardless of who or how we worship.” He concluded that “for us to separate ourselves and not work together and not learn together, I believe can be a detriment for humankind. Reverend Owens explained that while “history repeats itself”, the joining of our congregations will be a part of making a difference in the story that is told – “two congregations who came together, looked different, lived in different area codes, worshipped differently”… but “served the same God .. and sought to make a difference in the world.” As Reverend Owens noted, our congregations are picking up the torch lit by Dr. Martin Luther King and we will march on together.Looking around the sanctuary as the congregants from the temple and the church held hands in a wide circle to sing “We Shall Overcome” it was clear that everyone there was filled with an overwhelming sense that we had done something beautiful by just joining to worship. Our two congregations will continue to learn and grow together. Temple Emanu-El Social Action Committee hopes to engage members of both congregations to jointly work on projects to help our communities and beyond.
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