A world overflowing with inter-faith love? Don’t worry, there’s still enough intolerance flying around…

19 Jan

Last night I went to shul* to see an Afro-American Baptist gospel choir bring the house down.

What’re the chances of having such a boast?

And yet, in the vibrant spiritual underbelly of New York City, this is exactly what happened to me last night.

For yesterday was Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, a public holiday in the US where concerts and events across the land commemorate the great civil rights leader’s legacy.

And here in the Bronx, NY, I wandered up the road to the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale (HIR), an open-minded, left-leaning Orthodox synagogue, to witness something quite remarkable – and the most un-shul-like experience you could possibly imagine.

view concert flyer here

Here was a truly uplifting evening of song starring a dead cool Reverend (Roger Hambrick) with his Green Pastures Baptist Choir singing their socks off (to quote Cheryl Cole) alongside Jewish spiritual singer Neshama Carlebach to a packed auditorium. It all just felt far too cool to be taking place in a shul.

(well, apart from a very sincere communal rendition of the American national anthem which nearly got me and another English friend into trouble as we nearly got the giggles – can you imagine British Jews being patriotic enough to sing ‘God Save the Queen’ in shul?)

Here were Rabbi and Reverend, Jew and Christian, Black and White, man and woman, old and young, all standing together, singing, dancing, cheering, committing to right the wrongs in the world. Here were Afro-American gospel singers putting their own spin on legendary Carlebach tunes, Rabbis pledging the Jewish community’s commitment to helping victims of the Haiti earthquake, to rebuilding post-Katrina New Orleans.

Here was Judaism actually getting off its insular, complacent backside and turning outwards to connect with other faiths, mobilising to fight injustice.

You simply couldn’t help getting carried away with all the upbeat energy floating around the room – it was positively infectious this positive energy thing. I was starting to get worried about myself – could this American ‘Yes We Can!’ upbeat optimism really be getting to cynical old European me?

Well, guess what, the first thing I did when I got home was send an email to a local NGO about volunteering possibilities…

…And then a new day began, and I came back down to earth with a bit of bang:  Apparently the world had not become perfect overnight after all. People still hated each other. Sigh.

I heard reports that today in Manchester, in the north of England, there were anti-riot police called in to watch over some Satmar** Hassidic demonstrators sparring with pro-Israel counter-demonstrators outside a hotel where a meeting was going on for Jewish people interested in moving to Israel.

Fractured inter-denominational Jewish communities? Business as usual?

* Shul – the common Yiddish term for “synagogue”

**Satmar is a Hassidic group extremely hostile to the idea of the modern secular State of Israel.


4 Responses to “A world overflowing with inter-faith love? Don’t worry, there’s still enough intolerance flying around…”

  1. Abigail January 20, 2010 at 05:31 #

    BEST!!!! I’m soooo jaloos- have ALWAYS wanted to hear a gospel choir and dance along to them!

  2. Aliza Hausman January 21, 2010 at 23:50 #

    That was an awesome blog.

  3. rebeccainspace January 24, 2010 at 22:16 #

    Amendment: I found out afterwards that the brave Chassidim out demonstrating in Manchester were not being violent, rather they were very loudly chanting, or should I say, ROARING, tehillim (psalms) as their form of protest. So I retract my implication of violence – clearly they were only engaged in a spiritual form of non-violent protest here.

  4. Lisa January 26, 2010 at 19:49 #

    Like your blog – I also attended the event and was soaring the next day from the music, the messages and the comraderie. We need more of those events on a regular basis. I am from a Jewish / Spanish background and the mix just made me feel right at home. . . like for once, I did not feel misplaced or like I had to choose a “side.” I liked how G_d was the focal point as opposed to religion.

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